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This Diversity Hashtag Challenges Hollywood To See Famous Asian Actors As Leading Role Stars

Let’s talk about Asian representation in Hollywood, shall we? Before the 2018 rom-com Crazy Rich Asians, there had not been a major Hollywood movie featuring an Asian and Asian-American cast in 25 years.

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And then earlier this year, Sandra Oh received an Emmy nod for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Eve on Killing Eve, becoming the first Asian person to do so.

She didn't win the Emmy, but a few weeks later, Sandra made history yet again as the first Asian woman in 39 years to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV drama, as well as the first Asian woman to win two Golden Globe awards, AND the first Asian person to host the ceremony. WHEW.
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She didn’t win the Emmy, but a few weeks later, Sandra made history yet again as the first Asian woman in 39 years to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV drama, as well as the first Asian woman to win two Golden Globe awards, AND the first Asian person to host the ceremony. WHEW.

Simply put, major award-winning opportunities for Asian actors in Hollywood have been few and far between since, well, forever. That’s why William Yu created #SeeAsAmStar, a campaign that reimagines box office hits with Asian-American leads.

Back in 2016, William launched the #StarringJonCho social media campaign, which entailed photoshopping John Cho’s face onto the faces of various white leading men on blockbuster film posters. Considering how Jon recently landed the lead role in Netflix’s highly-anticipated Cowboy Bebop reboot, I’d consider the campaign a major success.

William’s background includes advertising, marketing, and screenwriting, not artificial intelligence. But that didn’t stop him from teaching himself how to make these incredible videos.

William Yu / Via seeasamstar.com

“From beginning to end, the entire process took about three months,” he told BuzzFeed. “Although I know some coding basics, I am by no means a technologist, so I was essentially learning completely new principles about artificial intelligence and the deepfake process from scratch. There was a lot of trial and error that went into it.”

FYI, William actually released the viral campaign last year, but I first discovered it earlier this month, so I figured I wasn’t the only person who’d yet to see it!

John Cho, Constance Wu, Steven Yuen, and Arden Cho were all featured as lead roles in big American flicks, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, 500 Days of Summer, and The Hunger Games.

When it came to deciding which Asian-American actors to feature, William looked for stars who could tick off at least two of the following criteria: cult following, box office success, critical acclaim, and leading role experience."It was a sobering exercise to know that there are still very few Asian American actors that pass all four of these requirements," William said. "But it's exciting to see how far we've come even since 2016 and to know that there is so much more opportunity to be had."
William Yu / Via seeasamstar.com

When it came to deciding which Asian-American actors to feature, William looked for stars who could tick off at least two of the following criteria: cult following, box office success, critical acclaim, and leading role experience.

“It was a sobering exercise to know that there are still very few Asian American actors that pass all four of these requirements,” William said. “But it’s exciting to see how far we’ve come even since 2016 and to know that there is so much more opportunity to be had.”

“I wanted to pick films and characters that showed the breadth of the human condition,” he added. “It was important to me that viewers would be able to see Asian faces on characters that are considered brave and courageous, but also flawed and messy. Because that’s the reality of our experience.”

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There’s no doubt that John, Constance, Steven, and Arden are long overdue for leading Hollywood roles. However, considering that this campaign aims to create more diverse representations of Asians, I had to ask William about his decision to spotlight four East Asian actors (John, Steven, and Arden are Korean American; Constance is Taiwanese American). He assured me that he had, in fact, tried out the deep fake technology on South Asian actors, like Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and Priyanka Chopra, but ended up encountering technical difficulties.

“Unfortunately, [the technology] only allowed me to swap faces; necks, ears, and in some instances, foreheads, could not be swapped,” he explained. “This limitation meant that, in order to have a convincing end product, the skin tones of the subjects would have to be similar enough to their targets so that a viewer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, otherwise, the uncanny valley would become too pronounced. In the development process, I encountered numerous elements of East Asian privilege — skin tone, body type, hair profiles — that I hope will be discussed through the spread of the project.”

As for why campaigns like #SeeAsAmStar and #StarringJonCho mean so much to William, he pointed to Hollywood’s ongoing history of stereotyping and pigeonholing Asian characters. “Growing up, the conversation about Asian Hollywood leads has always been theoretical for me,” William recalled.

"It was always discussed in the abstract, as an idea instead of as a reality," William continued. "These ideas of how people who look like me are perceived are then warped and dismissed by those in power positions who then stereotype, pigeonhole, or whitewash Asian characters as a tech nerd, an emasculated sidekick, an exotic prize to be won."
William Yu / Via seeasamstar.com

“It was always discussed in the abstract, as an idea instead of as a reality,” William continued. “These ideas of how people who look like me are perceived are then warped and dismissed by those in power positions who then stereotype, pigeonhole, or whitewash Asian characters as a tech nerd, an emasculated sidekick, an exotic prize to be won.”

William also insisted that although these problematic perceptions begin on the silver screen, they ultimately “trickle into all industries,” effecting the ways in which Asian people are regarded and treated by society.

William Yu / Via seeasamstar.com

“This type of representation isn’t just good for business or a term used to cater to specific audiences; it’s about seeing, really seeing, that inclusive stories can have universal impact.”

“These assumptions do not reflect the complexity of our humanity, so what better way to demonstrate this than by showing you a living, breathing Asian hero, romantic lead, or mess of a person?” William said. “If you can’t see it, I’ll show you.”

William Yu / Via seeasamstar.com

Couldn’t have said it better myself! For more GIFs and videos, head to SeeAsAmStar.com. And if you’re in the area, William’s hosting an opening reception for the #StarringJohnCho poster exhibit in partnership with NYC’s famed Pearl River Mart on Saturday, May18 from 5-7PM.

Check out how BuzzFeed is celebrating at Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Ellie Sunakawa / BuzzFeed



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