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10 Times Asian-Americans Fired Back Over Representation In 2016

An abridged recap of the fight for better Asian-American representation in 2016

1. When Finn Jones was cast as the hero in Iron Fist.


When Marvel first announced it was developing a Netflix series based on the Iron Fist comics in 2014, people began urging the studio to cast an Asian-American as its hero. Iron Fist in the source material is a wealthy white man who becomes a kung fu master after traveling to the fictional land of K’un-Lun; an Asian-American Iron Fist (or #AAIronFist), fans argued, would overhaul the series' Orientalist white-savior narrative.

So when it was revealed this year that Game of Thrones actor Finn Jones had been cast in the role, fans fired back at Marvel, criticizing the studio for the comic's problematic roots and for missing an opportunity to create an Asian-American superhero.

Iron Fist is an orientalist-white-man-yellow-fever narrative. Asian actor would have helped subvert that offensive trope, and reclaim space.

2. When it was revealed that no actors of color were nominated for an Oscar.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

In 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate an actor of color in any of the major acting categories for the second year in a row. Soon afterwards, #OscarsSoWhite — a hashtag created in 2015 by and NU Tribe Magazine editor April Reign — began trending again.

Naturally, people were upset over the lack of diversity in the nominations. Many celebrities chose to boycott the awards ceremony as their form of protest. Others took their discontent to Twitter. Quantico actor Priyanka Chopra argued in an interview that "storytelling should be global and that's what the world looks like now."

Since the 2016 Oscars, the Academy has implemented a series of changes aimed at making its voting body more diverse. Additionally, nearly half of its 2016 membership is nonwhite. Time will tell if Chopra's vision of the world will be reflected in future films and the Academy's members.

#OscarsSoWhite that Rocky got nominated in a movie about Apollo Creed's son.

#OscarsStillSoWhite even the trophies will be gluten-free.

3. When Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen cracked those racist jokes during the 2016 Oscars.

Mark Ralston / Getty Images, Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images, Mat Hayward / Getty Images

Asian-Americans were not here for host Chris Rock and presenter Sacha Baron Cohen's racist jokes at the Oscars. In case you chose to wipe that evening from your memory: Yes, that was something that actually happened in 2016, an already contentious year in which no actors of color were nominated for an Oscar.

How did comedian Rock choose to highlight Asians at the Oscars that night? He brought out a trio of children — CHILDREN! — as props to crack a lame line about how all Asians are good at math. Sacha Baron Cohen, as his character Ali G, followed with a quip about "yellow people with tiny dongs."

The outcry on Twitter was swift. Weeks later, 25 Academy members of Asian descent sent a letter to the organization demanding an explanation as to “how such tasteless and offensive skits could have happened.” Among those who co-signed were Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee, Star Trek actor George Takei, and Grey’s Anatomy alum Sandra Oh. Takei also personally decried Rock's crack, arguing that a "catastrophic event" can turn a seemingly harmless stereotype into a "deadly weapon used against us."

Although the Academy did not offer an explanation for Rock and Baron Cohen's actions, the organization did issue an apology "for any hurt the skits caused."

4. When Scarlett Johansson made her Ghost in the Shell trailer debut.

Paramount Pictures
Committee of 100 and BeBe Jacobs

When it was announced in early 2015 that Scarlett Johansson would portray the main character in Paramount's live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, many fans of the Japanese franchise were in an uproar. People on Twitter slammed the studio for whitewashing the main character (Major Kusanagi, who in the upcoming adaptation will simply be called "The Major") of a beloved anime and manga series.

This year, after the studio released a first-look photo of Johansson in character, the controversy escalated. (One report even asserted that the studio ran CGI tests on Johansson to alter her features and make her look more Asian.) Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actor Ming-Na Wen denounced the casting decision as whitewashing on social media and at a panel that took place earlier this year. “A lot of people’s visions of who they think looks like their hero is rooted in systemic racism," Wu said at the event.

In a nutshell...

Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I'm a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.😒

gosh where could we possibly find a Japanese actress who kicks ass...????? NAH just cast ScarJo we can't find any

5. When Marvel defended Tilda Swinton's role in Doctor Strange.


Despite the fact that the Ancient One has always been a character of Asian descent in the Doctor Strange comics, Marvel cast Tilda Swinton in the role for the Benedict Cumberbatch–starring 2016 film. Many fans objected to the casting (a controversy that caused a perplexed Swinton to reach out to Margaret Cho, according to reports this week). Marvel argued in a statement that Swinton is actually playing a "Celtic embodiment" of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange after the trailer dropped.

Fans were not appeased by Marvel's statement, and boy, did they let 'em know.

Then why didn't your crusty asses just film in Ireland like why is her ass in Tibet handing out Asian clothes&wisdom

Make bald Tilda Swinton an ancient Celtic magic monk. In charge of the Nepal sanctuary. Which is connected to the London one.

