HomeBad Ass AsiansRafu Shimpo: Does an Actress Count as Asian American if She Doesn't...
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Rafu Shimpo: Does an Actress Count as Asian American if She Doesn’t Look It?

Chloe BennetActress Chloe Bennet plays Skye in the new series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

According to Guy Aoki of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, Benet is listed in ABC’s annual report as Asian American.

Aoki questions whether the Hapa should really count because in Aoki’s mind she doesn’t look Asian.

“We have a growing dilemma with Hapa actors.,” writes Aoki in his column for Rafu Shimpo. “If they can pass for white, that’s often what their characters are. Yet the networks count them as Asian. As I’ve told them before, while that benefits their company to show how “diverse” they are, it doesn’t benefit the community if no one knows they’re part Asian.”

Its an interesting question, but I have to disagree with Aoki that Bennet doesn’t look Asian. It’s not obvious at first glance, but when I first saw her I actually turned to my wife and asked if she thought Bennet was Asian. My wife said “no, she’s white.” But there was something about her features that made me think she was hapa.

As it turned out, I was right. Her father is Chinese American and her real name is Chloe Wang. She actually went to China to launch a career as a singer, and according to an article in the Chicago Sun Times., did well.

Check out the song she did in Mandarin below.

Now back to Aoki’s question, should Bennet count as Asian if she doesn’t look it? That’s a difficult question. Bi-racial children are a part of America’s landscape. It’s something that can’t be denied, especially in the Asian American community where its become quite common in the Japanese American community and more and more in the Chinese American community.

Bennet could easily pass as white. In fact, some on Facebook have questioned why she chose to go by Chloe Wang in China, but Chloe Bennet in the United States. It would be nice if Bennet or Wang would do something on S.H.I.E.L.D to embrace her Chinese culture, but I wouldn’t expect it.
Hopefully she’ll embrace it in future media interviews and on the talk show circuit. If she did that, I think some of Aoki’s concerns would be addressed.

 

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19 COMMENTS

  1. RE: Does a Hapa have to look Asian to count as an Asian American: I think she looks Asian down to every feature, but I am also mixed Asian and so my awareness of those subtle traits are fine-tuned. That is not the case for everyone, it seems, but really… it boils down to pure ignorance. If she has ANY Asian blood at all, she should be allowed to claim it as her ethnicity. That after all, is HER right, and to deny her that is simply unfair and unjust (in my book).

    • Re:Does an actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look Asian American: You know that’s a damn lie. She looks white. I’n assuming her Chinese parent is mixed and not fully Chinese.

      • RE: Does an actress count as Asian Ameican if she doesn’t look it: She actually does look part asian. She looks more hispanic than white though.

  2. I am Hapa, I could tell immediately that she was, and I was thrilled to see her in a lead role on a major show.

    Hapa Actors are under NO obligation to wave any sort of ‘Asian card’ for the Asian American community. They are what they are- no other group would ask that they ‘prove’ themselves.

    This is completely bigoted reasoning- Guy Aoki is a bigot- and you giving him a forum is completely misguided – of ThIS is what Asian America is, I would prefer not to be associated- which it seems, you would prefer.

    • I am sorry you are offended by AsAmNews' decision to take on the issues addressed by Guy Aoki. The article in Rafu Shimpo on which the article is reacting to was written by the co-founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans which regularly meets with the TV networks to discuss diversity issues. Ignoring such an influential group does nothing to make the issues addressed by the article go away. I was uncomfortable with the whole subject matter of the Rafu Shimpo article, but I felt it was important to discuss in an open forum to give people such as yourself an opportunity to respond. MANAA acts as a representative of the Asian American community, and if members in our community, of which Hapas are a big part, disagree with it, that needs to be brought out and discussed.

      • I am just now reading the reply you informed me about on Twitter.

        While I understand what you are saying, I feel that the fact that you have retweeted this article again today, is inflammatory – given the nature of the subject – which is racial purity. To again put this article forward is upsetting, to use the least objectionable word at my disposal. It does seem, to me, an endorsement of this way of thinking.

        Thank you for asking me to respond in a lengthier manner, I am going to decline, for two reasons –
        1. because the email I sent was not answered – perhaps it was a miscommunication, although I have my email in my outbox to prove that I sent it –
        2. I feel that I have addressed this hateful issue in my blog post
        : http://fairyprincessdiaries.com/2013/10/13/hapa-c

        MANAA and Guy Aoki do NOT represent ME, and clearly, they do NOT want to represent any HAPAS since to them, they are unsure of whether we are running around in our daily lives trying to ‘pass’.

        Also, if they want to get ‘into’ the whole name change thing – then perhaps they should ask MANAA member, Aki Aleong, what HIS real name is, and why HE changed it.

