It all began three days ago, when Ed Skrein shocked Hollywood. Rather than accept the whitewashing of a Japanese-American character he had been cast for, Skein instead chose to quit Neil Marshall's Hellboy reboot. It's an important stand that's once again ignited the debate about Hollywood's history of under-representing Asian Americans onscreen. Now, Chloe Bennet — best known to Marvel fans as Agent Daisy Johnson in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — has chipped in too.
Her assessment? Yup, Hollywood is racist.
Chloe Bennet's Background
First of all, let's take note of Chloe Bennet's background. She's a Chinese-American who returned to Hollywood following her successful career as a pop star in China. What's more, Bennet wasn't actually her given name — it's Wang. Unfortunately, Chloe found herself struggling to find employment in Hollywood with a Chinese surname.
On the one hand, Chloe was told that she was too white to play Asian leads, yet she also wasn't considered white enough to be cast as the lead either. This situation was utterly dispiriting for the young actress, leading her to ultimately make a hard call and change her name. To understand the significance of that decision, you have to realize that surnames are an important part of Chinese culture. In fact, a common child's oath is to swear by their surname. With that in mind, Chloe honored her Chinese father by taking on his first name, Bennet, as her new surname. It must have been a hard decision, and yet the fact that she felt it was necessary is unfortunately rather telling.
Speaking Up In Skrein's Praise
Needless to say, Skrein's bold act left Chloe seriously impressed. As she posted on Instagram:
Bennet is right; it's never easy taking a stand, and Skrein deserves praise for his decision. Sadly, this expression of heartfelt support meant Bennet herself had also stepped into the firing line of those who challenged her decision to change her name
It's not the first time Chloe Bennet has faced that challenge, and it sadly won't be the last. She's never been shy about speaking up, though, and Bennet responded with her customary fire and passion.
"Changing my last name doesn’t change the fact that my blood is half-Chinese, that I lived in China, speak Mandarin, or that I was culturally raised both American and Chinese.
It means I had to pay my rent, and Hollywood is racist and wouldn’t cast me with a last name that made them uncomfortable. I’m doing everything I can with the platform I have to make sure no one has to change their name again just so they can get work."
The sad truth is that Chloe Bennet is right. Asian-Americans are still dramatically under-represented in Hollywood, and are typically cast in stereotyped roles. #Marvel Television has proved itself to be remarkable in giving Bennet a rare lead role, even adjusting her comic-book character — the superhero Quake — to align with Bennet's own ethnicity. Sadly though, that kind of attitude is hardly the norm.
Bennet evidently had second thoughts about her forthright response, and deleted it, although not before it had already gone viral. Accomplished Asian-American actor Ken Jeong spotted Bennet's words and took time to praise them.
Speaking as a fan of Chloe Bennet's work, I consider her to be a remarkable actress who's grown tremendously over her years working at Marvel Television. She's truly impressive, and deserves to be front-and-center of Marvel's flagship TV show, #AgentsOfSHIELD. The fact that Bennet had to change her name in order to find roles in Hollywood is truly heartbreaking, and a testimony to how far we still have to go in the battle against racism.
How do you think Hollywood can deal with its racial issues? Let me know what you think in the comments!