#SeeAsAmStar face-swaps Asian Americans into lead roles

Ben Lee
Photo credit: William Yu

From Digital Spy

2017 saw the cinema release of Ghost in the Shell, infamous for its casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role of the Major. The whitewashing drew widespread condemnation, with Constance Wu and Ming-Na Wen among the critics, and the movie ended up flopping miserably.

The casting was sadly not a surprise, as Hollywood has always been reluctant to cast Asian Americans in blockbuster lead roles. The industry refuses to believe Asian American actors can be huge stars – but a new hashtag campaign aims to challenge those backward notions from an inspiring angle.



By taking short clips of movies and face-swapping an Asian American actor into the lead part, #SeeAsAmStar shows that Hollywood has no excuse to continue ignoring Asian Americans. Want to imagine a Ghost in the Shell that isn't whitewashed? Here's what a Motoko Kusanagi played by Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu would look like.

And it looks so damn right.

What about an Asian American superhero on the big screen? Or even better, an Asian American Avenger?

Don't worry, #SeeAsAmStar has you covered. Introducing John Cho as Captain America as seen at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron...

If the sight of Cho as Steve Rogers is causing déjà vu, then you might be familiar with the #StarringJohnCho campaign which went viral back in May 2016. Back then, creator William Yu used Photoshop to replace top-billed stars in movie posters with Cho, and one of the most popular posts was that of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

#SeeAsAmStar is Yu's follow-up, taking #StarringJohnCho to the next level by applying the concept to video instead of pictures. "The reaction to #StarringJohnCho validated an assumption I had that people want to see stories with Asian American faces. However, I still felt that the posters left too much to the imagination," the digital strategist told Digital Spy.

Photo credit: William Yu

"There was still something missing between seeing a still image of an Asian American Captain America and seeing a living, breathing, talking Asian American Captain America. I wanted to bring the movement one step closer to that reality.

"When converting John Cho into Captain America and editing the clips, I was moved at watching the other Avengers look up to an Asian American leader. It was something I've never seen in film before. I hope that #SeeAsAmStar can prompt audiences and those in the film industry to question the concept of what a 'movie star' looks like and realise that Asian Americans are an important part of that conversation."

Yu explained that the effect is achieved using an artificial intelligence-based technology called Deepfake, which allows for faces to be superimposed onto a target subject.

Other videos have seen Teen Wolf's Arden Cho replace Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead actor Steven Yeun taking Joseph Gordon-Levitt's role in (500) Days of Summer.

"When #StarringJohnCho launched, the conversation surrounding whitewashing and Asian American erasure was just starting to pick up steam," Yu added. "While these terms are much more top of mind and now part of the Hollywood vernacular, the concrete progress in terms of more films and television shows that feature Asian American leads, directors, and writers continues to move at a sluggish pace.

"The perception that Asian Americans cannot carry these mainstream Hollywood narratives continues to exist. We are still at the outset of this struggle."

Later this year, Constance Wu will be seen starring in Jon M Chu's romantic comedy drama Crazy Rich Asians, the first Hollywood movie since 1993 to boast an all-Asian principal cast. That's 25 long years in the making, and the huge amount of buzz surrounding the film is proof that representation matters.

But Hollywood still has an incredibly long way to go, and hopefully #SeeAsAmStar can help break down those barriers preventing Asian Americans in the industry to be taken seriously.

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