The Thai American actor who has appeared in a wide range of TV shows and films over the last 15 years said he was once told that an accent he used for a Thai character, modeled after his parents, was not working for an American ear. Instead, the director went with a Chinese accent.
Ghost in the Shells whitewashing: does Hollywood have an Asian problem?
While much of the recent debate around Asian representation in Hollywood has centered on whitewashing when white actors are cast to tell Asian stories working actors said a lack of opportunity was only one part of the problem.
Asian American actors said they rarely, if ever, got auditions for leading roles, and when they did get parts, they were frequently secondary to the plot or portrayed offensive tropes.
Asian men said they were often relegated to roles as tech nerds, assistants, doctors sometimes highly emasculated, desexualized characters. Asian women, meanwhile, regularly go up for parts as masseuses and sex workers or characters described as submissive, fragile or quiet.
Were the information givers. Were the geeks. Were the prostitutes, Bandhu said. Were so sick and tired of seeing ourselves in those roles.
Asian American actors said there had been an increase in diverse roles in recent years, though, and some were hoping that the recent controversy surrounding Ghost in the Shell which starred Scarlett Johansson in the remake of an anime classic would inspire directors and producers to stop whitewashing Asian characters.
The film flopped, earning only $19m in the US in its opening weekend, a small sum relative to its $110m budget. One Paramount executive said the casting backlash was partly to blame.
Emma Stone, Matt Damon and Rooney Mara have all faced whitewashing criticisms for their roles in films that ultimately performed badly at the box office. But improving diversity and representation in film and television goes far beyond avoiding casting blunders in commercial movies.
Were so desperate for opportunities, said Kanoa Goo, a mixed-race actor who is Chinese, Hawaiian and white. Often its pretty one-dimensional. Its the tech computer analyst who doesnt have much to say. His role is really just in service of the leads.
Goo, who appeared in the 2016 film Other People, said most of his auditions were for parts specified for Asians or non-white actors, and sometimes those roles could feel tokenized designed to check off the diversity box.
Within the sort of marginalized group of diverse actors, Asian American actors are still at the very bottom. They are still the underdog, he said.
Asian characters made up only 3%-4% of roles in scripted broadcast and cable shows in the 2014-15 season, according to a recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) report. Of the top 100 films of 2015, 49 had no Asian characters, and zero leading roles went to Asians, according to another study.
In addition, the quality of roles is problematic, said Darnell Hunt, a UCLA professor who co-authored the diversity report.
Lynne Marie Rosenberg, an actor who runs a Tumblr called Cast and Loose, which publishes offensive character breakdowns from auditions, said she frequently saw casting calls that listed nearly all ethnicities except Asian.
The number one problem is invisibility, she said.