I know this is old news, but I just saw it today so it’s new to me. Chinese-American singer-actor Victor Ma gave an interview a while ago discussing his Hollywood endeavors, where he says he got passed for roles because he didn’t “look Asian enough.” In particular, he was told his eyes were too large for a role in The Maze Runner (his eyes aren’t even that large compared to most Chinese celebs).

“I auditioned for The Maze Runner. The role went to a Korean-American, his name is Ki Hong Lee. The role was down to me and him. The audition was a last call. The reason why they didn’t want me was first, I was still a minor and it was more difficult to work with night schedules. That’s one thing. Second of all, the casting told me was that “You don’t look Asian enough.” ****. When I asked him why, he told me “Ki-hoon has smaller eyes than yours.” I was like, oh my god, are you kidding me.”

-Victor Ma

This is one topic that I personally find really obvious, but is often difficult to discuss without making it sound like a criticism of certain looks. It’s nice to have someone to actually come out and say it’s definitely true.

It’s clear that Hollywood seems to prefer Chinese actors with those stereotypical features when such caricature looks would never pass in a comic. This isn’t saying that people who don’t fit certain standards of beauty shouldn’t get roles, but Hollywood is purposely choosing to reinforce a physical stereotype that isn’t necessarily true. This especially obvious in ensemble casts where every other person of every race clearly follows one standard of beauty and the Chinese actor looks like a caricature (which is not the actor’s fault, they already have an uphill battle just to get a role as an Asian). Sometimes even when the Chinese actor has large eyes, the make-up artist seems to make them smaller on purpose (ex. Disney’s Mulan), whereas they would never do that for an actor from another race. It’s even more disgusting that many of those roles or movies are cash grabs at the China box office.

Fun fact: Director Ma Chucheng said one reason they picked Zhao Wei for his version of Mulan was he was sick of how Disney’s version was such a Western stereotype with slanty eyes and thick lips, and Zhao Wei is known for her large eyes.

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8 thoughts on “Victor Ma got passed by The Maze Runner because his eyes weren’t small enough to be Asian”

  1. Ken Jeong, Bobby Lee, Matthew Moy, Lucy Liu, etc.

    It’s a looooong list..

    Hollywood either casts stereotypical looking Asians or gives Asians the worst roles (nerd, clown, butt of jokes, fu manchu villain, dragon lady) .One time can be written off as an accident, but when it’s done repeatedly it’s deliberate. This has been going on since the 1930s if you look back on some of the films that were made during that time period.

    TBH, Hollywood is not the answer that some of us are looking for especially now as the US is waging a new Cold War against China (biggest country in Asia). Asians need to make our films to promote ourselves and culture. China is doing a good job building its own media industry but one area it needs to work on is marketing its movies/TV dramas globally instead of solely distributing it to the domestic Chinese market. Kpop and kdramas has done wonders for the image of South Korea (country, people and culture) as a whole. Something that Chinese media companies can learn from..

    1. I don’t think China needs to care about the non-Chinese market at all imo, China has like 1/7th of the entire human population. The Korean industry needs to pander to a global audience because their media industry is way too big for their own native population to consume. If we disregard nationality and only count people then the audience of the average Chinese movie/show is already far larger than the average Korean movie/show even including their non-native audience.

      Chinese media is already global, cdramas have always been popular in South East Asia and is finding new popularity in South America, just because it’s not as well known in western countries doesn’t mean non-western countries don’t count as international. Also native Chinese people don’t really care about their “image” abroad, usually the only people I see that that bring stuff like that up are diaspora Chinese living in western countries, and while it’d be a nice bonus to have Chinese media be popular there it’s ultimately just that, a bonus (plus Chinese media is already slowly gaining popularity in western countries anyways.)

      Popular Chinese dramas easily break billions of views these days and it’s looking to be even easier to do that in the future with the increasing quality of Chinese media along with a rising middle class, that’s why there’s really not a lot of reasons for Chinese companies to promote internationally. Compared that with the Korean industry, they need to aggressively market their products overseas because their native population is too small to sustain the size of their media industry, but tbh even with their aggressive global pandering their industry is still not as large as China’s.

      Just to put numbers into perspective, take “The Longest Day In Chang’An” for example, the production values of that drama is on par or even exceeds western productions (Mulan 2020 lmao), the Chinese industry can take financial risks like that because the payoff is worth it and that’s considering it’s mostly Chinese audience. Whereas something of this quality and scale would be extremely hard to justify in the Korean industry, there simply aren’t enough people in Korea alone to justify such an expensive production which means they absolutely have to market this product overseas if they want to make a drama like this. There lies the difference, the Chinese industry, relying on mostly China alone can pump out high quality dramas like that every year because it’s worth it even without relying on an international audience, whereas the Korean industry even with their global marketing can’t justify stuff like that.

