‘Boiling point of acceptance’: AAPI actors share views on Hollywood’s portrayal of Asian men

AAPI actors

Several AAPI actors recently shared what it’s like to thrive in Hollywood where Asian men have long been typecast into secondary roles that perpetuate racial stereotypes. 

Perspectives on representation: Nico Hiraga (“Moxie”), Charles Melton (“Riverdale”), Danny Pudi (“Mythic Quest”), Vincent Rodriguez III (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and George Takei (“Star Trek”) spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the industry that treats AAPI men as undesirable sidekicks. 

  • Pudi, Hiraga, Melton and Rodriguez lamented the lack of leading man roles for Asian men to relate or look up to during their childhood.
  • Takei, whose iconic role as Hikaru Sulu on “Star Trek” propelled him to global fame, attributed his “heroic vision” to his father and watching “Bruce Lee, Toshiro Mifune, and all the Kurosawa movies” growing up.
  • The lack of representation and the stereotypical roles affected the actors in how they approached their careers. Pudi said he felt the pressure to be “everything to everyone,” while Rodriguez learned to appreciate small victories in getting lead roles after being slighted in the past.
  • Hiraga had limited his expectations and initially thought his role in “Moxie” was meant for a white male lead, saying, “There’s no shot they’re going to give it to a Hapa kid.”

Beyond martial arts: The interviewees also touched on the impact of Hollywood’s obsession with the “all Asians know martial arts” trope, fueled by the popularity of Bruce Lee and martial arts movies in general.

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  • “We don’t need to be kicking somebody in the face or punching someone in the face,” Melton pointed out. “We do have a vulnerable side to express and a story to tell.
  • Takei recalled being able to take his shirt off and flex his muscles on “Star Trek” in the 60s, even before Bruce Lee. “I saw The Adventures of Robin Hood and I loved fencing,” he said. “[The writer] worked that into one of our episodes and I got to take my shirt off and pick up my fencing foil and terrorize the Starship Enterprise.”
  • Reacting to Dwayne Johnson taking up a third of API lead roles, Melton said there “should be a lot more films and stories being told, not just being represented by one or two” actors.
  • Pudi said he hopes there’s room for roles that related to him personally. “I’ve always felt like an outsider, but at the same time, I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’ve run marathons,” he said. “Seeing movies like Minari, for instance, is this expansion of the idea of masculinity, that it can mean many things.”
  • Rodriguez is optimistic about where the industry is heading: “We’re at this boiling point of acceptance; voices are being raised… This is just another brick that we get to lay on that wall. I think we’re building something beautiful.”

Featured Image via CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) (left, right)

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