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Marvel Responds to Runaways Casting Concerns

August 26, 2010

Marvel Studios has responded to Racebending.com and the Asian American community’s concerns about the casting of an Asian American actress to portray the character Nico Minoru in Runaways (2012).

A statement Racebending.com received on Thursday, August 26th read:

“Thank you for reaching out regarding your concerns over Marvel’s recent casting notice for THE RUNAWAYS. We appreciate your interest in our production and with Marvel Entertainment.

“To address your concern over casting for the role of Nico, as we do with all of our films, we intend to stay true to the legacy and story of the comic when casting these parts. Thus, our goal is to cast an Asian American actress as depicted in the comic series and the casting notice will be adjusted accordingly.

“We thank you again for your correspondence and the opportunity to clarify our process.”

Marvel Studios

On the public open casting call website for Runaways, smallfacescasting.com, the breakdown (revised on August 25th) now reads:

Girl 1: Uniquely beautiful, nurturing but guarded
Female, Asian-American, must play 16-18
Must be at least 16 by January 2011

The submission deadline for audition tapes has also been pushed back to September 15th to allow Asian American actors time to prepare their monologues.


Nico as depicted by her designer, Adrian Alphona

The statement and change in the casting breakdown is the result of several phone calls and emails between Racebending.com staff and the Runaways production, Marvel Studios’ corporate communications, and Walt Disney Studios executives in the Multicultural Initiatives division. We had the support of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and other Asian American advocacy groups during this process.

Marvel was respectful and responsive to our calls and emails, and did not give us the “run-around.” We felt they were very open to feedback from the Asian American community. (This is the huge contrast from the way Paramount and the production of The Last Airbender treated concerns from the Asian American community in early 2009.) We are really relieved and excited to have this clear response from Marvel.

Why the Casting Language Mattered

Racebending.com was first alerted to a discrepancy in the casting breakdown for Runaways on August 5th. The breakdown for the comic’s Japanese American character did not mention that the character is Asian, or that Asian American actresses should audition. This was in stark contrast to the casting breakdown for the comic’s African American character, where the ethnicity was clearly indicated, giving African American actors unfamiliar with the comic greater access to the role.


The casting breakdown for Alex Wilder noted that the character is African American.

In Hollywood parlance, when ethnicity is not clearly stated in a breakdown, the default assumption that the character is intended to be white. Because nondescript listings are frequently used to cast white characters, a nondescript listing does not guarantee actors of color a fair chance. Casting calls interested in seeing actors of all ethnicities are usually more emphatic (ie: “submit any ethnicity,” “submit all ethnicities,” “all ethnicities welcome.”) [source]

The Hollywood view that a nondescript breakdown defaults to a white character is so entrenched that casting director/producer Rueben Cannon estimated in an interview that 85-95% of agents would not think to submit a black client for a role that does not explicitly say “black” or “African American” in the breakdown. [source]. When Racebending.com spoke with people working in the entertainment industry about the breakdown, they also confirmed that without the keywords “Asian” or “Asian American,” actors of Asian descent would face barriers in accessing the role. Including the keywords would mitigate systemic discriminatory factors prevalent in Hollywood.


Nico by Takeshi Miyazawa (left) and Jim Cheung (right)

“While this is a comic book character, the public has always seen this heroine as an Asian American,” Floyd Mori, National Director of the Japanese American Citizens League, said. “Staying true to the story as it is known is critical in helping the American public to understand that heroines are not always white, but that all ethnicities can and do play that role in real life. This is a giant step in the right direction.”

Our Efforts

In our communications with Marvel, Racebending.com encouraged the production to change the casting breakdown to be more inclusive to Asian American actors, and stressed that the best person to portray an Asian American character would be an Asian American actor.

“I am sure that efforts Marvel and Small Faces make to ensure authenticity will pay off in a richer, more successful film,” Daniel M. Mayeda, Board Member of East West Players, said.

In addition to our work speaking with Marvel to encourage them to change the casting breakdown language, Racebending.com disseminated the existing breakdown language to over 30 Asian American theater troupes and performing arts organizations. We let them know that even though it is not stated clearly on the breakdown, the character was Asian American in the comic and that actors should audition. We also encouraged the Screen Actors Guild’s Affirmative Action and Diversity division to share the listings for the Alex and Nico characters with their actors. We will be contacting them with the updated breakdown, shortly.

While the significance of Marvel making a concerted effort to reach out to Asian actors through the wording of their casting breakdown is not something Racebending.com can replicate, we hoped that by spreading the word, we could ensure that Marvel will be able to find the best actor possible to represent this Asian American character.

