John Cho may be only pushing 40, but even his career has been fraught with Asians and other minorities limited to small supporting roles in television, movies and commercials.
But that’s changing, and quickly. Not simply because the world is becoming more diversified in its mental state, but also because advertisers are realizing minority groups have dollars to spend.
It’s not just films like 2009’s “Star Trek” that has helped, but also a number of television shows, including CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0” that has a strong Asian cast, including “Lost” alum Daniel Dae Kim and “Battlestar Galactica” vixen Grace Park. However, the one actor that preceded Cho in the role of Hikaru Sulu feels there is still a long way to go.
George Takei, who played Sulu in the original “Star Trek” series as well as six films through the early 1990s, has spoken out more than once about how Asians are not being properly included in Hollywood projects. His biggest pet peeve has been the on-again, off-again live-action remake of the genre anime “Akira,” where Hollywood is looking to produce it with a mostly non-Asian cast, despite its obvious Japanese roots.
Yet, when Asians are included in some entertainment, like commercials, they are still faced with common stereotypes — mostly about having superior intelligence.
Paul Farhi, a reporter with the Washington Post, pointed out in a story last year that over the past two decades, Asians have been typecast in very specific roles.
“When Asian-Americans appear in advertising, they typically are presented as the technological experts — knowledgeable, savvy, perhaps mathematically adept or intellectually gifted,” Farhi wrote. “They’re most often shown in ads for business-oriented or technical products — smartphones, computers, pharmaceuticals, electronic gear of all kinds.”
Even Takei himself has found himself utilized in such a way when he was portraying a scientist testing out a television marketed the Japanese-owned Sharp Corp.
Being pushed into a box is not good for any minority, but then again, it’s a much more positive view of Asian-Americans than what society used to portray, even in the days when Takei first donned a Starfleet uniform to take the helm of the Enterprise.
But getting on television, and in the movies and the like, is good for any minority community, especially with positive stereotypes. It helps encourage more and more would-be actors to pursue their dream, where they otherwise may feel their options are limited.
“It’s so important to see someone who looks like you doing it,” said Cho, who appears in the remake of “Total Recall” on Aug. 3, and is set to return as Hikaru Sulu in the new “Star Trek” film next year. “It’s something our brain needs, to see someone who looks like us doing something to convince us that something is possible.”