Netflix’s ‘Cobra Kai’ Called Out for All-White Main Cast

Cobra Kai

“Cobra Kai” may have received wide acclaim for bringing back the beloved franchise “The Karate Kid,” but it is also being called out for its lack of Asian lead actors.

Noticeably white: The new martial arts Netflix series has brought back many of the original films’ leading actors, including stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. However, critics have pointed out that the series fails to introduce new main characters that could diversify its cast.

  • In her recent piece for the Los Angeles Times, writer Jen Yamato observes that the show “has yet to cast an Asian lead” despite running for three seasons. 
  • “There are now three white men at the center of ‘Cobra Kai,’ a franchise rooted in and deeply indebted to Eastern tradition,” she noted.
  • Yamato further emphasized her point by sharing similar sentiments from other critics. 
  • Ana-Christina Ramón, co-author of UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report, expressed that “Except for the Latino character of Miguel all the other people of color are outside of that main cast. So it actually doesn’t show as a diverse show in a sense.”
  • Meanwhile, Sonia Saraiya from Vanity Fair observed how dispiriting it was that “Danny LaRusso, Italian kid from Jersey, is the most Japanese character” in the first and second season of the show. 
  • Writer Jeff Yang has hopes that the series will “go beyond this suburban idyllic space, this white pocket dimension, more deeply. What if they actually did encounter people who embraced martial arts not just to overcome bullying, but because it’s part of a larger tradition that exists within people of color communities?”

Creators respond: Series creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald have reportedly acknowledged these issues, telling Yamato they are “well aware of the criticisms.”

  • Schlossberg, who co-wrote “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” with Hurwitz, said they are “particularly sensitive to Asian American representation in movies and television.”
  • The creators claimed they turn to actors Tomita, Okumoto, stunt coordinator Hiro Koda and original “Karate Kid” screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen for guidance when it comes to Japanese elements such as Gōjū-ryū karate and other cultural details. 
  • Actor Yuji Okumoto joined the third season of the series, reprising his role as Chozen Toguchi from “The Karate Kid Part II.”
  • Currently writing the show’s fourth season, the team revealed that an Asian character “is definitely something that is in our plans going forward.”
  • “Each season as we’re writing, we’re looking for new underdog stories and new characters to populate the universe,” Heald said. “We always have our eye towards representing today’s society as richly and as accurately as possible.”

Feature Image via Cobra Kai

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