These Actresses are Not Asian or Pacific Islanders

Depending on where you stake your claim on the internet, there has been a lot of chatter about a movie that tanked at the box office1 and another one that isn’t due in theaters for at least another year. The thing that links these seemingly disparate films is that both thought casting white women as characters who are written as Asian American and Pacific Islander was a good idea.

Last night, the director of one of those films — Cameron Crowe — finally broke his silence and offered this explanation for why he cast Emma Stone (Amazing Spider-Man) as a character called Allison Ng:

Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice. As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that. Whether that story point felt hurtful or humorous has been, of course, the topic of much discussion.

Full disclosure: I actually consider myself a fan of Cameron Crowe. His movies Say Anything and Singles and Almost Famous are some of my favorite films ever and meant a lot to me when I was growing up and coming of age — his later work, not so much, though I do own three different versions of his Pearl Jam documentary. So I take no pleasure in calling out the director. But come on! Reading this “apology” sounds like Crowe completely misunderstands the issue at hand.

It reminds me of a similarly tone deaf and oblivious “apology” that director M. Night Shyamalan recently gave in reference to completely whitewashing his 2010 adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Instead of acknowledging that casting whites in roles that should be POC as the real issue, Shyamalan and Crowe — and other defenders of whitewashing — assume any controversy stems from people “misunderstanding” the intents of their movies.

For instance, Crowe assumes that the controversy surrounding Emma Stone’s character in Aloha was about her characterization when, really, it was about THE CASTING. What Crowe fails to comprehend is that no one is faulting the idea of a lead character who’s super proud of her 1/4-Hawaiian and 1/4 Chinese heritage who is frustrated because people don’t recognize her identity. Hell, if anything, Hollywood needs more of these characters in lead roles! Instead, we’re faulting the director for casting a WHITE PERSON to play that character!

Seriously, was it really that difficult to find a young mixed-race AAPI actress (in Hawaii, no less!) to play Allison Ng? Or does the director also believe there are no Asian American movie stars? Well, after about five minutes of thinking, I came up with the following names — all actresses with mixed-Asian/Pacific Islander heritage who could have been cast instead. And for what it’s worth, I also lay out their fanboy bona fides; ya know, in case Marvel is paying attention — since they also think white actresses can be better Asians too.

Chloe Bennet

Born Chloe Wang, the 23-year old actress is one of the stars of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is one of the only Asian American superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Cameron Crowe was really looking for an actress who could relate to the experience of being “racially ambiguous,” I don’t see how Emma Stone trumps Chloe Bennet. In an interview with the Toronto Star, the actress even revealed how changing her name — “Bennet” is her Chinese father’s first name — was the only way she could get work in Hollywood. Because people would only cast her once they thought she was white. Funny, that.

Kristin Kreuk

I feel like I always have to state this disclaimer, but yes, I was a devout Smallville fanboy for the years between 2001 and 2011. One of the reasons I was initially drawn to the series before it premiered was seeing a photo of Kristin in an issue of Wizard. Originally an all-American, redheaded girl in the comics, casting Kreuk as Lana Lang showed me that the producers were really willing to take the Superman mythos into a different direction, and I stuck with the show ever since. Interestingly, Superman is the only superhero character that has been successfully cross-racially cast without fanboys losing their shit, a point I recently discussed with DC Comics’ Superman team of Gene Yang and Greg Pak.

Olivia Munn

Ever since breaking through as a co-host on G4’s nerd news program Attack of the Show and as a correspondent on The Daily Show, the Oklahoma native has gone on to be one of the most prominent mixed-race Asian American actresses in Hollywood. After a star-making turn on HBO’s The Newsroom, Munn has parlayed her fame into roles in several blockbuster movies like Iron Man 3 and Magic Mike. Currently, she voices Captain Phoebe Callisto on Disney’s hit Miles From Tomorrowland series. Next year, she’s going to be one of the few Asian American actresses actually allowed to play an Asian American character when she takes on the role of Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Janel Parrish

Best known for her role on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars and as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, Janel Parrish is another rising star in Hollywood. Her nerd-friendly resume is a little thinner than others on the list. In addition to being one of the leads of the ill-fated live action Bratz movie, she had a brief run on NBC’s Heroes that same year. That said, she definitely ticks all of the boxes that Cameron Crowe was allegedly looking for when casting Allison Ng. Like Emma Stone, Parrish is a 26-year old ingenue with great, expressive eyes. Unlike Emma Stone, Parrish is actually a mixed-race Asian American from Hawaii. Game, blouses.

