Having just gone through Asian Heritage Month, (for those of you that don’t know, it’s the month of May) and touring around the country speaking on the issues concerning the Asian American/Pacific Islander community, I’ve been able to have great conversations about all kinds of ideas. Talks in San Francisco to New York, from Los Angeles to Portland. And one of the ideas I want to talk about right now is the idea of the Asian Leading Man.
Now, I’m a film maker and creating characters is important to me, as both an actor and writer. But the idea of trying to prove that to others has lead me to thinking about it all in a deeper way. On the surface, the Asian community’s cry for more roles and more substantial roles is one demanding more representation and point blankly, employment in the mainstream media in which we call “Hollywood.” I would be lying if I said I did not want more opportunities to work in my given profession. I think the Asian community at large wants to see characters that resemble them more throughout film and television. This is all true and I also believe Asian leading men and leading men of all ethnicities is important, leading women too (I don’t mean to be sexist) and ultimately help in race relations in a very special way.
How I see it, when we as an audience see the film, we live out the story through the star of the movie… the “Leading Man.” In most cases it happens to be a caucasian man. When we do this, we live a whole experience through their eyes and emotions. Thus, we grow up wanting to be Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or Travolta, Eastwood the list goes on and on. You see, when we’re living out our fantasies in films, we aren’t considering race or ethnicity, we are being scared or surprised or emotionally shattered or triumphant, we’re experiencing the human condition, as if we are the “leading man” ourselves!
Being ethnic in America, we have always seen ourselves through a Euro-centric perspective, it’s the culture that America was built on, but America has gone through many changes, like the world at large. Connecting with characters and living their stories makes us better understand or even better, makes us feel for that person, or even kind of person, more.
In reality we all see ourselves like the movie stars, we have deep connections with them, because they remind us of ourselves… or our friends and family.
You ask a group of Asian friends, who in their group reminds them of Tom Cruise or Will Smith… They’ll give you one of their buddies, because we see aspects of ourselves through movie stars. We’re funny or cocky or ernest or sexy… just like the guys on the big screen.
The problem for Asians in American media, is there isn’t enough representation out there. The predominant amount of rolls depicted of Asians in the media still circle around the old played out stereo types. We can all name them… The nerdy, heavily accented, kung fu master! Look, I’m not saying there isn’t any truth in the stereotypes, all these exist in the Asian American community and I’m not trying to protest any of these characters, I’m trying to include all the other attributes we have and pressing forward to help create more Asian Leading Men. Because you see, when we can live adventures and fantasies through others that may be Asian or Black or Latino, we actually humanize each other, we realize that we all react to things in very similar ways. We are scared shitless when being attacked by someone with a mask on in the middle of the night in the woods or proud when we have saved the world or saddened to tears when we come into the room a second too late to save the life of your one true love.
So yes, one of my goals is to help create the Asian American genre and help create many Asian leading men and women… I don’t know if it will change the world… But it won’t hurt it.
Hope you had a happy “Asian Heritage Month.”