Steven Yeun Is Optimistic About Asian-Americans in Hollywood: ‘They Are Literally Waiting for Asian People’

Jon San
Supervising Producer, Yahoo Entertainment

The role of Asian-Americans in Hollywood has been a hotly debated issue. In the past few days, Daniel Dae Kim explained that he’s leaving Hawaii Five-0 after contract negotiations fell apart — a decision that was allegedly motivated by unequal pay increases. His co-star Grace Park is also leaving the show (CBS said in a statement that they offered both of them “large and significant salary increases.”).

And on Master of NoneAziz Ansari skewered the audition process for Asian-Americans with a scene where a casting director asks him to repeat his lines — but with an Indian accent.

Steven Yeun, known for playing fan favorite Glenn on The Walking Deadrecently spoke to Vulture at length about race — and he seems pretty optimistic about Asians in Hollywood.

He said, “They are literally waiting for Asian people, and they want to cast them. … They’re not doing it as a handout — they’re doing it as a business. They’re saying, ‘This makes money for us, so we need Asian people in here.’”

Yeun didn’t give examples, but shows like Fresh Off the Boat feature largely Asian casts. And the upcoming cast of the movie Crazy Rich Asians is entirely Asian.

Despite his positive outlook, the actor, who can currently be seen in the Netflix movie Okja, has encountered racism in the past. For his first role on an ’80s-themed project, he was asked to copy the accent of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. He turned down the role, saying, “F*** that! I’m not doing that sh*t!”

Yeun even weighed in on Hollywood’s penchant for whitewashing Asian characters, specifically when Tilda Swinton played a traditionally Asian role (“The Ancient One”) in the superhero movie Doctor Strange.

He avoided outright criticism of Swinton, who co-stars in Okja, saying, “She got offered a role that she doesn’t get offered, and she’s one of a kind, so she took it, and she did a fine job doing it.”

But he went on criticize a broader part of the film. “[But] do I think they could’ve accomplished the same goal and just had [the Asian characters] speak without the accent? F***, yeah, of course.”

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