Actor James Shigeta and Hollywood’s ‘Stigma of Asian Leading Men’

By Jamilah King Jul 31, 2014

Actor James Shigeta died this week at the age of 85. He was known for winning a Golden Globe and for his leading role in 1961’s "Flower Drum Song," but never again acted in a leading role. 

"He was so handsome, debonair," fellow actor James Hong told the Washington Post. "But there was the stigma in Hollywood about Asian leading men."

It’s a stigma that still exists today. "It’s changed in Hollywood, but only so much," Japanese-American actor Masi Oka told The Hollywood Reporter. "You can’t get Asians cast in leads yet. Maybe as a second lead, but the lead is still going to be Caucasian or African-American. But Hollywood is fickle, it follows trends. If a show or a film did well with an Asian lead, then it would take off."

Earlier this year, New America Media’s Andrew Lam cited the "Bamboo Ceiling" as a leading factor in the growth of Asian and Asian-American actors in new media:

And while they may not be signing big Hollywood deals, they are creating a kind of horizontal, post-modern conversation that is challenging the Hollywood notion of what talent looks and sounds like. These social media and reality personalities are beyond anything imagined by the big money producers, and they are giving old Hollywood a run for its money. 

Read more