Shannyn Sossamon

If you had a pulse in the early 2000s, you had a crush on Shannyn Sossamon. Didn’t matter if you were a man or a woman, she lit up any screen she was on. Starring opposite Heath Ledger in movies like A Knight’s Tale and The Order, Sossamon would also shine in live action adaptations of Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction and the graphic novel Wristcutters: A Love Story before taking a break from acting. She can currently be seen on M. Night Shyamalan’s (yeah, that guy) Wayward Pines on FOX. If Emma Stone can be Allison Ng, Shannyn Sossamon — who actually has Native Hawaiian ancestry — can too.

Hailee Steinfeld

Though she might be the youngest actress on this list, 18-year old Hailee Steinfeld arguably has the most impressive resume. When she was only 13, she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in True Grit opposite Jeff Bridges. Currently, she’s being positioned as the breakout character from the Pitch Perfect sequel and is featured as one of Taylor Swift’s Avengers. Her nerd cred includes a starring role in Ender’s Game and voicing the protagonist in the English dub of Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There. More than that, she should have been Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies, a role she eventually lost out to Jennifer Lawrence. A casting that was actually controversial at the time since most readers assumed Katniss was a WOC anyway. Funny how that always seems to happen.

But you know, why cast Asian Americans — or any actors of color, really — when there are so many white actors who need work?

  1. Is it wrong to be happy that Aloha got crushed at the box office by a movie starring an actual mixed race Pacific Islander? If ya smell what The Rock is cookin. 

51 thoughts on “These Actresses are Not Asian or Pacific Islanders

  1. I like many have heard about this controversy and as a mixed race person, I was deeply offended to see a full on white girl play the role of a Hapa character. I loved the list that you put together of possible other actors who would have been 1,000 times more suitable than Emma Stone. With directors like Crowe and Shyamalan (yes, I’ve seen his comments too) making comments like that where they full on avoid the real issue at hand, it’s going to take a lot longer for this issue to be fixed. The first step in the right direction is to admit their faults, and they can’t even do that.

    I didn’t know much about Crowe before this movie came out, but now I can definitely say that I have no respect for him at all.

  2. Multiracial Asian Families blog has a great response to this kind of response…

    Why is this a list of actresses who “look” the part, but are just as inaccurate for the part as Emma Stone?
    If we care about the representation at all, then it’s not okay to cast a mixed Asian American actress, for a mixed Native Hawaiian character. Conflating Asian American with Pacific Islander is a big problem, and Native Hawaiians and other indigenous people need their own representation.

  3. I’m confused. In his explanation Crowe said, “Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one.” and “The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.”

    So, based on that alone, and without speculating about whether or not he’s lying to cover up his choice, a primary component of the character Cpt. Ng is that she looks nothing like her heritage and that she is based on a real person who had red hair.

    I would agree that the best case scenario here would be to hire an actor who is 1/4 PI and 1/4 Chinese with red hair and who you would never guess had that heritage but the next best solution is to hire an actor who can pretend to have that heritage whilst looking as if she does not.

    The character struggles with not looking Asian American. Based on a real person who looks like Emma Stone.

    How would any of the actresses you suggested be able to pull that off?

    The entire point of the character is that she looks so white that establishing credibility regarding her heritage is immensely difficult. I am willing to believe that I am missing something here but I just don’t see it. You argue that because the character has mixed heritage they should have cast someone with mixed heritage even if that means they look as if they have mixed heritage. Even if that runs contrary to the plot.

    There are many authentic cases of “whitewashing” that deserve attention. This is not one of those.

    1. It would be incredibly difficult to find an actress with the exact same heritage and appearance as the real life woman the role us based on so of course the director had to forgo either authenticity in one if these areas. But I think the point you’re missing is that there are already hundreds of big roles for white actresses and hardly any for woc, here was a chance for a big movie role for a part Asian part Pacific islander and even that went to a white woman.

      1. The point Enords is trying to make is that it’s not REALLY for a WOC, or at least any that look like one. In this case, it isn’t whitewashing because the character’s main struggle is having to constantly prove her heritage to those who don’t see it. And with the list provided, you can tell all of those women are mixed.

