More Than #StarringJohnCho

You’ve seen #OscarsSoWhite. Last week it was #TonysSoDiverse. This week it’s #StarringJohnCho. Diversity in entertainment has been an even bigger topic than ever over the past couple of years, mainly because people are starting to speak up about how there isn’t any.

Recently, there was a lot of hullabaloo about whitewashing in two upcoming movies, with Tilda Swinton playing The Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Scarlett Johansson as the Major in Ghost in the Shell, both characters that were Asian in the original comic books. And you may remember that horrible film Aloha, in which she played Chinese-Hawaiian soldier Allison Ng. If you weren’t aware – all these ladies are white.

In response, a social media project called #StarringJohnCho was started, in an attempt to prove that Asian-Americans can be lead actors in movies too. The movement places John, arguably one of the biggest Asian actors who could actually carry a film (see: all the Star Treks), Photoshopped into other blockbuster movie posters.

You might be thinking, ok, that’s great and all, but John Cho’s not a “movie star”. Well, a recent study from USC shows that only 1% of lead roles in Hollywood films go to Asians, while 1 out of 20 speaking roles go to Asians. Statistics for John to even get a chance to be a bonafide movie star are slim.

One of my favorite quotes regarding diversity in entertainment comes from Viola Davis’ Emmys speech last year, when she straight up spit the truth in front of all of Hollywood.

“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.” That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. Hollywood execs are refusing to even consider POC, because the only color they really see is green. “We can’t cast Harry Shum Jr. in the lead role because he doesn’t have a successful box office track record.” Studio execs need only look at the numbers yet again – for example, the Fast and Furious movies (while albeit a bit tedious), feature a diverse cast AND crew, and its seven movies have grossed nearly $4 billion globally. Moreover, a UCLA study even noted that films with diverse leads not only result in higher box office numbers but also higher returns of investment for studios and producers.

Not to mention the mere impact casting POC would have culturally – I talked about it when I wrote about Fresh Off The Boat, but growing up, it was slim pickings when it came to idolizing Asian-American actresses. White ladies? Sure, I can name you minimum 240. Not so much with the Asians.

ALL THIS TO SAY is that Asian actors just need to be given the chance to be in the lead. It’s not just #StarringJohnCho, it’s #StarringINSERTANYOTHERASIANACTORHERE. So in the spirit of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (yes, that’s a real thing every May), here are just a few picks for younger actors and actresses who deserve to be in the lead just as much as any white person.

Constance Wu

If you’re not watching Fresh Off The Boat, what is wrong with you? Like, legit what kind of ailment is prohibiting you from watching one of the best, well-written, funniest, culturally important programs on the air right now? Here is just one reason why you should watch it – the matriarch of the family, Jessica Huang played by Constance Wu. Constance plays Jessica as a bit of a tiger mom, but one who also truly cares for her kids and can sit and play Mario Kart with them. This clip is just a fraction of Constance’s brilliance on the show.

Conrad Ricamora

Conrad be representing for my fellow Filipinos! He’s best known for his work in theater, including Imelda Marcos musical Here Lies Love and is currently on Broadway in the revival of The King and I. However, you might know him best as a member of Shondaland in How to Get Away With Murder. He’s only half of the best couple on the show, #Coliver. Honestly, they’re the best. Anyways, Conrad is super talented (as seen above) and has leading man good looks, so what more can you ask for?

Kimiko Glenn

You probs know Kimiko as Brooke Soso from Orange Is The New Black or her current stint on Broadway’s Waitress. However, I know her from being a creep. Fact: I saw the first national tour of Spring Awakening years ago in Boston and saw it thrice during its entire run in the city (I’ve mentioned this before but it doesn’t make it any less true). I became slightly obsessed with the show and music, of course, but also weirdly followed the touring cast on social media? It’s fine. Anyways, Kimiko was part of that cast, and during their stops across the country, the cast would hold benefit concerts, usually covering popular songs. Here’s one of those concerts and one in which Kimiko covers Jason Mraz. I’ve listened to this too many times to mention over the past few years.

Phillipa Soo

If you’re a member of Hamiltrash, I don’t even have to explain why Phillipa needs to continue being a leading lady. If you haven’t seen this precious cinnamon roll sing Copland in this Ham4Ham, drop everything you’re doing and watch it now.

Utkarsh Ambudkar

Yes, this is the dude from Pitch Perfect. However, he’s also Mindy’s brother Rishi on The Mindy Project, a role I think he’s perfectly cast in. Every time he comes on screen, I can’t wait to see what ridiculous thing he’ll say and it’s Utk’s delivery is always spot on. Also as a bonus, he’s BFFZ with Lin-Manuel Miranda since they used to do Freestyle Love Surpreme (improv rap group) together. *sigh*

Ki Hong Lee

Dong!!! Ki is probs one of the millennial-era actors who’s the closest to leading man role, having not only starred in Kimmy Schmidt but also in all The Maze Runner films. And if you’re wondering, his real accent is American.

Albert Tsai

Next to Happy Endings, Trophy Wife will always go down as one of the most tragic cancellations in TV history. We were big fans of it here, and one of the main reasons was the nugget, Bert, played by Albert Tsai. He’s a natural comedian and has potential for greatness in the future. He’s already got a role on Ken Jeong’s Dr. Ken, so hopefully there’s nowhere to go but up.

Keiko Agena

Ah Lane Kim. If you’re only familiar with her work on Gilmore Girls, check out her other work in shows like Scandal and Shameless. Keiko also has a podcast called Drunk Monk, in which she and her co-host Will discuss episodes of Monk – you guessed it – while drunk. Also, she does a lot of improv in LA at Upright Citizens Brigade and is really good at it. I’m not just saying that. My friend and I accidentally saw her do improv at UCB on a total whim. And she was fantastic.


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