Maytinee Kramer/ Opinion Director
When Diana Huey, a Seattle-based Japanese-American actor and singer, accepted the role of Ariel in the touring musical production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” some weren’t pleased. Not because of her talent or skills, but because of her ethnicity. Angry Disney fans say the production should have cast a white woman as Ariel.
First off, “The Little Mermaid” is a Danish fairy tale and Ariel is an animated mermaid, which means there’s no rule that Ariel has to be white. Secondly, why are people more willing to accept fantastical, mythical creatures, but not a diverse cast?
Despite increasing cultural diversity in the workplace, Asian-Americans are still fighting for visibility and representation in Hollywood and on Broadway. In an interview with The Buffalo News, Huey said she’s been dealing with negative social media comments about her casting since the tour began.
While Huey was able to brush the remarks aside at first, the comments and criticism grew harsher as the tour made its way down south. Thankfully, Huey was able to understand and deal with her struggle after visiting the Memphis’ National Civil Rights Museum and visiting a young Asian girl in Nashville who was with her adoptive mother.
“The mom pulled me aside and said, ‘The second I saw that you were playing Ariel, I just burst into tears for the sake of my daughter being able to see that,’” Huey said to The Buffalo News.
As an Asian-American and big Disney fan myself, to see this kind of representation on Broadway and having the chance to see Huey play the role of Ariel so beautifully makes me proud. It shows Asian-Americans advancing, and are able to take on leading roles and inspire others.
However, changes in representation are still particularly slow. And this affects the way that Asians are perceived in the American public.
“This is something that Asian-Americans struggle with in general ― visibility. You’re not recognized as someone who is fully present in society,” Nancy Wang Yuen, Ph.D. told Huffington Post.
“Tokens on the Small Screen,” a study conducted by professors and scholars from six California universities, found that 70 percent of TV regular series roles are dominated by white performers whereas Asian-Americans only make up four percent.
Additionally, more than 64 percent of all series do not feature an Asian-American or Pacific Islander as a series regular. But even when a show does feature an Asian American, they are usually eclipsed by their white counterpart.
Asian-Americans deserve to have their voices heard and be represented in the entertainment industry. We are just as capable, talented and hardworking as the next guy.
Thankfully, the entertainment industry has been for equal representation for all genders, sexualities and ethnicities on-screen. While there is some progress on these issues, there is clearly more to be made.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of Panther Press Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Photo Credit: Mark & Tracy Photography/ Photo retrieved from: Diana Mika Official Facebook Page