It’s given that, these days, the United States is a net importer rather than a net importer. Hell, walk into anyone’s house, inspect the bottoms of the objects found in the shelves and anyone’s bedroom can seem like a Model United Nations. But there remains one thing that we export like no other: pop culture. No matter where you are in the world, if you have electricity, you have access to American pop songs, American television shows and American movies.
That’s fine – great, even. It’s somewhat nice to dominate the cultural conversation, even if that means that a country without a major film industry like, say, the United Kingdom finds its homegrown films in the foreign film section at their local video store. Unfortunately, the problems occur when cultural stereotypes, without context (as if that would make it better), shore up overseas. Worse, there’s a reluctance to change those stereotypes because, now that they’ve been devoured by international audiences, Hollywood finds that there’s an appetite for them.
So good luck getting an action movie made with a female lead that doesn’t star Jennifer Lawrence or Angelina Jolie; foreign audiences don’t go for that. Good luck, too, seeing well-developed people of color in most blockbusters. And just forget about seeing anyone with various physical capabilities as anything but the butt of the joke. This is an industry, not a charity case.
That’s changing though – for one group, at least. Because China is (becoming?) a global superpower, Chinese producers are eager to join forces with Hollywood to get their own taste of the industry. While many countries have their own lucrative film markets – India, of course, but also South Korea, Brazil and Nigeria, for starters – few have the global reach that the Hollywood does. After all, there is a reason why these industries all have names (Bollywood, Nollywood, Dollywood…just kidding) that riff off Hollywood’s.
Of course, most of the media coverage of China’s influence, as The Atlantic, points out, has been quite xenophobic. Adapting movies to suit Chinese tastes is decried as censorship. It is, of course, but Hollywood is no stranger to domestic censorship either. (Or, if you want to get modern, you could label the Motion Picture Association of America’s actions similarly.) Sure, censorship is generally not right, but Hollywood doesn’t churn out Art most of the time: it provides entertainment that makes up an Industry. You’d better believe that Hollywood would reject the offers if not for the fact that China’s 1.3-billion-person market has a lot of money in their coffers.
As a result of this cash influx, Chinese producers have the power to change the image of Asian actors in cinema. Long relegated the part of the clown or the kung-fu star, room is being carved out at the table for Asian actors to have parts, where they get to act like (gasp) regular people. That cash also can mean increasing Asian directors as well. And, even if those directors don’t carve out a cast made up primarily of Asian actors, they also can be more sensitive to casting people of color in general.
I come to the same conclusion as Inkoo Kang does: let’s hope that, as the world’s wealth becomes diversified outside of just Europe and the United States, more people decide to bring their money to the United States and spend their dollars on bringing diverse stories to the screen. When people complain about the lack of diversity in front of or behind the camera, in screenwriters or in studio executive offices, the excuse is always the same: Hollywood loves diverse stories; they just need to be marketable. Well, let’s make them put their mouths where the money is. That sounds like a win-win-win to me.