I am comically horrible at finding people in a crowd. On more than one occasion I’ve scanned a busy food court or college campus only to have the friend I was looking for tap me on the shoulder from right in front of me and startle me. However, when it comes to Asian men, I have 20/20-telescopic-snyper-eagle-eyes with a night vision option.
There’s a scene in The Bourne Identity where Matt Damon is in a diner and says to the girl he’s with, “I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. […] Now why would I know that? How could I know that and not know who I am?” He doesn’t know why, he just knows that’s how his brain works.
That’s me with noticing Asian guys. It’s just how my brain works. If Where’s Waldo was an Asian dude, I would finish that book in 2 seconds. So when I saw Battle: Los Angeles this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice a sufficient lack of Asian guys.
To be fair, I have no idea how many black, Latino, Middle Eastern, or Canadian actors were in the film. There may very well have been an Asian woman as the leading role, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed, my eyes are trained for one thing only. (Just double checked… Aaron Eckhart is not an Asian woman.)
But this got me thinking about other race-issues people have had with mainstream Hollywood movies that I’ve never really been too quick to jump on the bandwagon for in the past.
About a year ago a bunch of people made a big deal about The Last Airbender casting a white kid as the lead and basically replacing all the Asians from the original cartoon with white actors. Now, I didn’t really have a problem with that. It was an adaptation so as far as I’m concerned M Night Shyamalan had creative license to change absolutely anything he wanted from the original material. If he wanted to make them all Wookiees, I’m sure George Lucas would have licensed him the rights, and I would have supported his right to do so. (And it probably would have made for a better movie.)
Hollywood frequently has that other hot-button issue when they cast an actor to portray something they’re not. Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi playing a Japanese geisha, Italian-American Al Pacino playing a Cuban drug lord, straight Jake Gyllenhall playing a gay cowboy.
But I’ve never had a problem with that either, because isn’t that the whole point of acting? Portraying something that you’re not.
Where I do start to take issue is when movies start portraying the WORLD as something it’s not.
As I waited in the theater for Battle: Los Angeles to begin, my Jason Bourne skills naturally kicked in as I noticed 32 Asian guys in the theater. 3 in my row, 9 in the section behind me, 4 right in front of me, and 16 closer to the screen. 11 of them wore hats, 7 wore glasses, and one had a cast on his right arm (I’ll keep their license plate numbers to myself).
Since I watched Battle: Los Angeles in a theater in Los Angeles, it’s reasonable to say that the ethnic composition of the audience is similar to that of the city, and would therefore be similar to the ethnic composition of the movie. However, according to Battle: Los Angeles, there is only ONE Asian guy in all of Los Angeles (and that’s including dead bodies and extras!). If true, that alone would make me want to leave LA faster than an alien invasion.
I’m not demanding that studios give leading roles to Asian guys — it’s a business, and there’s less than a dozen actors who can open a movie nowadays, so I understand the need to bank on a known quantity if you’re putting up over 100 million dollars. Change in that area will come slowly.
But why can’t a casting director throw in a few more Asian background actors as a start? Maybe they think nobody would notice or even care about an out-of-focus Asian surfer way the hell off in the distance who’s on screen for half a second before he and all of Santa Monica get blown up by the aliens.
But I would. And it would be my favorite part of the movie.