Like Cinderella fitting into her glass slipper, “Slumdog Millionaire” sweeping the Oscars with eight Academy Awards is a true underdog story. Starting with only a limited release in the U.S. and initially banned in India because the film lacked a “Bollywood” sensibility, “Slumdog” looked to be like any other small-budget film.
But it gained momentum and eventually won the big prize.
In a story we ran last week about the Asian American romantic comedy “Falling for Grace,” director/writer/actor Fay Ann Lee said that when she pitched studios her film, with an Asian American as the lead rather than a supporting cast member, she was told by Hollywood that mainstream America “would not pay to see this film.”
It’s strange that in these current times, people still take issue with the ethnicity of leading roles. One would think that it’s not about looks but about the talent. It shouldn’t be so much about how familiar a story is, but rather about how compelling a story is. After all, what does it say about our society if we say it’s okay for people of a certain ethnicity to be our neighbors and our politicians — but not as the leading character on the silver screen? We need to start asking ourselves why there is still this heavy bias in one of the most visible media.
“Slumdog” is a story that grabbed the world’s attention. With a cast made of Asians and British Asians, it defied expectations. The lesson here is an optimistic one — it can be done and very successfully, too.
Hollywood needs a broader ethnic representation in its films in general, but Asian Americans are especially behind the likes of Will Smith and Salma Hayek. It’s not because of the stereotype — that Asians would rather be doctors than actors — because there are a lot of Asian American actors in Hollywood. Unfortunately, they lack roles in movies that don’t have kung fu in them.
It’s too early to tell, but “Slumdog” may be the movie that opens a lot of doors for Asians in Hollywood.
So how can we begin moving forward? It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture. We can start by going out and being patrons for Asian Americans in the performing arts by watching their films or seeing their plays. There are about 13 million Asians in America. If all 13 million went to see a movie with an Asian lead, Hollywood would pay attention.
The most important thing to think about is continuing to inspire children to dream. If a young person wants to become a director, a costume designer, a composer — some kind of artist — let’s not burst their bubble by calling them delusional. It’s time we start encouraging more Asian Americans to enter the performing arts because diversification is important for our community.
“Slumdog” is a great start. Perhaps in the coming years, we will soon see more Asian Americans taking home Oscars. (end)