Ask some actors about their dream role, and they're likely to offer range of answers: a character from Shakespeare, a superhero, the lead in Phantom of the Opera. As for Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean-American actor who's had roles in Lost, Crash, and most recently Hawaii Five-0, his dream is to play a romantic lead. Any romantic lead.
But Dae Kim said that there's a reluctance on the part of many studio heads to cast Asian-American actors in romantic roles. He said he has asked people in every level of the film industry for data to show that casting white actors is more profitable, and they can't provide any. "It's just this institutionalized thinking," he said. "[They] have it in their minds that it cannot be that way."
Dae Kim joined Arden Cho, Sang H. Cho, and John C. Yang on Wednesday night for a panel discussion hosted by Mnet America and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on Asian Americans in entertainment. The discussion was led by Traci G. Lee, the digital editorial manager for NBC Asian America. She asked the group about the challenges and opportunities that come with being Asian American in Hollywood today, and how those obstacles connect to broader dynamics that impact Asian Americans.
The panelists touched on familiar frustrations — lack of representation and mentoring; whitewashing of Asian characters; ossified power structures. Arden Cho, of Teen Wolf and YouTube fame, talked about how limited opportunities for Asian American actors affect self-perception.
"I can remember one of the first times I saw an Asian American on TV," Cho said. It was Whitney, a minor character in the 2000 movie Bring It On. Still, the moment was meaningful for Cho. "I was like, oh my God. I could be a cheerleader."