Crushable Quotable: John Cho Explains How Hollywood Keeps Coming Up With New Asian Stereotypes

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John Cho new Asian stereotypes Hollywood Harold and Kumar Total RecallI'm loving this interview with John Cho, from the latest issue of August Men magazine. (Though kudos to the ONTD poster who painstakingly transcribed it from the print edition.) Cho is ostensibly promoting his role in the Total Recall remake, but since not even his part as a Rekall employee can make a dent in how unbelievably bad that movie was, he winds up talking more about the Harold & Kumar trilogy, and then gets super-serious about race in Hollywood.

AM: Do you still find that there are stereotypes in Hollywood today for any particular minority? Or is it every minority?

JC: Yes. It's rampant, and you have to be vigilant at all times. In fact, everyone keeps coming up with new stereotypes. It's very difficult to find an original thinker in terms of casting when you're talking about race at all. And really, although more egregious versions of Asians have fallen by the wayside and become unfashionable, new Asian stereotypes pop up and they're really sort of anti-stereotypes that become stereotypes, if you get my drift.

AM: Tell us more.

JC: For example, the dumb Asian, which is a play on the smart Asian. Or the rapping Asian, which is sort of black Asian, which is a play on the joke, “aren't Asians square?” And then there's this [Asian] guy being African-American and it's supposed to be a comedy bit. The only way to solve any of this is to be careful of volumes of roles and expression. But until then… come on, we're screwed here.

Aside from highlighting a trend that I'm sure many of us hadn't noticed, Cho also explained how frustrating it is to have to be constantly thinking about this stuff when choosing roles. Sure, you can hear actresses (often white ones) talk about how difficult it is to pick a romantic heroine who isn't a cliche, but a cliche and a stereotype are still leagues apart. A disappointing lead role for a white woman (or man, let's not get too specific) might make the actor feel stuck, but at least s/he doesn't feel as if they've regressed the way actors of color do when they're just getting hit with more stereotypes that are more insidious and harder to throw off.

However, Cho was equally passionate not just about the problem, but also about a solution:

What doesn't need to change? One thing that people can do is to be verbal. You know, Asians, Asian-Americans I can speak for, tend not to be vocal when they see something they don't like. We need to be proud enough to be vocal. Asian-American artists have to say no to these things, because that makes even more of an impression than people doing a letter campaign.

After all, as he points out, the Harold & Kumar films were American comedies starring two Asian leads. That's pretty damn impressive, and could be reason enough to nudge him toward a fourth film. Make sure you check out the whole interview. I really wish this guy could've been utilized more in Total Recall, but at least we have the Star Trek sequel to look forward to.

Photo: Nikki Nelson/