Mariana Leung has performed in many acclaimed television shows including "The Knick," "Limitless" and "Daredevil," but you wouldn’t know it. Like many Asian-American actors, Leung is relegated to sometimes-uncredited background appearances on shows with predominantly White leads. In an essay published by Vox today,(November 28), she offers an honest look at how it feels to be invisible.
"As an Asian-American actor in New York City, 95 percent of my gigs place me in Chinatown," wrote the actress and designer after describing a scene from "The Knick" set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. "I’m the ‘set dressing;’ that helps create an exotic backdrop for lead performers. In the past five years, the majority of my trips to Chinatown have been specific to a scene, even as my real life rarely puts me there."
Leung cited the #WhitewashedOUT when discussing how Hollywood crews are often far more diverse than the shows on which they work:
Every set I’ve been on has had an ethnically diverse crew. I see how directors might not clue in to the lack of diversity of their work because they look out onto an inclusive set. The principal actors onscreen are only a small percentage of the entire body of employees. What they forget is that the rest of the world only sees who is put in front of the camera, and they are hoping to look into a mirror.
Leung also discussed the worry she feels over possibly enabling Asian-American performers’ erasure by not "doing enough to make our stories heard."
Despite her criticisms, Leung wrote that these background roles "have allowed me to explore my heritage with opportunities that I never had before." She described a tai chi scene in "Limitless" that compelled her to research the martial art and find connection to her ancestral traditions. "We may have only been a part of the background for someone else’s story, but I saw our characters as the group that found peace after years of struggle," she wrote about the scene.
Read Leung’s essay in full here.