        • Erin,
          I know you will not believe me, but think about it. Why would I respond to four critical tweets and your response on this site and not respond to to a simple question emailed to me asking me to explain my offer in more detail.
          I simply didn't see your email to me in the same way you didn't see my response on this site. It's that simple.
          Having said that, I will respond in kind to your email and you can ignore it if you choose.
          I know you disagree, but I retweeted the post because readers have shown a lot of interest it it. That interest has come from both sides of this issue. If you look closely at the bottom of this post and before the comments,you will see that this post has been shared 157 times on Facebook and retweeted another 31 times. It has been reposted by people on both sides of the issue.
          You may have also noticed that the slogan of this website is "Where the conversation begins." I encourage my readers to share their thoughts and engage in a civil discussion on various issues impacting the Asian American community.
          Unlike some other Asian American blogs, I don't just blog about things I agree with. I often blog about things to encourage my readers to explore issues more deeply and to engage with each other.
          You may disagree with that philosophy, but it is what it is. I am not criticizing other blogs which don't share my philosophy. Those blogs serve an important purpose in the community as I hope my blog does as well.
          Thank you for hearing me out.

  3. RE: Does a Hapa actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look it: She is obviously ashamed of her Chinese-American heritage if she uses a fake Anglo name. I have dated Hapas and they hover from one ethnicity to another — whichever makes them look better at that given time. Mostly, they favor their white side.

  4. RE: Does an actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look Asian: As a former actor (also hapa) I can tell you in general that we just want to work in our chosen field and to do so you make yourself as adaptable as possible as you would in any line of work. It’s not that she’s denying her heritage, she’s most likely just trying to give herself the biggest advantage in her chosen career which includes ambiguity. Using the surname Wong would limit the auditions she gets because of other people’s narrow-mindedness, not her own. I also used a different surname in my career. Not to hide the fact that I’m half Asian (it’s obvious that I am) but so that I could play ANY ASIAN rather than being seen as just one. Being hapa is a reality for many many many people, why shouldn’t we be represented too? Why should we have to tout our Asian heritage over our Caucasian heritage? I get that Asians are WAY underrepresented, believe me! But if you can see passed race, we are all just people. She is a person who wants to be an actor, this is how she chose to go about doing it, that’s it!

    Re Aoki’s quip about if a hapa actor can pass for white that their character’s are often white… who says the characters are only white? Do they have the character’s family come on and are those actors strictly white? Does the hapa actor have lines expressing their Caucasian only roots? Sorry but I disagree with Aoki’s take on things. Most of the time the character is just a person, not a person of a specified race.

    PS – I went on more than one audition where I was told as a hapa actor that I wasn’t “Asian enough” so there’s that. What are half Asian actors supposed to do if we’re not Asian enough and/or not white enough? We’re being discriminated against by both sides so it’s that much harder to get a job as an actor! The girl got the job, applaud her for her talent and good fortune. Don’t tear her down and throw accusations at her like she’s ashamed of her heritage.

    • RE: Does an actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look Asian: I agree a lot with what M. R. D. says.

      It’s a huge and harmful generalization to specifically accuse mixed race/multiracial/biracial Asians living in the U.S. of having self-hatred for their Asian ethnic background. Ethnic self-hatred is a product of white supremacy and racism, and is an issue faced by communities of color in general. In my case, I am hapa, my BA is in Asian American Studies, and I have worked for two non-profit organizations who serve Asian and Pacific Islander communities in Los Angeles. Self-hatred, I think not ;).

      My stage name is the same as my given name: Japanese first name, German last. However, as a hapa actor, I almost never get cast in roles that are written for Asian or Caucasian specifically (“you’re not Asian/ethnic enough,” “you’re too Asian/ethnic”). Majority of the roles I am cast in are open to all ethnicities or are looking for someone who is “ethnically ambiguous.” I understand that a lot of actors, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, consider name changes for a variety of reasons to strategically open up their casting. I also understand the concern of “using” mixed race actors with perhaps European features “taking” roles from other actors and filling this notion of a diversity quota. But it’s antithetical to blame the actors themselves. We need to look at casting, production, writing, etc.

      On another note, rarely is there a role, I have found, that is written for a half Asian/half White character. Just one thing I’m looking to change as an aspiring screenwriter, producer, and director. I’m currently in post-production for a short film I acted in, wrote, and produced about a young hapa woman trying to leave an abusive relationship with her lesbian partner, also a young hapa woman.

      Perhaps out of the scope of this article, I think it would be interesting (future article idea?) to examine the representations of hapa actors/performers, possibly of the Asian/White persuasion since that seems to be the focus here: Lou Diamond Phillips, Keanu Reeves, Maggie Q, Amy Hill, Olivia Munn, Vanessa Hudgens, Shannyn Sossamon, Kristin Kreuk, Jennifer and Meg Tilly, Dean Cain, Tommy Chong, Russell Wong, etc.

