John Cho for August Man Malaysia.
Snippets of John's interview in August Man.
Since the time you started acting, there have been more Asians in the entertainment industry. Is Hollywood today friendlier towards the Asian community?
I think so. I think it has seen some movement. It's not where you'd want it be yet -- it certainly doesn't represent Asian buying power, or influence. However, it's gotten better, especially in the last five years. So it's a good thing.
What was it like before that?
Well, fifteen years ago, I was incredibly pessimistic. And ten years ago, I was still pessimistic. But I have grown more optimistic about life. And I do think that, particularly what Asian cinema and stars and filmmakers have done, and really what technology has done, is to make people think globally and think "Okay, we're not going to rule the world from Los Angeles." We have to think globally. And when you're thinking globally, you have to think Asians. And so at some point, that will lead them on to different things. But you know, we'll see the progress.
Do you still find that there are stereotypes in Hollywood today for any particular minority? Or is it every minority?
Yes. It's rampant, and you have to be vigilant at all times. In fact, everyone keeps coming up with new stereotypes. [damn, keeping it real.] It's very difficult to find an original thinker in terms of casting when you're talking about race at all. And really, although more egregious versions of Asians have fallen by the wayside and become unfashionable, new Asian stereotypes pop up and they're really sort of anti-stereotypes that become stereotypes, if you get my drift.
Tell us more.
For example, the dumb Asian, which is a play on the smart Asian. Or the rapping Asian, which is sort of black Asian, which is a play on the joke, "aren't Asians square?" And then there's this [Asian] guy being African-American and it's supposed to be a comedy bit. The only way to solve any of this is to be careful of volumes of roles and expression. But until then ... come on, we're screwed here.
Does it mean that you have to work doubly hard to find scripts that you like?
Yes! And it's annoying in the sense that you have to think about something that other actors don't. I'm always trying to look for things that, to me, represent forward movement, or not regressing. It's a challenge to think about what and where will make my community happy or unhappy. It's a complication.
So what would you say needs to change?
What doesn't need to change? One thing that people can do is to be verbal. You know, Asians, Asian-Americans I can speak for, tend not to be vocal when they see something they don't like. We need to be proud enough to be vocal. Asian-American artists have to say no to these things, because that makes even more of an impression than people doing a letter campaign. It's going to take a really strong product from the American artist who's writing characters for Asians, for Asian-Americans. Ultimately, it's going to take money from overseas to finance co-productions that are invested, with an audience that's interested in seeing people who look like that. And that's Singapore, that's China, that's Korea, that's Japan. I think a lot of that muscle will come from overseas.