This past weekend I asked my friends over lunch who the new generation of actors are. Who are this decade’s Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks? Who are the actors who will be representative of these years?
We came to a few conclusions. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and that’s why our Bruce Willis is still Bruce Willis. Leonardo DiCaprio has been acting since Romeo + Juliet in the mid-90s and has continued to go strong with 2010’s Shutter Island and Inception. Newer stars such as Michael Fassbender and Sam Worthington have only really begun gaining recognition in the past five or so years. Name recognition is what matters, and they’re still earning theirs.
Having answered that question, I posed yet another one: Where are all the new non-white actors?
There are actors [using the gender-neutral version of the word] making a reputation for themselves, but they’re men and women like Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield [yes, the leads of this summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man, I think in comic book movies, okay?]. But where are their non-white counterparts? The following are short lists I’ve made categorized by ethnicity-
Donald Glover tops the list. NBC’s Community has done a lot to get him out there, and he’s beginning to become a household name. Idris Elba will be in this year’s sci-fi epic Prometheus and in Guillermo del Toro giant mech vs. alien action flick Pacific Rim. Anthony Mackie took a backseat to Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau, but will be starring in a number of films both this year and the next.
Édgar Ramirez starred in 2008’s Ché, and will be in this summer’s Wrath of the Titans as the Greek god of war Ares. Javier Bardem has been in show business for quite a while, but will be the primary antagonist [okay, villain] of the next Bond film, Skyfall. Gael García Bernal starred opposite Will Ferrel in Casa de Mi Padre, and will be appearing alongside acting greats Pacino and Daniel Day Lewis in the upcoming years.
Similar to Donald Glover television is where Aziz Ansarfi thrives and he’s gained the most recognition for his role on Parks and Recreation. Russell Peters was in last year’s star-studded New Year’s Eve, and primarily works as a stand-up comedian. Kal Penn [Kumar, of Harold and Kumar fame] will be in the yet to-be-announced Bhopal: Prayer for Rain.
CHINESE, KOREAN, JAPANESE
Ken Jeong has been running around screaming ever since The Hangover; he’s going to keep finding work. John Cho will be in the Star Trek sequel reprising his role as Hikaru Sulu. Daniel Dae Kim continues to be ridiculously good-looking on CBS’ Hawaii Five-0. Really, all of these actors are Korean.
As far as Asian actors go martial-arts movies are not as popular as they once were. In fact, the two most recent listed on Wikipedia are MMA [mixed martial arts] films, starring White leads. Actors of Asian descent must find work elsewhere, and normally this means in comedy movies.
In general non-white actors find themselves relegated to supporting roles, most lacking the clout in the industry that heavyweights like Will Smith have. There’s an immense multiethnic audience out there but few studios willing to cast actors of different ethnicities in roles where names mean everything.
Actors like Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Chow Yun-fat, and Jackie Chan aren’t getting any younger. These are all names that once were, and still are, recognizable by most. One day, however, they will inevitably retire, and once that happens who will be there to take their place?