Now, “stardom” is a term that’s loaded with all sorts of implications. But here’s the stark reality—currently, there is no Asian American actor we can define as a true star. “What?!” I hear you asking. “But what about Lucy Liu or John Cho or others like them? Aren’t they movie stars?” Sorry to burst your bubble, but none of them are stars. See, there’s a difference between being a star and being famous or a celebrity. William Hung may be famous (possibly the most recognizable Asian American male in the U.S.), but he is not a star. In Hollywood, there’s only one definition of stardom that matters and it is this—can you get a project greenlit and open a film?
If you can answer “yes” to that, then you are a star. Nothing else matters. If I can attach you to my script and take it to Warner Brothers and tell them you will be starring in it and we need $10 million or $50 million or even $100 million to make this film and they greenlight it, then congratulations because you are a star, my friend. Lucy Liu may have arguably been the most recognizable Asian American actor in recent history, but no way a studio will trust her to open a movie unless she is co-starring opposite Cameron Diaz or Drew Barrymore or Josh Hartnett or even Cedric the Entertainer.
But what about the Harold and Kumar films, you may be asking? Didn’t John Cho and Kal Penn star in those? Yes, they did and they were awesome, but those movies did not get greenlit because of the actors attached to them. They got made for other reasons and had other actors been cast instead, they still would have gotten produced. That applies to most of the other “Asian American”-themed films out of Hollywood including The Namesake, The Joy Luck Club and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. None of these got greenlit because of the cast.
I’d just like to say right here and now that I hope to God William Hung is not the most recognizable Asian American in the U.S. Because if all Asians look the same, and Hung’s face is the only face the whole of America can identify, then…All the makeup at Sephora could never help me. (Also, Josh Hartnett? Ew.)