      2. You’re missing the point that it’s NOT YOUR MOVIE TO CAST BASED ON YOUR RACIST IDEOLOGY.

    2. They need to post a picture of the real woman to see just how Asian she looks. There are a lot of biracial people that can be mistaken for white, but if you look closely, you see aspect of their minority features. I.E. Dean Cain. A buddy of mine in high school could pass for white, but his eyes would make you question. Emma Stone would not make you question. I wonder if the real Miss Ng would.

    3. The blogger’s criteria is not that the casting should actually suit the film, it’s that the casting should suit his racist ideology. Of course, he would also flip out if someone made Romeo and Juliet and stated no Asians or part-Asians need apply. It’s the usual racist double standard.

      P.S. None of the Hapa actresses the blogger lists can pass for white, so none would be suitable for the role as described.

  4. While I agree with most of what is said here, I look at myself in the mirror – and this half-Japanese/half-Caucasian woman does not look at all Japanese. I’ve struggled with this my whole life (60 years’ worth). No one who looks at me thinks that I’m part Japanese. At best, people mistake me for Portuguese or Cuban (which is funny because I don’t speak any Spanish). My daughter-in-law is part Puerto Rican, Native American (Taino) and African – she looks totally Caucasian. Also, I’ve lived in Hawaii and I’ve seen part-Hawaiians who do look almost exactly like Emma Stone.

  5. The X-Men character Psylocke isn’t Asian/American she’s English. When she first appeared in the comics she was a white English woman who then had her mind put in the body of an Japanese woman. As far as comic book characters are conserned there is a lot of racial reimaging when it comes to casting for their big screen incarnations.

    1. Indeed. Psylocke is probably the most notable racial joke against diversity in the X-Men. Instead of having an Asian born woman they turn a Caucasian woman into a sexy Asian woman with martial arts. That’s a sick way to use Orientalism.

    2. also it’s not official yet who will be playing The Ancient One – and any casting reports about the role do NOT equal a confirmation from Marvel – so there’s no reason to start getting upset about something that isn’t yet decided or even confirmed.

      very often casting rumors prove 100% FALSE.

  6. Put yourselves in a filmmakers’ position for once: You have worked your ass off for years. Neverending frustration and overcoming failures. Nobody to help you. And now you have been given a greenlight to make a movie. You are putting all the pieces together to the best of your abilities. The pressure is enormous as the budget is small for a Hollywood film but still huge. Eyes are on you 24/7 to make sure when all is said and done there is a profit. To have in the movie as many elements that guarantee money and success as humanly possible.

    Not even halfway through the process you have to choose between a talented white actress with hugely profitable movies in her resume that makes her a box-office draw and talented Asian actress with nothing that made money. If the movie fails fingers will point at you and, understandably, you will be asked to explain what happened and why. Because you are not the one picking up the bill. And remember, an investor is your boss and is in the movie business to make money, not play SJW. How are you going to justify from a financial standpoint an ethical or political choice that puts SOMEBODY ELSE’S MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in jeopardy?

    Well, since you are an adult filmmaker, responsible for a lot of people’s careers and incomes as well as your own… you fucking cast the successful actress and MOVE ON to take care of the other billion problems that entails making a goddamn movie.


    1. That’s an old filmmaking dilemma. The producers vs. the directors. In this case, Crowe was wrong and the results speak for themselves. Poor box office results and poor approval ratings.

    2. Sorry love but the film already features Bradley Cooper, Bill Murray, Rachel Mc Adams and Bill Murray. Enough established stars that a relatively unknown actress in yhe female lead wouldn’t have been the huge gamble you’re describing.

    3. Then tell another story. This is as frustrating as all the Civil Rights Era movies told by a white protagonist. If you are too scared to star POC in stories about them because of money, don’t make them. Give is another Avengers film.

  7. basically what this all boils down to is the people who feel upset about this casting – simply want representation of themselves when it is so often ignored in big movies and in 2015 things like this should not happen – it’s just not acceptable

    and really what it comes down to is the casting director should have and easily could have found other actresses who PERFECTLY fit the character down to a T — exactly as described – and if the red hair was so important obviously they could have cast an actress of any hair color and changed her her hair color – exactly as was done with Emma Stone in the Spider-man films (to make her a blonde) and funny enough also in the original Spider-man films for Kirsten Dunst to make her a red head (since she’s a natural blonde).

    the casting director could have easily found actresses in Hawaii that were physically what the character called for and they probably would have gained a huge show of support and at minimum kudos for “discovering” a new actress

    no matter what anyone says – no actor in the world is every “irreplaceable” – they’re just humans and unless they SHEET gold from their ass – they could have used someone else.

