Chloe Bennet, Ed Skrein, and the Resistance Against Whitewashing Asian-Americans in Hollywood
“standing up against Hollywood’s continuous insensitivity and flippant behavior towards the Asian American community”
Chloe Bennet – aka Chloe Wang aka Wang Keying 汪可盈 – has stepped up to talk about race in Hollywood.
She reposted Ed Skrein’s Instagram where he announced that he will be bowing out from his leading role in Hellboy, a role that could have (should have) gone to an Asian-American actor (read more about Ed Skrein’s decision here: Ed Skrein Quits “Hellboy” Because of “Whitewashing” Allegations).
Bennet thanks Skrein “for standing up against Hollywood’s continuous insensitivity and flippant behavior towards the Asian American community.”
Insta-Troll Gets Shutdown
In the comments section where the very best of the Internet appears, a user criticized Bennet for changing her birth name from Chloe Wang to Chloe Bennet. She fought back, defending her name change as a strategic decision to help her make a living in Hollywood.
It’s easier to criticize than to live the reality of struggling in Hollywood. Following Bennet’s clap back, the Insta-Troll has retreated and deleted its comment, but Bennet is not retracting from the spotlight. In the past week, she has been very vocal about the struggles of being an Asian-American actress in Hollywood.
She revealed that the name change was due to her frustrations from not being cast in roles. Casting directors let her know that she didn’t look like what they expected, so she felt that her last name was to blame.
Following a rebranding from Wang to Bennet, her career took a turn for the better, as she was almost immediately cast on Nashville and then a leading role in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While this reveals a bias in Hollywood, that is hardly anything new.
More Acceptable in Hollywood
Bennet is far from the first actress to change her name in pursuit career aspirations. In fact, changing names is a practice that actors of all races take part in.
White – Jennifer Aniston aka Jennifer Linn Anastassakis, Louis C.K. aka Louis Székely, Jon Stewart aka Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz
Black – Jamie Foxx aka Eric Marlon Bishop, Idris Elba aka Idrissa Akuna Elba, Mahershala Ali aka Mahershalalhashbaz Ali Gilmore
Latino – Charlie Sheen aka Carlos Irwin Estévez, Oscar Issac aka Oscar G. Hernandez
Indian – Kal Penn aka Kalpen Suresh Modi, Mindy Paling aka Vera Mindy Chokalingam, Ben Kingsley aka Krishna Pandit Bhanji
Asian – Bruce Lee aka Lee Jun-fan, Jackie Chan aka Chan Kong-sang
Notice a trend? The changes minimize their racial profiles.
With the pressure to be less ethnic, it’s so respectable that some actors have held on to their original names. Here’s to you, Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kumail Nanjiani, Aziz Ansari, Ki Hong Lee, and many other brave souls. Knowing the nature of Hollywood, it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that they’ve endured requests to change their names. They’ve likely fought tough battles to hold on to their names and culture, and hopefully they find that it has paid off due to their persistence, luck, and talent.
With that being said, does Bennet deserve to be reprimanded for bending the knee to Hollywood discrimination, or praised for playing the game and leveraging her new fanbase to bring to light the deep-seated discriminatory practices of Hollywood? Let’s see what the Chinese from China feel about her…
China–Chinese Join the Convo
Bennet, aka Wang Keying 汪可盈 in the East, is hotly contended in China right now, polarizing the Chinese audience. However, on popular Chinese platforms like Sina Weibo, tens of thousands of comments showed support of the actress’ decision to whiten her name.
One Chinese netizen wrote that, “It’s understandable that Wong is forced to abide by the rules made by white society. However, I’m tired of Hollywood movies depicting Chinese as either martial masters or nerds. We need more good Asian artists to reshape Chinese people’s images among foreign audiences, changing their biased view of us.”
They seem understanding because, while Chloe has brought to light the fact that Hollywood is racist, this is sadly not a new revelation, but instead, one that has been slapping all colored people in the face for decades. And everyone outside of America can recognize that too.
Asian-Americans Join the Convo
This week, Bennet has vocalized that there needs to be better roles for Asian-Americans in TV and film. And Hollywood is changing, albeit slowly. In recent years, we’ve seen more Asian faces on our TV and computer screens. There are well-received shows like ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and Netflix’s Master of None, and even breakout stars like Ali Wong.
However, where are the Asians on the big screens? I’m trying to think of a significant Asian character in a Hollywood film and… I can’t think of anything except for 2004’s Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle?! I’m sure there must be something else, but right now, it makes me sad that I’m exerting so much brain energy on this and coming up blank (feel free to help me out here).
In order for there to be more roles for Asian-Americans, there must be Asian-Americans writing the narrative in order to appropriately represent the culture and prevent the race from being excluded in entertainment.
Chloe Bennet, Cate Park, and Brad Jenkins – all people of influence in the cultural and political spheres – have founded Represent. Us. Now. (RUN). This organization was formed at an Asian-American Pacific Islander Summit in the Obama White House last year, and it’s built on the goal of creating a stronger AAPI community. RUN will be a place for them to identify and discuss issues, and harness their political and cultural power.
Besides the founders, RUN also has an impressive list of ambassadors including Kal Penn (Kumar in Harold & Kumar, and Barack Obama’s Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement), Kelvin Yu (writer on Bob’s Burgers, Brian in Master of None), Amanda Nguyen (24-year-old founder of Rise Now who organizes civil rights legislation across the country), and Ai Jen Poo (activist directing 200 advocacy groups to fight for domestic workers and disabled Americans).
Asian-Americans are going to make their voices heard.
Not Too Shy Now
Bennet feels that, for too long, Asians have been characterized as nerds, shy girls, or guys that cannot be sexy because they’re Asian. We know that not to be true, but those are messages that were hard to grow up with. It’s hard telling yourself one thing while movies and television shows force a different message down your throat…
Which is why it’s so refreshing to see Asians standing up against racist behavior.
- Last year, we saw Ronny Chieng trashing Jesse Watters’ racist Chinatown news segment on Fox (http://variety.com/2016/tv/ne
ws/the-daily-show-fox-news-chi natown-jesse-watters-bill-orei lly-ronny-cheing-1201881797/).
- Earlier this year, we read Eddie Huang fighting back against Steve Harvey’s racist comments about Asian men (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/
01/14/opinion/sunday/hey-steve -harvey-who-says-i-might-not- steal-your-girl.html?mcubz=0 ).
- Now, Ed Skrein and Chloe Bennet have lended their voices to stop whitewashing in Hollywood.
Silence in the presence of racism is acceptance of that behavior. I’m grateful to see more Asian role models now. I’m glad that they are being anything but silent.