Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

2017 - 2018
United Kingdom

    Minorities in Films: Changing Slowly

         The 88th Academy Awards – the “Oscars” – is notable among all the other ceremonies for a rather dubious reason. It was the one where all the actors and most of the directors in the running were white Caucasians for the second consecutive year. The 2016 event was consequently boycotted by several African-American figures in the industry, and a collection of social media posts were made under the unsightly tag of “#OscarSoWhite”.

         Of course, the entirety of Hollywood is grappling with the issue of racial representation. Whitewashing continues to be a sore point, with characters of minority backgrounds being replaced with white actors. A recent example is Paramount’s remake of the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell, which caused a good deal of grief when it casted Scarlett Johansson as the supposedly Asian lead character.

         With all the bad publicity associated with the lack of diversity, it was inevitable that changes would eventually follow. After its racially singular year, the Oscars in 2017 nominated a record-tying number of non-white ethnicities and had the most black winners in history. For its upcoming live-action adaptation of the animated Chinese folktale Mulan, Disney has steered clear of the whitewashing controversy by casting an actress from China for the title role. Somewhat more dramatically, actor Ed Skrein quit his role for the Hellboy reboot after he found out his character was Asian in the source materials.

         These shifts in attitudes and practice can probably be attributed to larger changes in society as a whole. As issues like equality and representation are brought to the forefront of societal debate, so has audiences’ receptiveness or even demand for diversity in movies as a matter of principle or simply broadened interest. This need may prove to be the crucial incentive for motivating the industry. Studios may be encouraged to bring in thus far unknown talent of different ethnicities, with potentially long-term effects on the industry’s demographic expansion.

         Yet we probably should not expect things to change overnight. Audience demand or not, having characters and stories from minority backgrounds is still uncharted territory. With a lack of outstanding precedents, these ventures bear a degree of financial risk. Plus, people will still flock to see movies that have white A-list actors with established reputations or celebrity statuses. As far the masses are concerned, movies are still mostly about entertainment rather than social activism. So the industry as a whole might gingerly test the waters in the near future. We can expect a bit more productions with less conventional racial line-ups, and their performance will inevitably be used gauge people’s want – and thus the profitability – of greater minority representation.

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