Earlier this year, an artist launched a project called #StarringJohnCho. It consisted of the actor photoshopped into posters for major blockbusters, turning the Asian-American Cho into both James Bond and Captain America. It was meant to call out Hollywood’s lack of representation of Asian actors. #StarringJohnCho instantly resonated across the internet.
In reality, Cho has taken on one major iconic role: He plays Sulu — a role originally made famous by George Takei — in the “Star Trek” franchise. He’ll reprise the role in the upcoming “Star Trek Beyond.” In an interview with The New York Times about “Beyond,” Cho spoke candidly about being an Asian-American actor in Hollywood.
As much as he wishes it didn’t, he understands how much representation matters.
“I wish I was strong enough for [lack of representation] not to matter. It does, I have to admit. It still affects me, and not just as an actor. The movie may be as close to a document of our national culture as there is; it’s supposed to represent what we believe ourselves to be. So when you don’t see yourself at all — or see yourself erased — that hurts,” Cho said.
Cho added that when he first started out in Hollywood, roles for him were slim, but he would always ask other Korean friends whether or not a certain role he was offered was a stereotype. He’s also said that in Hollywood, you’ll often hear something along the lines of “they’re not going Asian on this role, because there’s another Asian in the cast.”
He says the biggest problem with representation issues in movies is that they force actors to think differently, and often distract from the real reason they do the work in the first place.
“I get tired of talking about this. I get tired of living with it,” Cho said. “The more I have to think about this, the more it makes me feel more like a politician and less of an artist…Actors are supposed to be these runaways that get in a covered wagon filled with hats and tambourines and go from town to town making people smile. Though it’s logical and necessary to think and talk about all of this, it’s a bummer as an artist to have to do it all the time.”
Yet, when looking at the popularity of #StarringJohnCho, Cho said he’s happy that people are talking about this issue.
“Maybe [it caught on], because the posters made it seem possible. Instead of talking about it or demanding it, it was like, listen, it could be like this. For a minute, people were talking about it in a very serious way,” Cho said.
“Star Trek Beyond” will be out in theatres on July 22. Read the full New York Times interview here.
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