With the Hollywood’s incessant fetish of adapting foreign material into cinema, the idea of “white-washing” isn’t a new controversy. Although the movie industry is the United States is relatively diverse, most casting directors seem to value white actors over other ethnic groups. Over the last few decades, I’ve been happy to see more female and minority leads. However, I don’t think that this “inclusion” is something I should be excited to see, but something I should expect. Diversity is the staple of American culture (despite political nonsense), and every color and creed should be represented in American cinema. However, when Hollywood casts inappropriately, they often have to answer to fans and the industry alike.
Asian-American actors have been getting the shaft lately, as Hollywood becomes more interested in adapting manga, anime, and other Eastern media. Look no further than the highly controversial casting of Scarlett Johannson as Major in the new Ghost in the Shell film. The live-action reboot of the Japanese anime was incredibly faithful to the source material, with the exclusion of the main character’s race. Johannson, besides being arguably the most popular actress in Hollywood, is white. Major (and the majority of the original Ghost in the Shell‘s cast), is depicted as Asian. Fans around the globe received this news with mixed emotions, but most found it in poor taste.
Not too long after the Ghost in the Shell controversy simmered down, Netflix shot themselves in the foot with the trailer for Death Note, another American remake of a Japanese anime. The lead character Light, will be played by Nat Wolff. Once again, the entire cast of the original was depicted as Japanese, yet Nat Wolff is very obviously white. Death Note catches a small break, as the remake takes place in America, so the racial choice is a bit more founded. In an interesting turn, the fan favorite character “L” is being played by Lakeith Stanfield. The original “L” was depicted as an unnaturally pale boy, so the choice of a casting an African-American man was off putting to some.
When it comes to racial casting in cinema, I believe in two firm facts. One, that a casting director should be allowed to cast who they believe best for a role. Two, that Hollywood would stop being so tone deaf. In the case of Ghost in the Shell, I could understand the financial benefits of having Scarlett Johansson as a lead. On the other hand, they alienated a large fan base and the choice was disrespectful. To that point, Death Note‘s casting of Nat Wolff isn’t going to draw more Netflix subscriptions, nor is the casting of Lakeith Stanfield going to garner any new fans. It always pays to be mindful and true to source material, and with racial tensions high in America, it’s important to showcase our diversity and overcome bigotry and discrimination. Every role should be a chance for an actor or actress to shine, regardless of race or gender. There are far too many fantastic actors and actresses in the industry to marginalize them based upon race.
However, this is simply the opinion of a journalist looking into an industry. When controversies come up media, it’s usually best to reach out to those in the thick of it. With white-washing (and more specifically, the lack of Asian-American actors in cinema) being such a hot button issue, we thought it appropriate to ask for a professional opinion. We got the chance to ask Blake Ridder a couple questions and his opinion on the whole matter. Born in Shanghai, China, Blake is a fantastic actor making a splash in the industry. With credits in massive films like Stephen Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One (another book adaptation), and the upcoming 2018 Gareth Evan’s film Apostle, Blake has the experience that counts. Be sure to check out our interview with him here, and comment with your opinion on white-washing in Hollywood. As an open letter to all casting directors; respect the source material, and be inclusive. That’s what makes America so beautiful, so we should definitely be highlighting it on the big screen.
I started doing professional acting just 7-months ago. My fellow actors told me that I’ve timed it quite well, in the sense that the industry has only started to cast more Eastern Asians, particularly American-Asians. Had I joined the industry 3 or 4 years ago, it would be a different story I think. I would have got a lot less auditions and a lot less opportunities. Hollywood has also realized that the big market is in China, so how do you keep the audience in China interested? Cast more Asian actors.
And then there are the talented filmmakers, who make their own movies with Asian lead actors. I’m very lucky to be involved in one of them – The Real Target, produced by David Cheung and Yolanda Lynes, in which they play the lead roles of a Kung Fu couple. While I play one of the auction bidders.
Behind The Scenes of The Real Target Film
One of my most proud recent role is a feature film that’s coming onto Netflix in 2018, I’m not allowed to say much about this project yet, but there will be a scene where I have a dialogue with the main character.
I create projects to generate additional exposure, such as my YouTube channel, where I upload my comedy routines.
Although we see a positive shift towards hiring actors of Asian descent on “non-stereotype” roles, but the industry has been slow in casting for lead roles. What are your thoughts?
The industry has been very slow to cast less stereotypical roles for us Asians. I always get auditions for Chinese gangsters or martial arts-related roles. I believe it is happening a lot faster than the UK, we’ve seen the lead role of a typical guy next door in 13 Reasons Why, with Ross Butler. Apparently, he got this role because he kept turning down typical Asian roles.
After the success Ang Lee’s projects, such as The Life of Pi , Hulk, and Brokeback Mountain, to name a few, it’s clear that there is an untapped market. However, the opportunities for Asian actors are still limited and few.
I think the there’s a growing number of very talented Asian directors, like Ang Lee, so as a result of that it’s only a matter of time that we see Asian actors being featured more and more in lead roles. What baffles me is why casting directors pick a white actor to act as a non-white character, and those actors are at fault, too, Just don’t take the part, if it doesn’t make sense to be that character.
If you were in a position to make changes in the industry, what would you change?
Just give the non-white actors a bit more lead in movies. Be more diverse with the casting. Move away from the stereotypical roles for Asians. Audiences are tired of seeing the same old roles.
You also wrote a book. Tell us more about it, and why you decided to write it.
You see, everything I do leads back to that one thing – creativity. I used to be a dancer and magician (not at the same time), so I thought why not try creative wiring. I got the inspiration from all of those science fiction movies I watched and books I’ve read. So, I published my first sci-fi book in 2013. It’s a free book, so people download my book daily onto their kindle. It’s a good feeling to know I’ve entertained someone.
The book, Allied: First Contact, is about a guy who wakes up to find some bizarre weather happening, and goes out to investigate with his neighbor. There’s a bit of romance and, of course, aliens.
Thus far, what has been the best experience working in the entertainment industry?
My best experience has to be being on set for the film The Real Target. Meeting all these talented fellow actors was just really fun. I also had the privilege of meeting Keira Knightly on set of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, she was really cool to talk to.
Do you have any upcoming projects that we haven’t mentioned?
After I published my first book, although I still enjoy sci-fi, I want to try writing a thriller. So, that’s what I’ve been working on for the past year, a novel called The Men She Met Online. I’m hoping to have that published in 2018.
I’m also in a lead role of a martial arts (stereotypical I know) short film, which is to be filmed later this month, called The Shadow Warriors. I play a gangster boss, who’s being chased by two fighters and I get caught between them.
Complete this sentence, if I had an opportunity to do anything I want, I would do ___________.
I want to continue to grow my creativity and expand my skills, to use them In my acting. Additionally, I want to grow my YouTube channel and maybe film a few clips with some fellow actors in comedy. Also, I want to finish my second book and hope it’s a hit. Not much to ask for, is it?
Connect with Blake:
I'm a life long gamer and an overall media junkie. In addition to writing great articles like this, I host a gaming/comedy podcast called "Super Gamecast 64" available on iTunes and Stitcher. I also watch an unhealthy amount of movies, and try to spread as much love into the world as I can. Hope you enjoyed the content!