  8. @Micah Jung. Asian Psylocke is another product of Orientalism, as discussed by the late Edward Said. Read his book to understand what I’m getting at. They chose to make a Caucasian British woman into an exotic Asian femme fatale who wore less clothing than when she was white. The ex-British spy was made over into a sexy Oriental assassin. It was exploitive and hypocritical of them. The X-Men is supposed to promote tolerance and acceptance of people who weren’t born ‘normal’. Betsy had her body switched against her will and they wrote these dumb excuses to let her stay that way.

    Then years later Emma Frost, the blonde telepath in a corset, becomes the new ‘It” girl for fans. She didn’t need a body swap. She just needed the right attitude enough sex appeal.

    People who read Uncanny X-Men long ago know that Jubilee is a second generation Chinese American. That’s how Silvestri and Jim Lee drew her. Marvel simply did not maintain that look with later artists.

  9. I came from the future (2015) on behalf of black people to take Dwayne Johnson back. He’s at least half mine and I’ll make you fight for him. lol

  10. While I agree generally that “whitewashing” is a bloody shame, I find myself “disagreeing” with THIS article…

    If Mr Crowe says:
    “… As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, *****she looked nothing like one*****. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. *****The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local***** who did just that. …”

    ( ***** emphasis of KEY PHRASES added by myself )

    So I don’t quite agree that Emma Stone was “mis-cast” — if Capt.Ng “looked nothing like” a Hapa / Hawaiian(-Chinese), and was “red-headed”, then surely Emma Stone’s natural red-headed LOOK (also looking “nothing like” any kind of Asian or mix) is visually “near-perfectly cast”..???

    I find there’s potential here for “reverse racism”, in the sense that people are becoming impassioned about “whitewashing” ONLY BECAUSE the character’s NAME is (decidedly) “Asian”, but the actress is “white” — but the POINT is that THE CHARACTER _IS_ red-headed, and looks NOTHING LIKE her Asian-side heritage would USUALLY present…

    So, while, yes, I think “whitewashing” is a terrible thing, especially if it is “consciously” happening, I don’t quite believe THIS case falls into that category of miscasting..

    I’m afraid all I see here is a bandwagon some people want to jump on, because it has become trendy to bandy about the terminology of “whitewashing”, and it is CONVENIENT that [Emma Stone is definitely White/Caucasian] and [Captain Ng is definitely an Asian name], and the mismatch provides the EXCUSE to point the “whitewashing” finger.

    I’d rather it was a LEGITIMATE error we became impassioned about, rather than blindly using it as an excuse to raise an albeit important issue… If the character of Capt. Ng DEFINITELY (was described in the original writing as) of Asian or mixed-Asian **appearance**, THEN I would wholeheartedly support the accusation that Emma Stone’s casting was a “whitewash”. But that’s not the case.

    Additionally, and this will be my final point :: NO ASIAN has ever had NATURALLY red hair. 😉

  11. Lol. Am I the ONLY one who doesn’t see the color of an actors skin? Becauase last time I checked, actors were chosen for their acting abilities, not their race. Otherwise, it’d be “racist”. None of those actresseses you mentioned are better than Emma Stone in my opinion. I loved her portrayal in this movie. Besides, if you think hollywood “whitewashes” and you see Emma Stone as a WHITE, aren’t YOU racist?

  12. None of those women look Asian. So casting one of those women is still contributing to white washing.

  13. As a full American Pacific Islander, I support this article, except for the fact that I do not relate whatsoever to the half-Asian actresses mentioned. I’ve always seen half Asians as in a league of their own. I’m offended when half-Asians call themselves Asian, because it’s putting down full Asians. Sometimes we WISH we could be half-White like all of them, because THEY’RE the ones getting the roles. What do we get? I understand Hollywood does this because they feel full Asian actors are too exotic and distracting for most of America, but that is wrong. Real society is accustomed to this sort of thing, with the amount of full Asians in the country, especially now, it is obvious that Hollywood is lagging behind. I hope they start realizing it.

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