By Josh Rhee
Since the 1970s, there has been criticism of the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, from movies to popular television shows. The problem lies in minority actors not being given a chance to play major roles. Because these minority actors aren’t being cast in major roles, viewers who don’t happen to be of white, European descent rarely get to see anyone who looks like them represented on the screen.
In the most extreme cases, actors who don’t fit the descriptions of specific characters have been considered and chosen for major roles. In the 1961 comedy A Majority of One, Sir Alec Guinness, an English actor, played a Japanese business man. The movie talked about the difficulties of an interracial marriage during a time of prejudice. This movie took place shortly after the second World War and depicted the blatant racism people had against Japanese people. The major characters were only played by white actors, again excluding minority actors and actresses from the realm of acting.
A more recent example is the live-action movie of Mulan, which many people were excited about. Mulan, a Disney animation, is about a Chinese girl exhibiting courage by fighting on the front lines against a major Hun invasion. The public’s excitement quickly changed to confusion when Scarlett Johansson was being considered to play the main character. Many protested this decision and decided to voice their opinion through a petition which reached 100,000 signatures.
The underrepresented demographic is primarily made up of the African American, Native American, and Asian American communities. 30 Days of Night is a prime example of this. This 2007 horror film takes place in Alaska and revolves around the main character, Sheriff Eben Olemaun, who is played by a white actor, Josh Hartnett. However, in the comic book miniseries from which the movie was adapted, Eben Olemaun is a descendent of the Inuit tribe, a group of indigenous people who had once inhabited Alaska.
Another movie, the 2006 film titled World Trade Center, starred white actor, William Mapother, who plays Marine Sergeant Jason Thomas, who was at the scene during the September 11 attack. Again, a white actor took on the role of a character who was a person of color - Jason Thomas is an African American male who risked his life to save lives after the World Trade Center was attacked. It truly shouldn’t be that hard to cast an actor to play a part that actually matches the ethnicity of the character. Moreover, real life people like Jason Thomas should be given the respect they deserve and should be represented correctly at the very least.
Although gradual, progress is surely taking place. For example, a major television series, The Walking Dead, starred Korean actor Steven Yeun, who plays a Korean character, finally getting it right this time. The character was loved by all and soon grew a large fanbase, quickly becoming the show’s most beloved and charming character. Like Steven Yeun, there are several other minority actors such as Lupita Nyong’o whose first feature film was 12 Years a Slave where she won an academy award for Best Supporting Actress.
The times have changed and people’s expectations are getting higher, demanding that producers and directors cast minority actors. With the rise of live action movies and television series, there are several more opportunities for minority actors to join the limelight.
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