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Eternals’ Gemma Chan Shares Feelings About Asian Representation In Movies And Dwayne Johnson Topping The List

Representation in Hollywood has become a hotter topic in the past few years as studios begin to carve out more spaces for stories that better depict our diverse world. And within that, we’ve been seeing more movies focused on Asian characters, including big hits like Crazy Rich Asians, Parasite and Raya and the Last Dragon. Eternals actress Gemma Chan has been in the middle of this sea of change, but as she shares, there’s still a long way to go.

While recently speaking to Vogue UK, Gemma Chan was approached about some Hollywood statistics between 2007 and 2019. According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 44 out of 1,300 of the top grossing movies in the past decade or so have included an Asian-American or Pacific Islander lead. Oh, and Dwayne Johnson accounts for 14 of those films. To put that into perspective, only 3% of these massive films starred an Asian or Pacific Islander, and of that, Johnson made up a third.

It’s a bit of a staggering statistic, even though no one would claim to be surprised by it. In the cover interview, Gemma Chan responded to the numbers with these words:

It’s only a fairly recent thing that Asian females have been able to be the protagonists of stories. I mean, great for [Johnson]. I love him. Individual successes are one thing. But structurally, when you look at who can actually get projects green-lit in the UK, who are in those positions of power, those gatekeeping positions – there aren’t that many Asians. There aren’t many people of color in those positions.

As the Eternals star says, it all starts from the top, and the truth of the matter is that most Hollywood executives who are deciding on these big-budget films are white men. She was talking about her home in the United Kingdom, but it’s not too far off from the United States as well. It’s a structural problem, but as some of her movies have suggested, as huge audiences have turned up, executives are starting to catch on more often, at least.

As Gemma Chan discussed as well, Hollywood is still catching up to telling more Asian female stories. We already have a few Asian male stars we could name off, be it Jackie Chan, Ken Jeong, Randall Park, John Cho or Henry Golding. But Asian women? It’s starting to stack up a bit more with the rise of Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh finding more roles as of late, Sandra Oh or Constance Wu, but for a long time, Lucy Liu stood pretty much alone as far as mainstream, big-budget movie stars go.

Dwayne Johnson’s success is huge. The former WWE star recently scored another hit with Disney’s Jungle Cruise, and he'll be seen next year leading Black Adam. But as Gemma Chan points out, he’s an individual success story among a long way to go for more representation and much-needed equity within the industry.

Coming up, Marvel will have its first Asian-led comic book film with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Gemma Chan will also star as Sersi in Eternals this November, after previously playing the supporting role of Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel. It’s great to see more Asian representation coming to the big screen with upcoming MCU releases. It'll be exciting to see what Gemma Chan does next and how Hollywood continues to push forward with more diverse storytelling.

Sarah El-Mahmoud

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.