LOS ANGELES, CALIF. — When the 2016 Oscar acting nominations went to solely white actors and actresses for the second consecutive year, #OscarsSoWhite became a trending topic. Biola University professor of sociology, Nancy Wang Yuen, wasn’t surprised. She has been researching Hollywood actors and racism for 15 years. Her new book, “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” examines the structural barriers actors of color face in Hollywood, while shedding light on how they survive in a racist industry.
“Hollywood’s power extends far beyond the screen,” said Yuen. “We live in an era where movie and reality TV stars can become presidents of the United States. Images are not mere entertainment, but can shape the way we see one another and ourselves — influencing not just perception but also action.”
“Reel Inequality,” published by Rutgers Press, charts how white male gatekeepers dominate Hollywood, breeding a culture of ethnocentric storytelling and casting. Yuen interviewed nearly a hundred working actors and drew on published interviews with celebrities, such as Viola Davis, Chris Rock, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac, Lucy Liu, and Ken Jeong, to explore how racial stereotypes categorize and constrain actors. Their stories reveal the day-to-day racism actors of color experience in talent agents’ offices, at auditions, and on sets.
Yuen also exposes sexist hiring and programming practices, highlighting the structural inequalities that actors of color, particularly women, continue to face in Hollywood. Her book not only conveys the harsh realities of racial inequality in Hollywood, but also provides vital insights from actors who have succeeded on their own terms, whether by sidestepping the system or subverting it from within.
“The rainbow is not mono-chromatic,” said Clyde Kusatsu, national vice president of Los Angeles SAG-AFTRA. “Nancy Yuen’s excellent study illuminates the embedded cultural and economic system known as Hollywood where Asian Americans and others aspire to and work to be included.”
Yuen is a scholar of race and ethnicity in film, television, and new media. Yuen pioneered the first policy report on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in primetime television, in collaboration with Asian Americans Advancing Justice. She is currently conducting a 10-year follow up study evaluating not only the raw numbers but also the complexity of characters portrayed by Asian American and Pacific Islanders in network/cable television and digital streaming services. She enjoys helping her students view media through a critical lens. She teaches classes on research methods, race/gender in popular culture, Asian American studies, and visual sociology.
“Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism” will be released in December 2016 and available for purchase on Amazon and in major book retailers.
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