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Asian Actors Can Play Any Hollywood Role, And The Incredible #SeeAsAmStar Campaign Proves It

See John Cho as Captain America, Constance Wu as Black Widow, Steven Yeun as 500 Days of Summer's Tom, and Arden Cho as The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen.

Let's talk about Asian representation in Hollywood, shall we? Before the 2018 rom-com Crazy Rich Asians, there had not been a major Hollywood movie featuring an Asian and Asian American cast in 25 years.

And last year, Sandra Oh received an Emmy nod for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Eve on Killing Eve, becoming the first Asian person to do so.

Simply put, major award-winning opportunities for Asian actors in Hollywood have been few and far between since, well, forever. That's why William Yu created #SeeAsAmStar, a campaign that reimagines box office hits with Asian-American leads.

Last year, I used artificial intelligence to create #SeeAsAmStar and superimpose Asian actors into hit films. The project was a spiritual sequel to #StarringJohnCho. If a #StarringJohnCho movie poster didn't sway you, maybe living, breathing video will. https://t.co/PSbIv13uU3

Back in 2016, William launched the #StarringJonCho social media campaign, which entailed photoshopping John Cho's face onto the faces of various white leading men on blockbuster film posters. Considering how Jon recently landed the lead role in Netflix's highly-anticipated Cowboy Bebop reboot, I'd consider the campaign a major success.

William's background includes advertising, marketing, and screenwriting, not artificial intelligence. But that didn't stop him from teaching himself how to make these incredible videos.

John Cho, Constance Wu, Steven Yeun, and Arden Cho were all featured as lead roles in big American flicks, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, 500 Days of Summer, and The Hunger Games.

"I wanted to pick films and characters that showed the breadth of the human condition," he added. "It was important to me that viewers would be able to see Asian faces on characters that are considered brave and courageous, but also flawed and messy. Because that's the reality of our experience."

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There's no doubt that John, Constance, Steven, and Arden are long overdue for leading Hollywood roles. However, considering that this campaign aims to create more diverse representations of Asians, I had to ask William about his decision to spotlight four East Asian actors (John, Steven, and Arden are Korean American; Constance is Taiwanese American). He assured me that he had, in fact, tried out the deepfake technology on South Asian actors, like Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and Priyanka Chopra, but ended up encountering technical difficulties.

"Unfortunately, [the technology] only allowed me to swap faces; necks, ears, and in some instances, foreheads, could not be swapped," he explained. "This limitation meant that, in order to have a convincing end product, the skin tones of the subjects would have to be similar enough to their targets so that a viewer wouldn't be able to tell the difference, otherwise, the uncanny valley would become too pronounced. In the development process, I encountered numerous elements of East Asian privilege — skin tone, body type, hair profiles — that I hope will be discussed through the spread of the project."

As for why campaigns like #SeeAsAmStar and #StarringJonCho mean so much to William, he pointed to Hollywood's ongoing history of stereotyping and pigeonholing Asian characters. "Growing up, the conversation about Asian Hollywood leads has always been theoretical for me," William recalled.

William also insisted that although these problematic perceptions begin on the silver screen, they ultimately "trickle into all industries," effecting the ways in which Asian people are regarded and treated by society.

"These assumptions do not reflect the complexity of our humanity, so what better way to demonstrate this than by showing you a living, breathing Asian hero, romantic lead, or mess of a person?" William said. "If you can't see it, I'll show you."

Check out how BuzzFeed is celebrating at Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!


Steven Yeun's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.