“I want to thank Marvel for this quick response to the concerns of the Asian American community,” MANAA Vice President Lori Kido Lopez said. “We take this action as an indication that Marvel is dedicated to seeking out minority talent for this project, which is one of the most important steps toward diversifying our media landscape and providing more balanced representations of minorities. ”

We are thrilled that Marvel has changed the casting breakdown to align with their goal of casting an Asian American actress as Nico! They heard loud and clear that people of color want to be represented in their movies. We hope that more studios begin to understand, appreciate, and respect our desire to see more diversity in our entertainment!

Categories: Featured, Runaways
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About the Author

Loraine Sammy is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Danice

    Thank goodness! Thank you, THANK YOU for helping to fight for us.

  • Ari

    This is great news! Although it shouldn’t be news. It never should have happened in the first place, Nico should have always been mentioned as Asian American. *sigh* I’m excited for this movie though and I’m glad Marvel is being cooperative

  • e

    See? Was that so hard?! Thank you RB & Marvel for instilling fairness into the process!
    Take note, Hollywood!

  • This is so fantastic that you all made this happen and that Marvel was not jerky or horrible about it. Congratulations!

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  • Hapa

    Can you submit if you are only half japanese?

    • sc

      well, in the actual series, BOTH of nico’s parents are japanese, so…you could try i guess…

    • You should absolutely submit to this role. Precious few roles are written for Asian American actors, much less multiracial. Good luck auditioning!

  • Kenneth

    This is so awesome! I have a whole new respect for Marvel now. So glad they stepped up to the plate and did the right thing.

  • MikeAT

    Congrats on a job well done!

    However, what many organizations end being complacent after one or more victories, and soon become lazy and impotent.

    STAY FOCUSED AND VILIGENT
    THE FIGT CONTINUES!!!

  • Truth

    http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=65436

    Mickey Rourke will be playing Genghis Khan in new “historical” movie. This is like getting Jackie Chan to star in a movie about Abraham Lincoln, with Jackie Chan starring as Abe Lincoln.

    • M

      well according to accounts of the time Genghis had red-ish hair and green eyes but his features were pure asian…so Mickey Rourke has asian features?…we need Ken Watanabe on this one, just dye his hair and give him contacts!!!

    • Maya

      actually that would be really funny to see…

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  • Half Happy

    If the character in question had been an Asian male Marvel would not have responded this way – book it.

  • MQP

    Just a note – If a casting all says “submit any ethnicity,” “submit all ethnicities,” “all ethnicities welcome” – the assumption is the role is for anyone who isn’t white.

  • MQP

    Note – If the casting call says “submit any ethnicity,” “submit all ethnicities,” “all ethnicities welcome” then the assumption will be that that part is only open to anyone who isn’t white.

    • Not exactly. White is the default in this country, so it’s assumed in the blanket of “all.” Because of this, when casting agents pull up actors to contact for a role, they’ll almost always send it along to their white actors.

      Actors of color have to fight over the handful of roles they’re typically sent, which are the ones that specifically call out for a person of color.

  • CC Li

    YEAH! YOU KICK ASS RB!

  • KB

    I know this is nitpicking, but the one you have listed as by Michael Ryan is not by Michael Ryan. It’s by Jim Cheung.

    Sorry if this is a repost I think my laptop at the last one.

    • Thanks for the catch. I’ve corrected it now. I got this cover confused with the Secret Invasion crossover cover. >_<

  • Sarah

    Wonderful news! A victory for Asian Americans, but as MikeAT noted above, we must persist even after this. Thank you for your work, and keep it up!

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  • You’ve done a little ‘racebending’ of your own… the image you’ve credited to Michael Ryan is actually by Jim Cheung.

    • Oh my gosh, thanks for the catch! ::embarrassed:: There have been so many artists on this title, I confused this cover with the other Runaways/Young Avengers crossover cover, which was drawn by Michael Ryan!

  • Darrell

    While I applaud your efforts at teasing out the racism apparent in a lot of casting for Hollywood films, I think the root of this problem began way before Runaways was optioned for a movie deal. In comics today it seems popular to include a young, usually female Japanese character on the cast of ensemble teams. They are usually written by white males with little or no knowledge of Japanese culture and appear to be there (much in the case of Nico) for a sort of sex appeal. As opposed to a show like Heroes (as much as I actually dislike it overall) that actually takes it’s Japanese character’s culture into account, it seems in most comics the character’s Japaneseness is used as an Orientalist fetish. I would argue this was more or less the same problem with Avatar from the start. The “China-like” setting was used to give the show a certain feel, a fantastic, “Oriental” setting. These are the types of practices that need to be avoided by writers. Please write what you know, or do your research well.

