This weekend, Universal Pictures’ Huntsman sequel Winter’s War — which brought back stars Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron along with franchise newcomers Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain — failed to top the box office, bringing in a paltry $20 million despite a massive production budget, a marketing campaign that promised a sort of live-action mashup with Disney’s Frozen and Brave, and a cast full of bona fide movie stars. Well, they keep telling us they’re movie stars. Take Hemsworth, for example. Since the last Huntsman movie, and not counting his Marvel ones, his films have all disappointed at the box office. If “bankable” results are the criteria for movie stardom, why does Thor get a pass? The NOCs come back to the Roundtable to discuss.
VALERIE: These whitewashed castings we been seeing so often have to be racist in nature. The Huntsman sequel, starring an A-list lily white cast, basically flopped at the box office. Think about it, the studios would rather lose millions on white folks than risk making millions on POC actors. Like, Chris Hemsworth has been in more flops than I can count, but somehow he is seen as “bankable.”
DESIREE: His biggest movie outside The Avengers is Thor which can still be attributed more to Marvel’s brand than his own bankability. Plus he bland. He’s the perfect example of what it’s like to be a white guy in Hollywood. He’s “classically” good looking (read moderately attractive white dude with blond hair and blue eyes), he’s passable at acting, and none of his movies have really sold (again except for when he’s playing Thor). Yet he keeps getting roles anyway, and not just roles, but headlining, front runner, LEADING roles. It’s baffling. John Cho is like three times the actor yet we haven’t seen him in a leading role since Harold & Kumar or Selfie on TV.
EDWARD: I’m going to be the controversial guy and say that Asian American men like John Cho and Daniel Henney aren’t that much better. The really really good ones, though? Daniel Dae Kim and Ken Leung.
DESIREE: I think another thing to discuss is the privilege all the named white actors have been given: opportunities. Even if they fail once or twice (or more) at the box office, they’re still continuously given more opportunities to prove themselves or gain back the public or critics’ trust. Actors of color aren’t given that opportunity.
VALERIE: Let’s look at number one films in the past starring or co-starring black folks in the lead: Force Awakens, the whole Fast and Furious franchise, films with Ice Cube and/or Kevin Hart, all films with The Rock, all films with Idris Elba.
DESIREE: Producers, directors, etc. say actors of color have no box office appeal, no stats to back up supporting them, but how are they suppose to gain that clout if they’re not given the opportunity to do so? ScarJo starred in The Nanny Diaries but she wasn’t stuck in rom-com hell, she was given chances to advance her career. Compare the career of Jennifer Lawrence to other actresses of color currently working. When is Gina Rodriguez going to get the same opportunities as JLaw? Hell even Lupita Nyong’o (who’s a better actress and also an Oscar winner) hasn’t gotten the same amount of push from Hollywood as JLaw has.
VALERIE: Going back to Hemsworth, in a film where he is supposed to be the title character, he gets upstaged by the women every single time. But this is what Hollywood calls bankable. Just as was stated before, ScarJo isn’t bankable. She just recently was granted the right to headline films. But she only has two under her belt: Under the Skin and Lucy. Only one film is a hit, but the film is bad. So they are calling bankability based on one film.
DESIREE: Lucy also has the troubling aspects of a being a film where a white woman is fighting off an evil Asian corporation and hordes of Asian bad guys. She literally kills two Asian men because they don’t speak English. I hated that movie. Also, Marvel won’t even let ScarJo headline a Black Widow film even though fans have been clamoring for one since Avengers if not before. But Hollywood views her as more bankable than an Asian woman which is where intersectionality comes in.
White women face sexism in Hollywood sure, but ScarJo is an example of how women of color in Hollywood face a duality of both sexism and racism in Hollywood. ScarJo as Black Widow isn’t worth the risk of upsetting Marvel/Disney’s white guys named Chris club, but she’s less of a “risk” than an Asian woman, or a Latina woman, or a Black woman in a major action role in a high profile movie.
VALERIE: But historically, whitewashed anime adaptations have flopped repeatedly. It’s throwing good money after bad but claiming its all about the money. Huh?
EDWARD: A friend of mine working as a writer wrote this and offered a very compelling argument to what we’re talking about here as well as Keith’s NYT article on why studios don’t hire Asians as the leads:
“Basically, if this movie bombs, you have to explain to the boss what you did right. If you greenlit a film with a name cast and an existing property and it bombs, they’ll be like, ‘oh you did everything you’re supposed to do so you can keep your job.’ But, had he cast Huntsman with an Asian cast, they’ll be like, ‘man, you took a huge risk and you lost $200 million. You’re fired!’
So what’s the solution? We, as a community, have to create a named actor. How do you do that? A low budget film that does well. Imagine if James Wan had cast an Asian lead in the first Saw? We’d have a star.
Ultimately, we need a young Asian American writer and director to create a great genre film and then cast an Asian actor. For example, the lead in Ex Machina could have been Asian and it still would have done well and we’d have a star. That didn’t happen because a white writer director isn’t going to risk his movie for another race.
So yeah, a small commercial genre film has to do well (imagine if Chronicle had cast a single Asian). And then that movie has to do well. Like really well. Sung Kang played the second lead in a few films that bombed. He was the closest we got. I hope someone gives him another chance. Whatever movie we make, the community has to be behind it.”
DESIREE: Ex Machina did actually help Oscar Issac (who is Latino) further his career, the same way Attack the Block helped his Star Wars castmate John Boyaga, and Chronicle helped skyrocket Michael B. Jordan. But it’s a double edged sword. When Jessica Alba was cast as Sue Storm (and was whitewashed in the role) she bore the blunt of the backlash when the movies were terrible and flopped. Her career never recovered. She never got a Ben Affleck sort of second chance.
And even when you have prominent directors of color they are still sometimes forced to adhere to the status quo of Hollywood. Salma Hayek went out for a role that’s heavily rumored to have been the same role Sandra Bullock got in Gravity. The director, Alfonso Cuarón, most likely since they’re friends, really wanted her for the role according to reports. The studio shut her out because they couldn’t see a “Mexican in space.”
It’s not about supporting whatever comes out the gate, for me, it’s about supporting quality content from creators of color from the ground up. Not just a director, but getting our feet in the door as producers, actors, screenwriters, executives, cast and crew, the whole nine.