“When you look at the pool of Asian talent, it’s exponentially more bountiful,” said actor Telly Leung, who starred in the 2015 musical Allegiance, the George Takei-led show that was the only one on Broadway last season to tell a distinctly Asian-American story. “Unfortunately the opportunities are not as exponentially more bountiful.”
White people leading a story with Asian-Americans playing cliché supporting roles perpetuates the same regressive stereotypes that keep these actors sidelined.
“Oh, we need a nerd here. We need the hot girl here. A lot of times our casting is used as kind of a punchline, or an anecdote to a story. We’re never the main player,” Quill said. “[Producers] don’t have a view of Asian-Americans in America and their ability to tell stories. They look at us like we are add-ons.”
Most actors are less concerned with being “sellable” than with the uncertainty of the profession when it comes to steady work. For an Asian-American actor faced with regrettably limited prospects, the proposition of finding more jobs is especially daunting — not to mention that the lack of starring roles makes it that much harder to stand out and get offers, particularly in an industry that continues to show a preference for white faces.
What we’re not getting on Broadway, besides the rare Allegiance, are new shows featuring original stories centered on Asian and Asian-American characters, and certainly not shows that divert from the insidious white savior storyline. Equally unique are shows in which a character’s Asian identity is both explicit in the script and not a propelling force for the plot — a show about Asians in America that isn’t a thematic battle between East and West.
“People have not trained themselves to see Asian-Americans in the same way they’ve trained themselves to see other groups. And that has a snowball effect,” Quill said.