Actress Arden Cho discusses race and media representation with students

The former “Teen Wolf” star addressed Hollywood’s reluctance to cast Asian and Asian-American actors Saturday afternoon.

Growing up in Amarillo, Texas, Arden Cho often faced discrimination from her classmates and even her teachers. The bullying was so severe that she ended up in the hospital on multiple occasions after being beaten up, Cho said.

“Before I went to college, I used to think that being Asian-American was the worst thing that could have happened to me,” she said.

Photo: Richard Yang
Members of Lambda Phi Epsilon with Arden Cho.

Now, the former Teen Wolf star and singer-songwriter is dedicated to talking about what it means to be Asian-American and how to accurately represent that in the media. Cho discussed these issues at Syracuse University Saturday afternoon as part of the school’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The event was hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs in tandem with the Asian-American interest fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon.

During the talk, Cho said there was a marketability hurdle that committees such as the Academy face when nominating and awarding actors and actresses, but she criticized Hollywood for refusing to take chances on promising Asian-American actors and actresses and instead settling for A-list celebrities. One example Cho referenced was Scarlett Johansson being cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, which was based on the manga series with a Japanese cyborg woman as the lead.

The lead “should have been Asian, 1000 percent,” Cho said.

Then there is the issue of roles that are just tropes about Asians and Asian-Americans. Cho said had turned down roles because the auditions required her to speak in an accent.

“When it’s the accent that’s the joke, the role isn’t funny,” she said. Cho cited the popular sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, which she watches avidly, as an example of a show where traditional Asian-American stereotypes are used to add to the comedy instead of being the comedy.

Cho did not just criticize the industry; she also said she admires the black film community, noting that when black producers create a film, a black director and black actors are also used, and black audiences turn out to see the finished product. According to Cho, this is how minority actors such as Mahershala Ali in Moonlight gain recognition for their work.

Cho said the Asian-American film community has not reached similar prominence in mainstream pop culture, so there is not as much recognition of their work. Cho encouraged the audience to go out and watch Asian-American shows and movies, such as Selfie, featuring John Cho. By watching Asian-American actors and driving the ratings of their movies up, Cho said she believes that executive producers will take notice of these actors and cast them in bigger roles.

Huey Hsiao, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, was pleased with the turnout and reception to Cho’s speech.

“We wanted Arden to come because we wanted someone who was known in the field, someone who is a trailblazer,” he said.

Students also enjoyed hearing Cho talk about race and the media.

“Arden brought so much passion to what she does and the causes that she believes in and that made this talk really interesting for me,” said Katherine Kokeas, a sophomore film major.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month will continue through the rest of April and will include several more events, including an alumni panel with Asian-American graduates and a book club discussion on Jeff Chang’s book, "We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation."

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