Why are There No Asian Actors in the 2016 Oscars Nominees?

The nominees for this year’s Oscar Awards for Leading Role and Supporting Role Actors: Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, Eddie Redmayne, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Mark Ruffalo, Mark Rylance, Sylvester Stallone

It’s no secret that Hollywood is dominated by Caucasians, but to give you an idea of how much white actors there are compared to other ethnicities, we have compiled a list of all the films that have won ‘Best Picture’ awards(from 1927 to 2015) , along with the race and gender data of the lead actors/actress, writers and directors.  You can play with the data here:


From a historical perspective, if we take the top 5 leads from each of these films, they make up a total of almost 400 cast members of Caucasian descent whilst only 15 members of Asian descent, 24 members of African descent and about 7 members of Hispanics.  The Asian lead actor/actresses make up roughly 3% of the list, whilst Caucasians make up 90%.

Also, there has ever only been two Asian actors who have won the ‘best actors’ award: Yul Brynner who was born in Russia with a Mongolian background and Ben Kingsley who is half English, half Indian. There has yet to be an Asian actor with both their parents of Asian descent to win this award. This might not be a surprising fact, but what’s even more surprising is if we look at the directors and screenwriters.

Out of 91 directors, only one was of Asian descent: Loveleen Tandan who co-directed Slumdog Millionaire. Directing seems to be even more dominated by Caucasian men than acting. You will see a similar trend with the screenwriters too. Furthermore, Ang Lee was the only Asian director to ever win the ‘Best Director’ award (which he won twice). What does this mean?

Here’s an overlooked reason why we aren’t seeing Asian actors in Hollywood: perhaps it has to do with the fact that most directors and writers are white. Of course there are plethora of other reasons explained already, the biggest one being money – why change what’s already working? Since those reasons are all repeated over and over again, I do not want to go over them again. Instead, I want to raise a point that is just speculation based on the data above: since there are very few Asian directors and writers in Hollywood, perhaps this is a major reason why we aren’t seeing more Asian actors in non stereotypical roles.

If most of the writers are white, then they are most likely to write about things that have relevance to their lives. It is that much harder to see a Caucasian writer come up with a screenplay that revolves around an authentic Asian lifestyle. The same applies to the various other race and gender angles as well.

So perhaps in order to solve the issue of having too few Asian actors/actresses in Hollywood, we also have to address why there are so few Asian writers in Hollywood. A simple Google search on ‘why are there so few Asian screenwriters’ will yield very little results compared to ‘why are there so few asian actors.’ This just goes to show that we have been focusing on only one aspect of a multi-dimensional issue. And may be there is more to this than what meets the eyes, just speaking from my own personal experience, the traditional risk averse asian mentality might have a role to play in this as well. Would you disagree?

Taking another close look at the data, the irony is pretty evident. With all the #OscarsSoWhite and #HollywoodSoWhite discussions floating around, a quick glance at the data reveals that the last couple of decades have indeed seen the most diversity as far as the leading roles in oscar winning movies are concerned.