Another take on “WTF” casting

Casting roles has always been an issue in the film and theater industry. Controversy arose when Jennifer Hudson was casted to portray Winnie Mandela in âÄúWinnie.âÄù The casting of Zhang Ziyi, a Chinese actress, as a Japanese geisha in âÄúMemoirs of a GeishaâÄù provoked ire within Japan.
While Hmong-American writer Ka VangâÄôs reaction towards the casting of Korean-American Sun Mee Chomet as the Hmong-American character True in the play âÄúWTFâÄù may be deemed as an overreaction, her frustration is understandable.
It is most certainly true that not all Asians are the same, nor do they all look alike. As we have seen through these casting controversies, âÄúlookingâÄù like the person who the actors/actresses are trying to portray is simply not enough.
VangâÄôs frustration stems from this argument. To be clear, the Hmong are still a marginalized and unknown group.
By casting non-Hmong actresses in Hmong roles, the Hmong communityâÄôs efforts in creating visibility and consciousness of their existence is completely shattered.
Clint EastwoodâÄôs recent âÄúGran TorinoâÄù does a great job of casting Hmong-American actors and actresses in Hmong-American roles. Despite EastwoodâÄôs inaccurate portrayal of the Hmong culture, other aspiring filmmakers and actors/actresses can see by this casting that going into the film industry is something that is achievable.
Vang does not seem to be demanding the replacement of Chomet, nor is she off base. She is arguing that if we do not give Hmong-Americans the chance to play themselves or the chance to play the lead roles at all, then the message is clear: Hmong-Americans are not worthy of such roles.
I certainly do not believe that it was Mu Performing ArtsâÄôs intention to marginalize of Hmong-American actors and relegate them to secondary or demeaning roles. However, this casting decision can be interpreted as such.
We must consider that the Hmong are still largely unknown âÄî even on the campus with the most Hmong-American students in the entire nation. We are not as known as the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans or Filipinos.
It is only within this context that VangâÄôs frustration can be clearly understood. It is here, then, that we must reanalyze casting decisions when âÄúlookingâÄù Asian-American is simply not good enough.