Why Was Emma Stone Cast To Play A Multiracial Character In Aloha? (Update)

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
Update: Director Cameron Crowe has addressed the casting controversy in a blog post. "I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice." His remarks can be read in total here.

Emma Stone is many wonderful things. She’s an incredibly talented, Academy Award-nominated actress. She’s a Broadway star, and a very smart cookie. She is not, however, Asian American — a fact which didn’t stop director Cameron Crowe from casting her as a person of Chinese-Hawaiian-Swedish descent in Aloha.

"Accepting Emma Stone as an Asian-American in Aloha requires a certain suspension of disbelief and no small amount of magical thinking,” wrote Chris Lee in a nuanced post titled, “I’m Not Buying Emma Stone as an Asian-American in Aloha,” for Entertainment Weekly.

Lee isn’t making a case against Stone’s entitlement to the role based on the credits of her craft — quite the opposite, in fact. He readily speaks about her onscreen skills and accolades, and it’s clear from the tone of the piece that his gripe has nothing to do with Stone and everything to do with the way Hollywood represents non-white faces.

But, he also makes an excellent point about why it was necessary to set Stone up to “pass” as a multiethnic character at all. Why turn her whiteness into something it isn’t instead of just casting an actor whose heritage better fits the part in the first place? Olivia Munn, for example, as Lee points out, actually is an Asian American actress: She’s certainly not the only potential star who could have fit the ethnic bill and carried the film, either. Yet, audiences are asked to imagine and accept Stone as a biracial character, in spite of her undeniable whiteness.

There isn’t a simple answer to why Hollywood casting directors choose white actors to take on roles that call for diverse heritage. It's a tricky topic that pops the lid on Pandora's Box of ethnic politics and underlying racial prejudice in pop culture — but a worthy line of question, particularly as the makeup of America becomes less homogeneous with each passing generation.
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