Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
Today is the release date of Olympus Has Fallen, an action movie that unfortunately reflects the Hollywood (and American) stereotype of white nativism: the assumption that American automatically means white.
“In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” – Toni Morrison
Synopsis of the movie:
Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) from his kidnappers.
Pros (sort of):
Going back to the racial nativism piece though…
This is the second “yellow peril” film released within a year to feature white, non-American actors as Big ol’ American Heroes (TM) while casting [Asian] American actors as the evil, foreign invaders.
For example, Red Dawn(2012) features white Australian Chris Hemmsworth as the leader of the American resistance movement. He faces off against Will Yun Lee, an Asian American actor who plays a villainous North Korean invader.
There’s some sick irony when Hemmsworth declares to the resistance fighters he is leading–including Isabel Lucas, another white Australian actor–that Will Yun Lee’s character and the other Asian American-played North Koreans just don’t appreciate America the way they do: “To them, [America] is just a place, but to us, this is our home,” barks Hemmsworth the Australian, describing the bad guys played by the American actors.
In the film Olympus has Fallen, white Scottish actor Gerard Butler plays the heroic ex-Secret Service agent who must save the day from Asian American actor Rick Yune’s duplicitous foreign terrorist.
By following this casting trope, Olympus has Fallen replicates the white nativist “perpetual foreigner” stereotype that “white” is default “American” while “Asian” (and by extension, Asian American) is forever foreign.
Hollywood is unconstrained in whether or not the American hero needs to be played by an American (a refreshing attitude) with the unspoken caveat that these American heroes must be white. This is why white British actor Andrew Garfield can be cast as Spider-man from Queens, New York while black American actor Donald Glover could not even score an audition. This is why, when Warner Bros. decided to “Americanize” Akira, they made a long list of prospective lead actors– some from the US but many from the UK–all of them were considered appropriate for the Americanization and all of them were white. “Americanizing” the franchise did not mean casting American (including African American, Native American, Japanese American etc.) actors.
Rick Yune was born in Washington D.C. How many Americans can boast about being born in our nation’s capital? Yet, he is playing a terrorist invader trying to destroy Washington D.C., rather than the American patriot trying to save it. The privilege of playing that American hero goes to a white actor– because Hollywood’s institutional culture posits that any white actor is still more “American patriot” than an Asian American actor.
Imagine an alternate universe version of this “Die Hard in the White House” film, starring Rick Yune as the hero:
Disgraced former Presidential guard James Kang (Rick Yune) finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, [*cough* including his iffy second generation Korean language skills] Kang works with national security to rescue the President (Morgan Freeman) from his kidnappers.