6. When Hollywood's whitewashing of Asian-Americans reached a new peak.

Keith Chow

Keith Chow and Ellen Oh, who helped launch #whitewashedOUT

Keith Chow

The first #whitewashedOUT flyer

Something wonderful erupted from the fuckery that was the treatment of Asian-Americans in 2016. Fed up with Hollywood whitewashing, thousands of Asian-Americans took to Twitter to voice their dissent using the #whitewashedOUT hashtag throughout May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

The Nerds of Color founder Keith Chow, YA author Ellen Oh, comedian Margaret Cho, and a team of Asian-Americans kicked off the monthlong #whitewashedOUT campaign, which took aim at Hollywood for consistently creating film and television shows that center on whiteness and for casting white actors in roles that could or should have gone to people of color. It was a momentous occasion, as the hashtag became the second-highest trending topic on Twitter the day it launched.

“In general, people have always blown us off because of the model minority myth, and the [misconception] that Asians are quiet and submissive," Oh told BuzzFeed. "This is really our way of saying we will not be ignored anymore.”

#whitewashedOUT meant it took years for me to realize writing Asian protags was possible. I cast myself as the sidekick in my own stories.

Growing up wishing you were white so you could be characters in stories #whitewashedOUT

Will Yu

Then #StarringJohnCho happened. Will Yu, a 25-year-old digital strategist, began photoshopping photos of John Cho into the posters of blockbuster films to show what Hollywood could look like if more Asian-American actors were given starring roles. #StarringConstanceWu, a similar project featuring the Fresh Off the Boat star, soon followed. It was epic.

7. When it was revealed that Matt Damon would lead a movie about the Great Wall of China.


Despite months of backlash against Hollywood whitewashing, Asian-Americans were hit with more bad news when it was revealed that Matt Damon would star in Great Wall, a fantasy film about monsters trying to breach the Great Wall of China.

Zhang Yimou, who is directing the film, addressed the controversy. "Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point," he wrote in a statement. "There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them — the other four are all Chinese." The defense didn't sit well with everyone.

...why would white men need to be in a movie about the Great Wall, even if it's a monster movie?

8. When NBC began developing a sitcom about a mail-order bride from the Philippines.

Gabriela USA

Yes, you read that correctly. Back in September, NBC put into development Mail Order Family, a half-hour sitcom about a white man who orders a bride from the Philippines.

It didn't take long for the backlash to hit social media. People took to Twitter to urge NBC to #CancelMailOrderFamily. They slammed the proposed project — and the writer whose life was an inspiration for the series — for making light of human trafficking and for perpetuating harmful stereotypes about Asian women.

Within a week of Mail Order Family's announcement, NBC scrapped the project, marking a victory for Asian-Americans who petitioned against it.

Today in terrible ideas: NBC buys "family comedy" about widowed white male who orders a Filipina mail order bride

9. When a leaked spec script revealed that Disney planned to incorporate a white male lead in its live-action Mulan film.


A spec script for Disney's live-action adaptation of Mulan leaked this October, revealing that its writers had planned to feature a European male lead in the upcoming film. In turn, Asian-Americans railed against the project.

An anonymous source within the industry penned an open letter to the live-action film's creators, which was published on Angry Asian Man. "I am deeply disturbed that a remake of the beloved Disney classic rejects the cultural consciousness of its predecessor by featuring a white male lead, once again perpetuating the myth that cultural stories are not worth telling without a western lens or star," they wrote, including within the piece the hashtag #MakeMulanRight.

Within days — and after 18 Million Rising created an official petition imploring Disney "not to ruin our childhood Mulan" — a source close to the production said "all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese."

Mulan is a story of honor and family. She saves an entire nation and you’re about to make her some damsel in distress. #makemulanright

#Mulan is our hero. We don't want to see another white man chasing after #Asian girls half his age. #MakeMulanRight

10. When Fox News aired a racist segment about Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans.

During the hellscape that was the 2016 election, Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor contributed to the dumpster fire by sending correspondent Jesse Watters to New York's Chinatown to ask residents for their opinions on the election and Donald Trump. The aired segment cut the footage with movies scenes that reinforced Asian stereotypes, and poked fun at elderly Asian immigrants who couldn't speak English. It was a low blow.

Watters did respond to people's objections via Twitter, but his statement was a classic non-apology. "I regret if anyone found offense," he tweeted.

A day later, The Daily Show's Ronny Chieng went the fuck in, blasting Fox News for perpetuating outdated ideas about Asian-Americans and for targeting non-English-speakers: "What the hell was that? How was that on the news? In fact, how was that even on TV?"

Chieng even took to the streets himself, interviewing a handful of people about the election, using their native language. He even gave one guy the chance to clap back at Watters.

Did Fox News run a racist segment about Chinatown? @RonnyChieng weighs in. #DailyShow

Although Fox News has not issued an apology for the controversial segment, a Fox executive and O'Reilly Factor executive producer did meet with the Asian American Journalists Association in October to discuss the Asian-American community's concerns. It's a step toward better representation and a reminder that Asian-Americans — long regarded as the model minority — will continue to fight for visibility.


This post has been updated to include the fact that April Reign (@ReignofApril) started the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.

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