Discrimination Still Plagues Hollywood: Actors Continue Anna May Wong's Struggle

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Recent casting controversies prove that the days of whitewashing in Hollywood are far from over. SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY, a new children's book on the first Chinese-American movie star, chronicles her struggle to overcome discrimination onscreen and off. Though Wong worked in the 1930s and 40s, her story is familiar for actors of color today, who are often still marginalized, stereotyped, or overlooked because of race.

Asian actors, writers, artists, and others in the entertainment industry are still generally limited and marginalized

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Recent controversies over casting in several upcoming movies, including M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender and Disney's Prince of Persia, have once again brought to the forefront one of Hollywood's worst habits: whitewashing--the casting of white actors to play characters of color. The problem of whitewashing is as old as Hollywood, as author Paula Yoo explains in her new children's book Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (32 pp., LEE & LOW BOOKS, $17.95).

Shining Star explores Hollywood through the eyes of the first Chinese American movie star, Anna May Wong, who struggled in the 1930s and 1940s against an industry that would rather put a white actor in "yellowface" than cast an Asian American. Her story still reflects the reality of many contemporary Asian American actors. "Asian actors, writers, artists, and others in the entertainment industry are still generally limited and marginalized," says Sarah Park, an expert on Asian American children's literature and a professor at St. Catherine University in Minneapolis.

The problem of whitewashing is exacerbated by the scarcity of authentic roles available for Asian actors. Although overt racism in Hollywood may have diminished, stereotypes have not disappeared. "Most parts for Asian women are still defined as 'exotic, docile, and available,'" says Tony Chan, author of Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong.

With so few roles to choose from, minority actors find it hard not to lose hope when studios continually cast big-name white actors to play nonwhite characters. The frustration of Asian actors reflects many years of struggle by minority actors to overcome Hollywood's entrenched racism. "I'm torn between my race and my American homeland," Anna May Wong said in 1935, after losing a part because of her Chinese heritage. More than seven decades later, when so much else has changed, discrimination in Hollywood remains frighteningly intact. A new generation of actors of color must continue to fight the battle Anna May Wong began.

About the company: LEE & LOW BOOKS is a publisher specializing in diverse children's books. Founded in 1991, the company aims to meet the need for stories that all children can identify with and enjoy.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story
by Paula Yoo, illus. by Lin Wang
LEE & LOW BOOKS • May 2009
Ages 6-11 • 32 pages • $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-60060-259-7


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Jason Low
Lee & Low Books
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