What One Asian-American Actor Is Doing To Fix Hollywood's Diversity Issues
Brittany Ishibashi's Karai is going up against Michaelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael in the new movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows , but she's also taking on the lack of diversity in Hollywood and challenging the notion of what Asian actors can and cannot do. Ishibashi, who has been acting for almost two decades and has credits ranging from Supernatural to Grace and Frankie, tells Bustle that she dreams of breaking down barriers for Asians in Hollywood — and that she's more than ready for the industry to make its must-needed changes regarding its casting of non-white actors now that the discussion is at a "fever pitch."
"I think the main thing now is that the conversation has been started," Ishibashi says. "People are getting angry, on both sides, and I think that's very important because that's going to be a catalyst for action and for holding people to account."
Thanks in part to the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, as well as the continued calls for more diversity in front of and behind the screen, the lack of Asian characters and representation in Hollywood has become a hot topic of late. Recently, the casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, a new adaptation of the Japanese manga, inspired the Twitter campaign #whitewashedOUT, a hashtag dedicated to shinning a light on the erasure of Asians in the media. "The most irritating part to me was the way that ...what seems to be the case is that they didn't look into the relation of how casting a white actor in that role makes it a totally different movie — it's no longer Ghost in the Shell," Ishibashi says of the controversy. "Ghost in the Shell, at its core, a Japanese movie, it's a Japanese character, it's Japanese culture."
Ishibashi adds that she is hopeful that all the controversy and conversation surrounding the issue, and that of whitewashing as a whole, will will lead to real action; after all, according to a 2016 study by the University of Southern California Annenberg on Hollywood diversity, only 5.1 percent of leading roles in Hollywood were given to Asian-American actors in 2014-2015. Yet Ishibashi is not just sitting back and waiting for change to come. Rather, she's purposely picking projects that are full of roles for Asian actors. Before TMNT 2, Ishibashi starred in Everything Before Us , a film directed by Wesley Chan and Philip Wang of Wong Fu Productions. A majority of the cast, which includes Randall Park (Fresh Off The Boat), Aaron Yoo (The Tomorrow People), and Ki Hong Lee (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), are Asian or Asian American, and Wong Fu is company that got its start making videos and viral shorts like "Yellow Fever." (It's worth nothing that even with their success, Chan and Wang had to get fans to donate via Indiegogo to make Everything Before Us a reality.)
"Wong Fu was so great — it was such a wonderful and collaborative process," Ishibashi says. She adds that the company's use of the internet to expand its reach has inspired her to do the same. YouTube, Hulu, and other alternative platforms have provided a place for Asians and Asian Americans to create television and film on their own term, and Ishibashi hopes to take advantage of that trend by producing her own projects alongside her two sisters. Their first endeavor: a half-hour comedy show about her family.
"We're actually writing our first project right now that's inspired by our unique childhood, growing up in a performing arts family as three Japanese-American girls in Orange County. It's going to be a lot of fun," Ishibashi says. She adds that the project also provides her a space to create outside of the Hollywood machine. "It's incredibly liberating to have this other project going when you're also dealing with the business side of Hollywood," she says.
In addition to her family sitcom, Ishibashi is also currently working on a script about her grandmother, who was one of the many Japanese Americans interned during WWII. While films have been made about Japanese internment, many, according to Ishibashi, show a stereotypical ideal of Japanese culture, something she wants to correct. "I just kind of want to show the darker side of that too, while also shinning a light on that side of history that still not too many people know about," she says.
Don't let her villainous role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows fool you, Ishibashi is gearing up to be just as fierce behind the camera as she is in front of it.
Images: Riker Brothers (2); Vimeo