People 27 March 2018
It's no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem. All you have to do is look at the movie screen to see the overwhelming whiteness of the actors bearing down on you. Even characters who were originally people of color have been whitewashed, as in the case of 'The Ancient One' in Marvel's Doctor Strange, who in the comics was Tibetan, but in the movie was played by Tilda Swinton.
Recently, Ed Skrein stepped down from a role in Hellboy because the character was part Asian in the original comic. While Skrein is to be commended, it was the Asian American community that brought the issue into the public consciousness. Casting directors called the move a wake-up call, and the role has since been recast with Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean American actor.
Ed Skrein stepped down from a part in Hellboy because the character was part Asian in the original comic. The role has since been recast with Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean American actor. Photo Courtesy of Hollywood Reporter
Cynthy Wu, a Vietnamese and Chinese American actor, believes that vocal outpourings like this one signal a seismic shift in Hollywood from a culture of marginalization to one where Asian Americans are able to tell their own stories--behind and in front of the camera.
A Talent in the Making
Cynthy Wu has been acting professionally since 2012, and earlier this year she made waves with her role as Ally Harris in Before I Fall, an adaptation of a popular young adult novel about a girl who comes to terms with her mortality, as she finds herself reliving the last day of her life again and again.
"Cynthy Wu believes that vocal outpourings signal a seismic shift in Hollywood from a culture of marginalization to one where Asian Americans are able to tell their own stories." Photo Courtesy of IMDB
On top of several movies coming out next year, Wu is playing the role of Carol in the series Just Doug, currently available on Facebook Watch, the company's newly unveiled streaming platform. Like the titular Doug (played by Douglas Kim), Wu's character is an Asian American struggling to make it as an artist in Hollywood.
"Too often in Hollywood," Wu explains, "an Asian American is cast as the 'quirky friend' of the (white) star, or the 'smart nerdy girl who answers questions and has five lines.'"
Even worse, Asian American actors have had crude stereotypes thrust upon them, as in the second episode of Just Doug, where the lead character is told to speak with a heavy accent if he wants a role in a sitcom.
Wu's character, on the other hand, gives her the opportunity to tell stories that haven't been told enough from an Asian American point of view. Carol is an ambitious writer who's "starting from the bottom, working hard, and trying her best to break through." By exploring Carol's professional and romantic journey, Wu reveals her to be so much more than a sidekick or a funny one-liner. "Not only is it refreshing for young Asian Americans to see these kinds of three-dimensional characters played by people who look like them," Wu notes. "But it's a reclaiming of identity, an opportunity for Asian Americans to express ourselves instead of letting others tell our stories."
"It’s encouraging for her to be part of shows like Just Doug, which has a majority Asian American cast, as well as writer and director." Photo Courtesy of ylwrngr
Towards a More Diverse Hollywood
When asked if she thinks there's a movement underway towards better representation, she expresses optimism. "This is where film and TV are going," she says. "The time when you'd see the same story over and over again for Asian American actors is coming to a close." It's encouraging for her to be part of shows like Just Doug, which has a majority Asian American cast, as well as writer and director. "It's nice to arrive on set and see a face like mine and think 'oh, I'm not alone, I'm not the only one doing this.'"
With shows like Just Doug, and movies like Crazy Rich Asians, the first major studio film with a majority Asian cast since 1993's The Joy Luck Club, it's hard to doubt Wu's optimism. The strides her and others are making toward representation will surely inspire a whole new generation to tell their own stories without hesitation and to reclaim their own narratives.
Photo Credit: afewgoodclicks.com
In 2016, Renee Wang sold her home in Bejing for $500,000 to fund her company, CastBox. Two months later, she landed her first investment. Just a half hour after hearing her pitch, she was offered one million dollars. By mid-2017, CastBox raised a total of $16 million in funding. CastBox's user numbers at that point? Seven million. Fast forward to today. Renee Wang of CastBox announces a $13.5 million Series B round of financing, bringing her funding total to a tidy $29 million. CastBox is now serving more than 15 million users.