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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Switcheroo: What if The Kids Are All Right Had an Asian-American Lead?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 7:30 AM

How different could certain movies have been, if the casting director had dared to bring forth just one character who could make an honest observation of the times we live in? The Switcheroo postulates.

Dreams do come true for many in Hollywood, but if you're an actor who belongs to an ethnic minority, you may have to dream a little harder. Year after year, studios continue to shun minorities in leading roles. Though visible changes are happening in other parts of the entertainment industry -- as the recent multiracial Spider-Man comic shows -- commercial movies remain a frustratingly one-sided affair.

The mirror image of most SoCal families, right?
  • The mirror image of most SoCal families, right?

Take The Kids Are All Right -- a film with a progressive conceit, but such innocuous execution that it begs a Fassbinder remake. While it's arguable that TKAAR would not have been made without the star backing of Annette Benning, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, its casting decision screams "too white." The only minority actors play a Mexican gardener comic relief, Ruffalo's fuck buddy, and the wife of a family friend with zero lines.

Obviously the filmmakers here are so satisfied with the lead characters being lesbians that they decided to play it safe with the rest, leaving us with characters who live in Martha Stewart-decorated houses, dress like they came out of a Banana Republic ad campaign, drink wine from Whole Foods, and drive a Volvo wagon. The whole thing looks like it's inspired by Stuff White People Like.

Boom.
  • Boom.

The implicit message here is that a film of this design can have either queers or minorities but not both, because that would undoubtedly trigger the dreaded tectonic rupture all of L.A. secretly wishes for.

Imagine for a second someone like Russell Wong in place of Mark Ruffalo. Anyone remember Wong? Here's an underused Chinese-American actor who is a lot more age appropriate as a father of two teenagers, and no less improbable for the role of an insouciant but charming ex-sperm donor who runs his own organic farm co-op. His presence would give breath to the notion that the American family is increasingly becoming more multiracial, a commonly known fact that Hollywood seems not quite willing to admit yet.

Who makes a better FILF?
  • Who makes a better FILF?

And if indeed TKAAR had decided to cast a nonwhite actor outside the pantheon of bankable stars for just one of its main roles, it could have been the breakthrough Hollywood family film that finally deals with America's ethnic composition in the fresh, subtle manner the film's liberal premise deserves.

Instead, under the pressure of sales and other unexplainable reasons, Hollywood chose to stick with the status quo. Ridiculously high Rotten Tomatoes rating aside, TKAAR is a wasted opportunity and brings the movies no closer to the realities on the street.

Ian Wang is the film editor at Hyphen Magazine.

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Ian Wang

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