      Hence this is why I think it’s fine for the Chinese industry to not emulate other countries and try to promote internationally, it’d be nice to have Chinese media become even more popular globally of course but it’s not a necessity like it is for Korea.

      1. The planet has a population of 7+ billion people. In terms of business, Chinese media companies are very shortsighted in only focusing on the 1.3 billion people in China. There’s actually vast untapped opportunities for Chinese media content outside the country.
        Promoting movies/TV dramas internationally doesn’t necessarily mean the production crew have to pander. Kdramas are being marketed worldwide and still able to tell genuine Korean style stories. One of the main shortcomings with Cdramas is the lengthy episode count (50-60 episodes). The reason for that because they want to make more money off of commercials. Now if Chinese companies were to sell the drama rights overseas it would give them an additional revenue stream. And they won’t need to film so many episodes which in turn improves the quality of the drama as a whole.

        1. If you ignore nationality then those aren’t 1.4 billion Chinese people but rather 1.4 billion people, in terms of numbers that’s like the entire population of North America and Europe put together, 74 countries across 2 whole continents, and that’s in China alone. If by untapped potential you mean that there’s interest in Chinese media outside of China then I agree, people all across the world are already watching Chinese movies/shows even without active promotion from the industry, and companies could definitely further capitalize on that interest (which they are already slowly doing with stuff like IQiYi and WeTV).

          But I disagree that it’s shortsighted to focus on domestic consumption, is it a waste by Chinese companies to not promote Chinese media outside of China? Especially considering there’s interest in it? Probably, but by numbers alone it’s not as important as promoting it inside the country (where 74 countries worth of people live in).

          I’m not arguing against increased popularity of Chinese media abroad, having a truly global audience across the entire world rather than just South East Asia or South America is a good thing after all and it’d be nice to see the Chinese industry actively market their products overseas, but it’s not something they absolutely have to do. If they get popular internationally they get popular, if they don’t they don’t, it’s not a make or break thing for them and they don’t need to actively push for it imo. Maybe if they were any other country I’d agree in calling them shortsighted but not in this case. Though I’m not gonna complain if one day Chinese media becomes really popular.

          Of course, China can both focus on the domestic audience and exploit the latent potential of international consumers at the same time but as we can see, their industry grew like this thanks to their mostly Chinese audience and I personally think it’s fine to just focus on them because of that. I’m not saying that they should never try to aim for global reach, I just think it unnecessary to try to make some “Chinese Wave” happen because that’s what Korea did and that’s what everyone should be doing, what everyone should aim for, that they’re some standard of “success” to measure to because as I’ve said across these two posts, in China’s case, I don’t think they need to care about having an international audience at all when it really comes down to it.

          Also I disagree with the long episode count being a shortcoming in cdramas, bad writing that needlessly increase episode count for money is a shortcoming but long length by itself isn’t, some cdramas really do deserve their lengthy episodes and I’m personally a big fan of good lengthy dramas.

          1. It’s shortsighted in the sense that the movie/TV show is already made and they don’t even bother marketing it overseas. Relying on word of mouth and good reviews is old fashioned. Nowadays, it’s about putting up ads on the internet especially social media. Recently, Qiyi and Tencent setup their own websites and starting streaming their shows on there, which is great, but there’s not much marketing campaign.

            TBH, this website does a better job promoting Chinese shows than big corporations like Tencent and Qiyi lol..

    2. I’m dreaded with the prospect that cdrama/cpop international fandom will grow as toxic as current kdrama/kpop int fandom if they gain more foothold internationally lol. However I can see how going international will help the industry in some way or another. Royal Nirvana and Ever Night 2 tanked domestically but they’re able to recover some loss by selling the drama overseas. Just because there’s a big market in China doesn’t mean it’s guarantee profit for each and every drama produced, in the end there’s no point if those billions of people don’t watch the drama.

      1. Unfortunately, c-entertainment is already tainted by toxicity of idol-controlling powerful fandoms that wage wars on other fandoms to prop up their own. And then there is the internet mafia companies under the guise of PR companies who engage in malicious deeds. Those keeping track of the cyberbully campaign against Xiao Zhan are appalled by what he has had to endure since 2/27.

  2. This is tricky. Seems like majority of East Asian entertainers have bigger eyes even though the majority of the general population don’t. Of course eye size is subjective and on a continuous scale.

    Plus “Did that face have work done?” often accompanies celebs. Don’t know whether it is even more frequent for East Asian celebs. Opening eyes, padding nose and doubling eyelids do sound like popular cosmetic surgeries for East Asians in general. Someone’s Weibo post listed Wallace Chung in top 20 best-looking Chinese male entertainers. There were relatively more dissenting comments focusing on his single eyelids and not very big eyes.

    Can’t say this director’s motivations in casting an East Asian actor with smaller eyes. Maybe not about perpetuating a caricature look at all. Or, maybe not deliberately.

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