The Extraordinary Measures film opened last week and film critic Roger Ebert weighs in on the casting. As it turns out, Harrison Ford’s character is based on Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen.
In his review, Mr. Ebert writes:
Dr. Robert Stonehill doesn’t exist in real life. The Pompe cure was developed by Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen and his colleagues while he was at Duke University. [...] Harrison Ford, as this film’s executive producer, perhaps saw Stonehill as a plum role for himself; a rewrite was necessary because [Ford] couldn’t very well play Dr. Chen. The real Chen, a Taiwan University graduate, worked his way up at Duke from a residency to professor and chief of medical genetics at the Duke University Medical Center. [Chen] has been mentioned as a Nobel candidate.
The casting of Harrison Ford may be seen as a necessary business decision, as the use of a huge star that audiences can relate to is a must for Hollywood films. This is reflected in the absolutely abysmal opening ticket sales for the film, which opened against a blockbuster you may have heard of, featuring much more relatable giant blue alien cats.
And of course, going with a known actor guarantees that you’ve chosen the best possible performer for the role, as Mr. Ebert describes:
I suspect Dr. Chen might have inspired a more interesting character than “Dr. Stonehill.” The Nebraskan seems inspired more by Harrison Ford’s image and range. He plays the doctor using only a few spare parts off the shelf. (1) He likes to crank up rock music while he works. (2) He doesn’t return messages. (3) He’s so feckless he accidentally hangs up on Crowley by pulling the phone off his desk. (4) He likes to drink beer from longneck bottles in a honky-tonk bar and flirt with the waitress. (5) “I’m a scientist, not a doctor,” he says. [...]
This becomes tiresome.
[...] Ford is given no lines that suggest depth of character, only gruffness that gradually mellows.
Another in long line of films that favor the replacement of an Asian or Asian American face with a Caucasian one. Whether a fictional world populated by people of color or real men and women, Hollywood embraces “whiter” retellings and re-imaginings.
As is usually the case, there is little malice involved here – just a system that is tilted in favor of Caucasians (established or not), and the sum of small choices that converge on the whitewashing of an originally Asian person. There is no one individual to point to here as an “instigator” of this whitewashing; but it is a reminder that Asians and Asian Americans are not permitted to portray themselves, much less others.
Please be sure to check out Mr. Ebert’s full review here. Special thanks to Angry Asian Man for breaking the news to all the blogs.