The frustration felt by Chinese audiences as they watch their favorite actors reduced to insignificant cameos draws a compelling parallel to issues of Asian-American representation back in the United States. It’s tough enough to find Asian actors on screen to identify and resonate with (Asian actors account for roughly 5.1% of speaking roles according to a 2014 USC study), and for those who are actually cast — or rather, strategically placed — it can’t help but feel patronizing. The minor roles are a byproduct of an endgame too cynical — or worse, too afraid — to trust Asian actors to helm these films and entertain audiences. Coupled with the continued whitewashing of Asian roles in mainstream films, these flower vases offer little respite. Yes, there are Asian faces on screen and they exist in the universe of the film (well, the Chinese version), but apart from that, you could ostensibly film their scenes with cardboard cutouts and barely notice a difference; they are that inconsequential.
This presents a unique problem for representation. The root of the issue isn’t the diminishing returns on the domestic end for franchises that have clearly exhausted their creative potential; it’s about the creative potential that was simply never given to the actors — both Asian and Asian American alike — in these mainstream features whose reach is simply unmatched…..