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Chinese moviegoers are giving Hollywood the cold shoulder.
Hollywood is quickly losing its Chinese audience over the industry’s notorious “whitewashing” of Asian roles. Some recent controversial castings include the rumor that Jennifer Lawrence was cast as the title character in “Mulan” in the up and coming live-action version of the Disney classic film and, more recently, the casting of Matt Damon in “The Great Wall“, a film about ancient China.
A quick glimpse into Hollywood’s film history will show that Asians are glaringly underrepresented on the big screen or predictably cast in minor stereotypical roles, leading to a concern in Hollywood since China is on track to surpassing the United States in ticket sales.
According to The Wall Street Journal, China is currently the second-largest movie market in the world, selling $5 billion in movie tickets this year. The United States raked in $8 billion in ticket sales. In addition, exported movies to China are down to 46.9% in the first half of this year compared to 53.5% from that of last year’s.
If Hollywood plans to win back its Chinese audience, it needs to do a better job at casting Chinese actors in films. Their past attempts to incorporate Chinese actors in movies have come off as disingenuous and even demeaning.
Critics have labeled Chinese actors who are cast in insignificant roles in Hollywood films as “flower vases.” “Flower vases” function more like props than people with actual roles. The derogatory term is often referred to Chinese female actresses who are comparable to product placements or “beer cans” in ads.
One example is the role of Fan Bingbing, the world’s 5th highest paid actress, in the Chinese version of “Iron Man 3”, which the Chinese state media Beijing Daily described as “quite embarrassing.”
Hollywood isn’t faced with a scarcity of Asian actors who want a role in their films either. In fact, Chinese stars are eager to be cast in American movies for the global prominence. Darren Boghosian, agent at United Talent Agency, explained:
“If you’re famous in America, you’re famous all over the world. If you’re famous in China, you’re only famous in China.”
Is this asking for too much? Qiu Jie, chief executive of Beijing-based Leomus Pictures International, recognizes that big changes won’t be happening any time soon, but a sincere attempt is better than a disingenuous one. Qiu said:
“We emphasized that the added Chinese actor in [a] film should be meaningful and proper. We understand that a Chinese character will not be a lead role in the film. But if you can at least do that, the local audiences will not criticize it.”