Another take on “WTF” casting

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Casting roles has always been an issue in the film and theater industry. Controversy arose when Jennifer Hudson was casted to portray Winnie Mandela in “Winnie.” The casting of Zhang Ziyi, a Chinese actress, as a Japanese geisha in “Memoirs of a Geisha” provoked ire within Japan.

While Hmong-American writer Ka Vang’s reaction towards the casting of Korean-American Sun Mee Chomet as the Hmong-American character True in the play “WTF” may be deemed as an overreaction, her frustration is understandable.

It is most certainly true that not all Asians are the same, nor do they all look alike. As we have seen through these casting controversies, “looking” like the person who the actors/actresses are trying to portray is simply not enough.

Vang’s frustration stems from this argument. To be clear, the Hmong are still a marginalized and unknown group.

By casting non-Hmong actresses in Hmong roles, the Hmong community’s efforts in creating visibility and consciousness of their existence is completely shattered.

Clint Eastwood’s recent “Gran Torino” does a great job of casting Hmong-American actors and actresses in Hmong-American roles. Despite Eastwood’s inaccurate portrayal of the Hmong culture, other aspiring filmmakers and actors/actresses can see by this casting that going into the film industry is something that is achievable.

Vang does not seem to be demanding the replacement of Chomet, nor is she off base. She is arguing that if we do not give Hmong-Americans the chance to play themselves or the chance to play the lead roles at all, then the message is clear: Hmong-Americans are not worthy of such roles.

I certainly do not believe that it was Mu Performing Arts’s intention to marginalize of Hmong-American actors and relegate them to secondary or demeaning roles. However, this casting decision can be interpreted as such.

We must consider that the Hmong are still largely unknown — even on the campus with the most Hmong-American students in the entire nation. We are not as known as the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans or Filipinos.

It is only within this context that Vang’s frustration can be clearly understood. It is here, then, that we must reanalyze casting decisions when “looking” Asian-American is simply not good enough.


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