Whitewashing In Hollywood From An Asian Perspective: How Diversity Skips Over Asians

By Amir Rizvi

Paul Leach is a Korean-American actor, writer and director in Los Angles. He recently wrote and directed his first feature film which he also edited and scored. An impressive feat, unless you realize that Paul also wrote, directed, scored and choreographed an original musical in college that was immediately invited off-Broadway. So with all this performing and writing talent, why haven’t you heard of him yet?

Paul Leach walks in the room with an easy smile. With the half-beard so popular in LA right now, tight jeans, fitted grey v-neck and and a body toned from the gym, he looks every bit what a matinee idol, breakthrough star should be, and he’s Asian.

Paul sits in the chair next to me and orders a green tea.

Paul: Green tea’s supposed to be good for you, but I’d honestly rather have the coffee.

Dipo: You don’t drink coffee?

Paul: I do, I’m just trying to look like I don’t.

Dipo: (laughs) So you’re Korean right?

Paul: Yes. Korean-adopted.

Dipo: Tell me about your background in the media.

Paul: I went to conservatory for theatre and music.

Dipo: Conservatory, that’s serious.

Paul: (laughs) it’s more common in the New York scene, but in LA, there aren’t many trained people. But yeah, it was hard work, but I loved it.

Dipo: Have you seen the results of that training in your footprint here in Hollywood.Froman Asian-American perspective?

Paul: (sighs) Not at all. In the theatre world, I’d play leads, because theatre is much more open to diversity, but suddenly when I came to LA, there were no roles for me, I was suddenly “Asian guy #1” and I had to either do karate or speak with a thick accent. I had this conversation a few months ago with a friend of mine who’s a pretty big personal manager. I told him how any Asian role that comes through, IF there are any, is a stereotype, either a nerd, a martial artist, basically an archetype, the same thing that happened to blacks in the 60s. Viola Davis’ husband, who’s also an actor, used to complain to me about the archetypes he’s faced with, and I’d just think to myself, “Man, you’re lucky you’re not Asian”.

Dipo: So by archetype do you mean racist?

Paul: How many male Asian roles do you see that AREN’T nerds, the bad guy, or the comic relief?

Dipo: None really.

Paul: Right. Beta roles. When I told me friend the manager this, we were at his office at the time, he didn’t believe me, so he turned around at his desk and went through the breakdowns.

Dipo: To clarify, the breakdowns are the listing of auditions for TV and film and what they’re looking for.

Paul: Correct. He looked through and then turned back to me and quietly said “You’re right. I’m sorry”. It just suddenly hit him. I mean, whitewashing right now is a huge controversy, but there’s a deep problem here. In a time when everyone is so big on diversity and changing traditionally white roles, like Jimmy Olsen inSupergirl, Nick Fury in the “Avengers”, or Johnny Storm in the last “Fantastic Four” to name a few, but not only are none of those roles given to Asians, but the few roles that actually are SUPPOSED to be Asian, are taken away from us. I sit around during pilot season and my friend are going out several times a week, and I go out once in two months.

Dipo: So you mean the roles taken away from Asians like “Ghost in the Shell”?

Paul: “Ghost in the Shell”, Emma Stone’s role in “Aloha”, TildaSwinton’s role in “Dr. Strange” to name a few. Here’s the thing though. You would NEVER take a black character and make them white. There would be an outcry of racism. So why then is it okay with Asians? 

Dipo: Interesting point. Do you think because Asian stars don’t have the draw?

Paul: I agree they don’t have the draw, which is mostly the studio’s fault for not casting any, but can you tell me the name of the actor starring in Marvel’s “Black Panther”?

Dipo: No.

Paul: How about “Luke Cage” on Netflix. What’s the lead actor’s name?

Dipo: No idea.

Paul: So the non-name recognition is really no excuse.

Dipo: That’s true. Why else do you think then this happening?

Paul: It’s the culture in the States. Our media dictates culture, and all they show of Asian, guys specifically, are effeminized, nerdy or martial arts guys with terrible accents. When’s the last time you saw an Asian guy portrayed as attractive to women?

Dipo: Never.

Paul: Exactly. Almost every girl I’ve dated outside my race, I’ve been the first Asian guy they’ve ever gone out with, which is sad, because most of them wouldn’t even had CONSIDER dating an Asian guy before because our media paints us as undesirable. Because Hollywood has created and perpetuated these false stereotypes, even today, which is crazy in such an easily-offended culture who cries for diversity, there are no Asian leading men. Can you name one?

Dipo: Wow, I can’t name any.

Paul: Exactly. Do you find something wrong with that?

Dipo: Yeah, I do.

Paul: Let me give you an example from an audition I had recently. It was for a feature film starring some known people. My role was one of the main character’s friends, a Korean character named Kwan, which isn’t Korean by the way, and there’s a scene where Kwan full on gets rejected by the hot girl. She literally pushes him in the face away from her and says “Ew”. “Ew”.Like he’s disgusting. This is what it’s like being an Asian in Hollywood.

Dipo: wow.

Paul: That film was written by a white person, a white GIRL, no less, and again, the perpetuation of stereotypes.

Paul: They sometimes try to bring stars from overseas, but their English is so bad, that they could never make it here in the states. They have plenty of young actors here they could cast and try to build, but they don’t.

Dipo: Why do you think that is?

Paul: Because no one holds them accountable and complains. Back when Denzel Washington started out, he would lobby that non-racial specific roles be given to more black actors. But unfortunately, right now, there are no Asians with any pull that can actively work for that diversity.

Dipo: And the problem is that this just isn’t a social issue for you, it directly effects your CAREER.

Paul: Yes, exactly. It effects me getting or NOT getting work. It led me to have to focus on BEHIND THE CAMERA things because of the lack of opportunity in FRONT of it.

Dipo: Your film. The Woodsman.

Paul: Yes. I fortunately have written almost twenty screenplays, a few of which have been produced and The Woodsman was was directorial debut.

Dipo: I watched the screener you sent me. It was exceptional. Your eye for shots and your score was amazing. You wrote that?

Paul: Yes, the script and the music both. A lot of the music I wrote before we shot.

Dipo: It’s currently at Cannes?

Paul: Yes, being sold there by my distribution company, Adler and Associates. Very lucky to have them. They liked the project enough to offer me distribution on what I work on next sight unseen.

Dipo: That’s big.

Paul: They’re great.

Dipo: So you can play a part in bringing the diversity to the screen that you want?

Paul: Yes. It’s not enough to complain, you have do DO something. Because there has been so much bad foundation laid, it’s going to take active effort to right the ship. Look, it’s taken blacks fifty years to become leading men and women. I just want diversity to be for ALL people.


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