First, let’s break it down. There’s a problem that’s been bothering me for a long time in the Asian American community, and all the subdivisions within that space. The problem is that the white majority see Asian Americans in one particular way. Most white people see Asian Americans as just extensions of the mainland country they might refer to for the sole purpose to identify and validate themselves, and to avoid “where are you from” questions. Adopted, first generation to third generation Asian Americans are not seen as American. This leads to many identity problems for the majority of the community. East Asians not born in the US, who come here to study abroad for instance, may look down upon Asian Americans for trying to “act Chinese (for example),” because to them, self identified Asian Americans are really only American. For the Asian Americans, they are excluded from white American society, so they try to fit into a culture that will accept them, which is usually wherever their parents identify. Usually, they are accepted, but other times, their parents may even alienate them for being “too American.”
What about the last part of the title? Asian American Adoptees are rarely seen in the Asian American community, and even less so in the East Asian community. Asian American Adoptees are not only Asian American, but have the added layer of being adopted. Asian American Adoptees can be adopted by any type of family. They can have mixed racial parents, strictly white parents, black parents, Asian parents etc. They can be raised Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc. They can have single parents, two parents, multiple parents, LGBTQ+ parents, etc. The list goes on. I’m not saying that people from East Asia or Asian Americans don’t have diverse families, but I am saying that growing up in a family that may not have an Asian genealogy is extremely difficult. In America, most people don’t say that they’re “American.” Even white people deny their whiteness by saying that they’re from some place in Western Europe. For those who are adopted into an interracial family, such as Asian American Adoptees, they can’t point to their parents to prove how “Asian” they are.
It’s extremely hard to be perceived two different ways. To anyone, Asian American Adoptees look like any other Asian American or even native East Asian. However, to an extent being adopted is like being closeted. If you don’t disclose you’re adopted people might never know. Of course, being adopted is not the same as being LGBTQ+, but it is something you decide to either tell or not tell to people you meet. Some people may even catch on that you’re not “fully Asian/American” if you don’t have the stereotypical mannerisms, they’ve seen your mixed raced family or speak the language. To the Asian American or East Asian community, you look like them, but you weren’t raised like them. Thus, they don’t want you because you’re “not enough.” Being an Asian American adoptee has shown me how hard it is to find a community. Again, being Asian American, it’s hard too. You’re only accepted within the Asian American community, but never the native East Asian party nor the white majority. For Asian American Adoptees the community gets narrower because there are only so many Asian American Adoptees in the U.S. Lastly, you can see that the native East Asian people hold the power in the global Asian identified community. They’re the ones us Asian Americans/Adoptees are trying to get validation from. In my opinion, we shouldn’t have these walls up to begin with. We should recognize our differences, and celebrate them, take ownership of them, but we shouldn’t let what divides us, mainly language, from seeing the good in those differences either.
So, that summary of how the native East Asian, Asian American and Asian American adopted community works brings me to this point. I want to talk about Dr. Strange and Ghost in the Shell, basically, white washing Asian roles in Hollywood. I don’t know much about Dr. Strange but apparently the studio cast two white people, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinson to play Tibetan characters. Next, Scarlett Johanson was cast as the main character for the film adaptation of the Japanese manga, Ghost in the Shell. The studio justified their racism in many ways. 1) China, where most of the global Box Office revenue comes from, isn’t friendly with Tibet. So they didn’t want to upset them by casting Tibetan actors. 2) It’s a sci-fi fantasy movie, the accuracy of the characters doesn’t matter. 3) It’s a manga, just because they’re in Japan doesn’t mean that the characters are actually Japanese. This point is contentious because there has been lengthy discussions if anime characters are portraying East Asian looking people, or white people. I say, get off your high horse white people; you’re not the inspiration for EVERYTHING. 4) There’s no big name Asian American actors, Cumberbatch, Swinson, and Johanson bring in the big bucks.
All of these “justifications” for not starring East Asian or Asian American actors are just excuses. Asian people rarely get lead roles in Hollywood, and when Asian characters are possibilities such as in Dr. Strange, or when Asian material is used, as with Ghost in the Shell, white washing happens. These roles which could have been diverse get taken by white actors because studios don’t think an Asian face can sell a movie. There are Asian actors looking for work, I’m sure not all of them are talentless, so give them a shot. Make open casting live up to its name as “open.”
To further justify that they can use white people, the studios have gone to Japan to ask some native Japanese people what they think about Scarlett Johanson portraying the main character in Ghost in the Shell. Of course the native Japanese community didn’t mind because they are the overwhelming majority. They’re used to being represented in advertisements, TV, and film. Unlike Japanese Americans who rarely get any screen time. Studios go to countries in Asia to find out if it’s “okay” and don’t realize the backlash is right here, form Asian AMERICAN actors and viewers. I know that Japanese people or Tibetan people may not find it offensive because they’re the majority in those places, but what does that say to the Asian American community? Film studios are saying that Asian Americans should be “okay” with racism because their “home country” accepts it. That’s not how this works. Asian Americans are not just Asian, they’re also American. They don’t live in a country where they are surrounded people who look like them and where media validates them. They live in a place where they’re seen as “dog eaters,” nail salon, restaurant, and dry clean workers. They live in a place where they are the “model minority,” and the only immigrant “worth having.” Yes, that grants some privilege, but it is also incredibly demeaning and limits what roles Asian people can take on.
To the makers of East Asian movies in the U.S., please realize that there is an incredibly talented Asian American community at your doorstep waiting to perform, if only given the chance, as well as multitudes of viewers waiting to be validated by a nation that preaches equality, when all there is, is quotas.
23 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.