By Briana Lim, AsAmNews Intern
On June 21, actress Gabrielle Union responded enthusiastically to a tweet about starring in a romantic comedy with former on-screen lover John Cho, who agreed in the thread.
This tweet is one of many over the years since the two first appeared in FlashForward, a science fiction drama series that ran from 2009-2010. Union and Cho played romantic counterparts who fans fell in love with. Implicit in their fictional relationship was their interracial-ness.
Fans have been clamoring for the two to star together. Journalist/playwright Bim Adewunmi has been an ardent supporter of this match over the years.
Adewunmi also penned an article for The Guardian where she expressed her disappointment over Cho’s lack of leading-role opportunities, despite what she considers to be great acting ability. She notes how Cho faces typecasting based on his ethnicity. Cho expresses distaste, saying, “I try to take roles that don’t fall within the parameters of any Asian stereotype.”
Similarly, writer William Yu expressed his support for the pair by proposing that Cho take the place of Zach Braff opposite Gabrielle Union in the Cheaper by the Dozen remake. In 2016, writer William Yu began the famous hashtag #StarringJohnCho where fans upload photos of movie posters where John Cho has been photoshopped in place of a White movie star. The photos are jarringly realistic and serve to alarm viewers of Hollywood’s many missed opportunities for minority representation. The somewhat comedic hashtag succinctly describes the problem: John Cho is an excellent actor, with critical and box office credit. Yet, despite his skill, he is held back from roles #StarringJohnCho points out because of his race. Of course, here, John Cho is used as a proxy to demonstrate the inequity AAPI and minority actors face as a whole. Yu writes of the hashtag’s simplicity, “#StarringJohnCho captured a mindset shift. The frustration of whitewashing and erasure of Asian American stories was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The posters gave someone an artifact to point to and say, “See? It’s not that hard!” We weren’t going to take it anymore.”
Unfortunately, the success of the #StarringJohnCho movement and the slight industry shift towards more diversified casting is not enough to make When John Met Gabrielle happen. Not only are AAPI actors often overlooked casting for lead roles and shunned to derpy sidekick roles—they are even more regularly desexualized and dismissed as “unattractive.” South China Morning Post points out how “While Asian women are often fetishised, actors of Asian descent are seldom cast as the “attractive” male.”
Yes, Crazy Rich Asians made waves in Hollywood by presenting Henry Golding as the dashing love interest. But, Cho and Union face another roadblock holding them back. No matter the plot, the fictional couple will be held back by their inherent interracial-ness. Think to yourself—how many interracial couples have you seen on the modern silver screen? And of those, how many did not involve a White partner? And of those remaining, how many featured an Asian American man and a Black woman?
For the sheer dearth of precedent for interracial couples on screen, it may be a while for fans to receive the Cho-Union romcom they’ve been hoping for—and it may be all the more reason to make it happen.
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