Will ‘The Mortal Instruments’ Break Ground for Asian and Asian-American Actors?

About a month ago, I wrote about young adult author Cassandra Clare’s insistence that a character in her The Mortal Instruments series, Magnus Bane, whose Asianness is a major part of his identity be played by an Asian or Asian-American actor. Now that Taiwanese-Canadian model Godfrey Gao’s been cast in the role, actor Edward Zo’s made a video about the significance of the casting (the key parts run from about 1:10 to 7:00):

Of the points he makes, I think two are particularly critical. First, is that young adult fiction is a particularly important place to set standards and expectations. Readers or viewers who grow up invested in romances between gay characters, or who see non-white people as sex symbols, create markets for both broad categories of characters and specific actors. Sometimes, those attachments can be overwhelming, and unfair, as has been the case with Kristen Stewart, when she diverted from the insane expectations fans had placed on her. But if it means getting an Asian actor work, and work on an entirely different set of terms, that could be a powerful force for good.

And that leads to the other point Zo’s making: that the terms on which Asian men are given work needs to change, given that the hypercompetence they’re often granted can be as much a straightjacket as a display of awesomeness. Rational nerds get stripped of their sexuality. Ninjas get stripped of all of their other personality components. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s Li Mu Bai was the rare Asian warrior character to reach a mass American audience who also got to love a woman passionately, his repressed desire playing out as a grand, Jane Austen-style tragedy. Asian actors — as do actors and characters of all races — deserve a chance to be more than one thing at once, to be smart as part of their desirability, to be competent in pursuit of deeply-held goals, and to screw up without being pathetic.