8 White Actors Who Played Asian Characters in Movies

Did you see all the Asian actors at the Oscars? There was Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone– wait, what am I saying? They aren’t Asian, they just played Asian characters. And people are pissed. Remember how mad some people were when Ghostbusters was recast with chicks? Well imagine if men only played 4.4 percent of all movie roles (and one percent of lead characters) and THEN those roles were recast with chicks. That’s how it feels when Asian roles are cast with white actors. But unfortunately, there’s a long history of this practice — here are eight white actors who played Asian roles.

1. Scarlett Johansson – Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is a comic book with a Japanese female lead character named Motoko Kusanagi. Fans of the comic were thrilled to hear it would be made into a film… until they saw that the lead character was going to be played by Scarlett Johansson and turned white. Film producers reportedly even experimented a bit with ways to make Scarlett Johansson look more Asian, which would totally make sense if there were no actual Asian people in the world. But there are. There are 1.3 million people of Japanese descent in America and I’m sure some of them can act. Can you imagine this movie with Rinko Kikuchi in the lead? I can. She’s an Academy Award nominee, so she can act.

2. Warner Oland – Charlie Chan

Some early Charlie Chan films starred Asian actors, but the franchise wasn’t a hit until Swedish actor Warner Oland TAPED HIS EYELIDS BACK to play the investigator. Then white people were like “yay! I love this sh*t!”

3. Katharine Hepburn – Dragon Seed

In Dragon Seed, Hepburn plays a Chinese woman resisting the takeover of her village by the Japanese. All the supporting characters were played by Asian actors because Asians are only allowed to be supporting characters in their own stories, I guess! We also know that Asian actors are talented and professional enough to pretend that Katharine Hepburn looks Chinese. This guy by the tree is managing to look at her with love in his eyes. He should have won Best Actor.

4. Mickey Rooney – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a lovely Aubrey Hepburn movie. It’s funny, sweet, and adorable, and then there’s a SUPER racist Asian stereotype played by Mickey Rooney wearing fake teeth rammed into the movie. Has anyone done an edit of this movie with no Mickey Rooney? Or like digitally removed him and put in Hiroyuki Sanada or something? This is terrible.

5. Justin Chatwin – Dragonball Evolution

Why is Goku white?

6. Benedict Cumberbatch – Star Trek Into Darkness

I’m clearly not an intense Star Trek fan (just a casual fan! But a fan nonetheless!) because I didn’t realize until doing research for this article that Khan is Indian, whose full name is Khan Noonien Singh, is of Indian descent. (Is India even a thing anymore in the Star Trek future? Is Earth a thing? Oh god my casual fanness is showing.) In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban played Khan. And who better to take up the mantle of this complex POC character than… a white British guy.

7. Emma Stone – Aloha

In Aloha, Emma Stone’s character Allison Ng is supposed to be half-Asian, half-Hawaiian. Now, since Hawaii is majority non-white, it was a bummer to see a blue-eyed blonde take a role that really should have gone to someone like Maggie Q. Maggie Q is half-Vietnamese, born in Hawaii, and would look very hot in a flight suit.

8. Tilda Swinton – Doctor Strange

The writer/director knew he wanted to change The Ancient One character from an old man into a woman. He said as he was writing the character, he kept feeling like he was writing an Asian stereotype. So he changed the character to not be Asian! Which is a terrible solution! Maybe the worst possible solution to that problem!

Messed up sh*t, y’all. Did I miss any big ones? Tweet at me and let me know @erikaheidewald!

Erika Heidewald
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