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  • Glad to see that the commenting system has been enabled. Understandable that this site would have ended up under siege by Paramount film supporters.
    You only need to add Sharethis and the DISQUS commenting system and it would make things even better…lol

    Good work with Marvel.

    Now we only need to get the same results with Disney regarding Tommy Zhou and this rumour about Genghis Khan. Unfortunately, as someone else pointed out, they are Asian males and Hollywood expresses ambivalence towards them.

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  • GreenGlow

    Oh my goodness, you have no idea how happy this update has made me! I nearly ran into the next room screaming about the good news to my sister. *laugh* I’m so proud of Marvel for responding in the way they did!

    My sister and I will definitely be showing our support to this movie.

  • Rubadubadoobag

    Not ambivalence, they act as if they were poison.

  • Michael

    I do applaud your efforts, but as others have said, the bigger fish to fry is to get Hollywood studios to offer roles for Asian-American men.
    While, in general, they still offer only stereotypical roles for both Asian-American women and men, Asian women still are more readily accepted by the white power structure in the media.
    Asian-American men have it much worse than Asian-American women, in that they’re barely accepted at all, and usually only as racist comic relief.
    Frustrating that this very small step forward had to be fought for at all. The character’s obviously an Asian-American one, and yet Hollywood was likely going to cast a white woman in the role.
    Now, all of us who are aware of the B.S. that Hollywood pulls need to get them to cast Asian/Asian-American men in roles that are obviously for men of Asian descent.
    We can’t sit idly by and allow this all to happen without protest. And Asian-Americans need to stop trying to be white, selling their souls to be accepted and try to become part of white society. That’s probably harder a task than getting Hollywood to cut out its racist casting practices.

    • Actually, I looked at the films from the Big Six studios over the past decade… and there were more films with an Asian male as the star than an Asian female. In total I counted 12 movies where the main character was an Asian male, and only 3 where the main character was an Asian female.

      Of course, that’s only counting main characters. You may be right about Asian women having more representation in movies than Asian men overall.

  • jak

    Its okay to cast Asian women. They appeal to the American crowd. I’ll say it right out, its a sex thing. Asian women are desired in America. An Asian woman has a better chance at making it in Hollywood than an Asian man. Its the Asian men that i’m worried about. Take “Dragonball” for instance, white guy plays Goku, but Asian girl plays Chi Chi…

    • Alexa

      Yes, and time was the only roles for African-American actors were servants and musicians– the roles white people were comfortable seeing blacks play. But now some of the best (and bankable) actors are African-American. Obviously we need to keep fighting the good fight, but visibility is visibility

  • Havoc

    *cheers* Go, Racebending! And Marvel.

  • SC

    I’m both happy and still somewhat confused. It seems as though they’re trying to make it out to be a simple mistake. “Oops sorry we forgot”. If the African American character was clearly stated as being such it should have been blatantly obvious to say the same for the Asian character. I think these studio’s see white skin and assume any race can be cast but Nico’s ethnicity is mentioned in the comics, not only that but she has a common Japanese family name. For her to be anything but Asian would have been absurd. The pro-casters have nothing to argue about this time BTW since even though this comic is fiction, it’s still based in this world and not an alternate universe like Avatar therefore culture and family name’s do apply.

    • sans

      i agree, except that ‘Minoru’ is actually a male’s FIRST name, not family name in Japan. for some reason, not many people realize this lol. It also shows vaughn’s failure to carefully research other cultures..I’m japanese btw.

  • It’s also important to examine what roles Asian American actresses are getting compared to Asian American men. Asian American women may be cast as supporting objects for their sex appeal, but the lead roles for Asian Americans tend to go to Asian American men.

  • Dudeaga

    Win.

  • Phillip

    I know she not Japanese but i would like Ellen Wong in this role i loved her in Scott Pilgrim

  • Jenna

    I absolutely think should be Japanese as the comic was originally written. I think ally maki would be perfect she is the right age and is Japanese. Anyone agree?

  • Annalizza

    Yes! I totally agree about ally maki!! I couldn’t think of a young japanese American… She definitely is perfect! Kudos.

  • Sheepester9

    yes! i totally agree about Ally Maki. I couldn’t think of a young Japanese actress that fit the bill. She’s totally right for it.

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  • jubilantia

    Phew! This is really exciting. I’m not Asian-American myself, but I have been keeping track of this stuff and now it jumps out at me everywhere. It’s really infuriating, but it’s great to see these guys listen to reason. It makes the other situations even more baffling.

    I wonder if they honestly didn’t realize (you know, casting director hasn’t actually read the comic), because I feel like if they had originally intended to whitewash then they would have stuck to their guns.