Well, Hollywood does it again, this time by casting Italian American Disney channel darling David Henrie to play–get this–an Asian American character named Tommy Zhou. Platinum Studios is making a film adaption of their comic book series The Weapon.
The filmmakers are emphasizing Henrie’s martial arts experience while de-emphasizing the fact that the character he plays is Asian American. This is again another example of Hollywood sending the message that white actors are more qualified to portray Asian characters than Asian American actors are.
The Weapon is written by comic book author Fred Van Lente, who is well known for helping popularize another Asian American comic book hero, Marvel’s Amadeus Cho. Amadeus, Jubilee, and Tommy Zhou are some of the very few Asian American comic book heroes in existence.
And the story of the The Weapon takes it a step further–at it’s heart it’s about an Asian American kid trying to reconcile his Chinese and American heritage. Throughout the story Tommy struggles with being American, yet Asian. At the end of the story Tommy recognizes that both the Asian and American parts of himself deserve respect, coming to the realization that he “must embrace the good in both parts.”
This is not an indictment against the acting skills of Mr. Henrie. Our concern is not that they have given Mr. Henrie a leading role, but that he has been chosen represent an Asian American while real-life Asian Americans are still systematically denied leading roles in films. Since the Asian American identity of Tommy Zhou is unambiguous, undeniable, and intrinsically part of his story this is one of the worst cases of whitewashed casting in recent memory.
Racebending.com wrote a letter to Platinum Studios Executive Producer Randy Greenberg on September 21st, but we have not received a response. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans has also sent a letter through certified mail and is waiting for a response. We are now calling upon members of the racebending.com community and general public to email, call, and write to Platinum Studios. Letters can be sent to the following emails and addresses. Racebending.com’s sample letter can be viewed below (feel free to borrow from it in your own letter.)
- Platinum Studios, Inc.
11400 West Olympic Blvd, 14th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90064
September 21st, 2009
Dear Mr. Greenberg;
We are a coalition of fans dedicated to monitoring culturally insensitive casting in Hollywood. I am writing to protest the culturally insensitive casting of your film adaptation, “The Weapon.” It is our hope that Platinum Studios reconsiders the casting of David Henrie to portray Tommy Zhou.
We would gladly publicize and support a film that both accurately depicts the character of Tommy Zhou and brings new minority talent to the forefront. If your studio is interested in making a film with Mr. Henrie, Platinum Studios can still do so—without using discriminatory casting practices that will draw public scrutiny. Cast him in a role that does not require him to participate in the modern-day equivalent of “yellowface.”
But if the intent is to create a live-action film adaptation of The Weapon, we are respectfully asking that your studio please have the decency to cast an Asian American actor to portray Tommy Zhou’s story. We are prepared to protest the casting of this film alongside other advocacy groups if your studio decides to move forward with this casting decision, though we hope you will reconsider.
One of Platinum Studios’s core value is social responsibility, yet your film has taken an Asian American lead character and cast him as white. Denying actors of color the role of a lead character of color in this film—even going so far as to downplay the significance and change the ethnicity of a clearly Asian American character—is not socially responsible. You are sending the message that a white actors are more entitled and qualified to portray an Asian American hero, than Asian American actors are.
Employing this kind of discriminatory casting will negatively impact your studio’s reputation, when The Weapon should be a film that popularizes Platinum Studios and brings new fans to your properties. Casting an Asian American to depict Tommy Zhou is more conducive to The Weapon’s long-term economic prospects and legacy, as films with culturally insensitive casting are falling out of public favor. The casting of actor David Henrie to play Asian American character Tommy Zhou is discriminatory against Asian American actors, and offensive to viewers of all ethnicities.
I look forward to continuing a dialogue with you on this matter and am confident that we can find common ground, especially given Platinum Studios’s dedication to social responsibility.
It goes without saying, be polite, but assertive and firm in your convictions.
Good luck everyone! Feel free to share your letter in the comments.