  5. RE: Does an actress count as Asian American if they don’t look Asian? : The Hapa mindset is an interesting, but troubled mindset. The many Hapas I’ve met in Hawaii (and there are MANY), all seem to be ashamed of their Asian side in some way…..that is the impression I get. Very sad in this white-washed country of ours that media and society constantly brainwashes us to believe that white is “superior.”

  6. RE: Does an actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look Asian?” As the mother of a Hapa son, I am offended by the attitude expressed by Clarence. “Interesting, but troubled mindset” sounds like an effort to force multi cultural people into the role of “the other.” As someone who has worked on human relations and civil liberties issues for over three decades, these comments are precisely how one creates a racist attitude toward a group of people. Racism thrives on whispered comments and blanket generalizations that a certain group is somehow “not right.”

    I agree with and appreciate M.R.D.’s comments. With the history of racism in this country, what is served by changing it up to another type of discrimination? Why should anyone tell someone how they can or cannot self identify when it comes to their own heritage and DNA? I might be white, but I am PROUD of my son’s Asian heritage. Those who think Hapa are “not Asian enough” or “not white enough” truly need to examine why they need to label other human beings.

  7. Re: Does an actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look Asian: wow, you have to speak or sing in Mandarin to be considered Chinese? there goes multiple people in the family who are Chinese American or Hapa. too bad, so sad. passing or not passing or rather who can claim another person or reject another person–what a problematic discussion. blogs and simplified articles do not begin to touch upon this. get to work.

  8. Re: Does an actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look Asian? Here is what I posted to the Rafu Article: Guy – Honestly?! This is what you are going to write about? How you couldn’t stop salivating over Chloe (and her mixed-race un-knowableness) only to later stand in judgement of her because she made a business decision to change her stage name to Bennet instead of Wang?

    “We have a growing dilemma with Hapa actors.” What is the dilemma? That YOU find yourself desiring them & judging them? And then YOU go on to celebrate what I assume is “an Asian looking Asian” getting a job with a name like Rollins.

    And your annecdote about Anton Ohno and how comforted you feel because you see his father and KNOW Anton belongs holds Apollo Ohno up as a good hapa and Chloe as a bad hapa. Apollo is a good Hapa because he made it easy for your discomfort w/ his hapaness to be interrupted because his Japanese dad is a big supporter? As a hapa artist – I can tell you – my dad is not always on the sideline to prove that I belong.

    The dilemma is not on the part of the actor but on the part of the network and how they are ‘counting’ the actors. The dilemma is not on the Hapa individual who strives to live their life and navigate what they are born with and the world they are born into. The dilemma is not about whether or not Chloe uses her last name Bennet or Wang. The dilemma you articulate is that your pro-API loving watchdog self – can’t keep up with the changing face of API Americans. I’m sorry that there are mono-racial Asian Americans who have a hard time accepting the ‘coloring’ of our Hapa community.

    This is not a DILEMMA. The reality of multiracial and multi-colored APIs has existed for centuries. Please don’t make us the scapegoat for your DILEMMA.

  9. RE: Should an actress who doesn’t look Asian be counted as Asian American: Hapa Mom. You said it perfectly: “Racism thrives on whispered comments and blanket generalizations that a certain group is somehow “not right.”
    I am an Asian-American. Born, raised, educated and worked in mostly elite, white, wealthy environments. That is exactly how I, as an Asian-American learned to view myself…..”not right” and therefore, not welcome.

  10. RE: Does an actress have to look Asian to be counted as Asian American: Clarence, you would be welcome by me. Those who have made you feel that way are wrong. Period. If no one has ever said this to you, then I am sorry for what you have experienced. You might not think it if you only looked at my “exterior,” but I am not spared nor am blind to racism. I have had KKK flyers on my doorstep, hateful comments. It’s why I speak up.

    To bring it back to the issue posed by the post: what isn’t addressed is the great diversity both in Asia and among Asian Americans. There are people in Central Asia with light hair and green eyes. There are people in Nepal with red hair. They have been Asian for centuries. Before that, there was Genghis Khan who had red hair and green eyes (per Persian historian Rashid-al-Din). Perhaps the columnist’s (Aoki) definition of Asian and how Asians are supposed to look is too narrow.

  11. RE: Does an Asian actress count as Asian American if she doesn’t look it: I’m Korean american. I didn’t know she was half Asian. I thought she was mixed with something cause of her complextion. also using an american last name threw me off. she obviously has more of her white side.

    for me the real issue is her changing her last name to a “white” last name to appeal to “Americans”.

    it shows that Hollywood doesn’t want more than one main Asian character on a TV show. had she looked more Asian I know for a fact she would not of been casted. plus her agent probably told her to change her last name so that she would get more acting gigs. she gets away changing her last name cause she doesn’t have strong Asian features like other hapa actors (rob Snyder, keana reeves and others I can’t think of).

    its unfortunate.

    the only show that has multiple Asian actors is Hawaii five o. but its hard not to have Asians on that show.

    u will hardly ever c that many Asians (more than 2) on a TV show.

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