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BBC News did a great feature discussing the prejudice and discrimination which British East Asian actors face in both film and theater. To me, it comes as no surprise considering the West and Europe’s entertainment industry is very RACIST and is more comfortable portraying white faces rather than faces of other colours. For us Asians, the struggle is real and our faces are either hardly visible, get whitewashed/erased or pushed to play negative stereotyped roles which are not only humiliating but also demeaning. As an Asian Australian and one who identifies as both East and South East Asian, this is a very true depiction of the situation in Oz. 

Anyways, back to the main premise of this post. BBC News interviewed and spoke to a number of notable British East Asian actors and actresses about this issue by sharing personal stories and opinions of how the prejudice and discrimination in British film and theater has impacted on their careers. 

Here are some of the statements made by British East Asian actors ( taken from the BBC News feature):

LUCY SHEEN (Actress)

“The representation of East Asians tends to be stereotypical, or involve racist tropes (in TV and theatre),” 

“Women are generally depicted as slim, petite, long-haired, submissive ‘lotus blossom’ types, prostitutes, or illegal immigrants, while East Asian men are portrayed as asexual or effeminate.”

East Asian actors are rarely cast in non-race specific roles, and are frequently expected to put on a Chinese accent when acting, and yet many producers consider “Yellowface” – casting white actors as Chinese characters – to be acceptable,

KATIE LEUNG (Actress)

“You are more likely to see an alien in a Hollywood film than an Asian woman.”

DANIEL YORK (Actor)


Actors say the furore over Orphan of Zhao in 2012 marked a turning point in theatre.

“It increased our visibility,” Daniel York, who has performed for the Royal Court, National Theatre and RSC, says, adding that the situation is “definitely improving”.

In 2017, the RSC production of Snow in Midsummer, a Chinese classical drama, featured a large ensemble of east Asian actors.

And York points to a number of 2018 theatre productions involving East Asian actors and writers, including The Great Wave, Into the Numbers, and Acceptance.

However, he argues there is still a “huge” problem on TV, where East Asians tend to be depicted as “a kind of exotic other” or “thuggish brutes, dull, or stern patriarchs”.


My 2 cents worth? I am really heartened and warmed to see British East Asian actors start to fight back and voice out their concerns. And like York states, where theater has seen some changes, there needs to be more and the entertainment industry in the UK can still do better. With the number of theatrical controversies over the past decade, (The Print Room and The Golden Dragon etc) it is no wonder British East Asian actors are saying “enough is enough”! And might I add shows like CHINESE BURN does nothing more than make the situation worse for all British East Asians. 

I will leave it here, but just say as a final note, I am privileged to know a few of those interviewed in this piece and we Asians everywhere should stand in solidarity with them. 

Feel free to let us know your thoughts…

Images via BBC News

To read the entire article, please click on: British East Asian actors ‘face prejudice in theatre and TV’

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