Rhetorical Analysis of Chow’s “Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?”

Keith Chow’s article in NY Times from April 2016 questions how roles for Asian characters go to white actors, how this is still happening to this day, and proves his point by bringing up many current examples—which results in an effective opinion piece.

Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Chow supports his main point by providing statistics and an abundance of examples of roles that are being whitewashed that range back to the classic film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to blockbuster movies that are coming out within the next year. He states that the this is constantly happening due to the fact that studios refuse to hire any Asian actors, since they are worried the movie will flop if it starred a non-white lead. Chow shows how movies like Dr. Strange, Ghost in the Shell, Aloha, and even the reboot of Power Rangers all have characters that started out Asian but were cast with a well-known white actress. These present day examples back up his point of how whitewashing will keep on happening, despite how offensive it is.

He uses statistics from a study by the University of California, Los Angeles, to show how it’s been proved “that films with diverse leads not only resulted in higher box office numbers but also higher returns of investment for studios and producers”. The numbers from this study help make his point about how there’s no need to whitewash casts because films with more diverse leads are succeeding. Chow mentions how the Harold and Kumar movies, starring John Cho and Kal Penn (two Asian men), were “able to quadruple its production budget after box office and media sales”, while Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman was a box office flop. This statement helps further support his point of how movies don’t need to have the same kind of person in a lead role in order for it to be a success, and Hollywood should try harder to diversify their casts.

Chow unifies and organizes his article with the use of several different connecting idea techniques. The most obvious technique in the article is repetition with Chow’s use of the word “whitewashing”, which he uses four times in the article to tie back to his main point. He’s using this term so often since it’s the topic of his article. He uses collocation when talking about Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange dressed in “’mystical’ Asian garments”, which he said is reminiscent of David Carradine in the television show “Kung Fu”—basically “a whitewashed Bruce Lee concept”. Bringing up an example from the past that mirrors the example from the present day shows how this same problem has been happening for years.

He organizes his article wisely when using synonymy with the words “exhausting” and “tired” in his sub-point about whitewashing. The addition of these words make the reader feel like this problem has been going on long enough, just by reading a couple of paragraphs. Another example of synonymy is when he uses the words “invisible” and later on “erasure” to describe Asians in Hollywood and how they are neither seen nor cast. Antonymy is used when Chow compares John Cho and Kal Penn to Chris Hemsworth; Harold and Kumar ended up being a success starring an Asian and an Indian and Huntsman was a flop that featured a “bankable movie star”. This contrast of success with the two non-white actors versus the flop of a white movie star supports Chow’s argument of how Asians can do well if given the chance.

Harold and Kumar versus The Huntsman; Photo Courtesy: IMDb and The Hollywood Reporter, respectively

He makes his writing reader friendly and communicates his point easily by the use of well-known movies and actors for his examples. The language he uses doesn’t go above a high-school level, making it easy to comprehend. The paragraphs consist of about 1-4 sentences each, making the reading easy to digest since he’s created a lot of white space. What also makes Chow’s article easy to read is the fact that the structure is really basic with three sub-points to back up his main points and providing examples. Chow uses many legitimate examples that support his argument and help the reader visualize the problem he’s addressing, making it a very effective article.


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