NEW DELHI: Asian-American representation is a hot button topic in Hollywood with the success of the film "Crazy Rich Asians" but actor John Cho says the contribution of older actors in bringing diversity to mainstream cinema should not be forgotten.
Cho, best known internationally for his roles in stoner comedy "Harold and Kumar" and the "Star Trek" franchise, will next be seen in "Searching", about a father on a quest to find his missing teenage daughter through websites, social media, smartphones and computer screens.
"Searching" and "Crazy Rich Asians" are being hailed as something of a cultural movement in the entertainment industry in the vein of "Black Panther" and "Wonder Woman", films that did great business with a diverse cast, a rare phenomenon in Hollywood that is often accused of "whitewashing".
Asked how he sees the success of such films, Cho said, "It certainly seems like something is in the air and it is very exciting. I am hopeful."
People may mistake this momentum as something recent but it is rooted in the struggles of actors that came even before him, he said.
"I don't want to forget all the filmmakers that have come before. Younger people might think that Asian-American filmmakers have suddenly appeared or they are getting noticed just now.
But I would not be here without the mentorship of older Asian-American actors and filmmakers, who came before.
"I see this Asian-American wave as something that has been growing for quite sometime and is cresting just now," Cho told PTI in a phone interview from Los Angeles.
Cho, 46, credits director Wayne Wang's film "Chan is Missing", comedian Margaret Cho and Mira Nair's feature adaptation of "The Namesake" and others for the change.
Asked about his own contribution as an actor in this, Cho said, "I have been trying to keep my head above the water to continue the metaphor. I have been trying to stick around and try to do work that I can live with and be proud of. That's the name of the game."
Cho, however, believes studios and not the American public should be blamed for the lack of diversity.
"Over the years, it became clear to me that the American public, I can only speak about my country, was being underestimated by the industry because they were really open to different faces.
There was some lagging in the way studios collected data.
They underestimated the interest that people had in faces that looked different.
"In fact, movies starring different people, people of colour, did very well at the box office and the data is catching up. Industry will change to accommodate that data."
He believes "Harold and Kumar" would have gone "completely under the radar with two white faces".
"Over time, people found us memorable because we looked different. They rooted for us because they were like 'Oh, we don't see too many movies with guys who look like that'. The studios are realising that a diverse cast is actually great publicity. Putting a diverse cast together attracts positive attention.
People tend to appreciate and applaud it so why not?" Directed by Indian-American Aneesh Changanty, "Searching", which is being released in India by Sony Pictures Entertainment on August 31, has been hailed for being the "first Internet movie" that accurately portrays the online phenomenon.
Cho had initially rejected the story.
"I loved the idea of doing a thriller, playing a father and bringing some of my own experiences to the role. But I had no interest in working on a screen because it did not seem like a fun acting job. So, I did say no at first."
Aneesh, who was determined to have Cho in the lead role, personally reached out to the actor and managed to convince him.
"He explained to me what his intentions were with the project. How he was going to make it feel like a traditional movie and technically improve it. I was just bowled over by what a charismatic and intelligent person he was.
"The feedback that I have received is that within minutes people forget that they are watching a story unfolding through screens, they are so caught up in it.
In life, more and more human interacting is happening via those screens. It is an attempt to dramatise something that is real."
"Searching" is one of the few studio-backed movies that have an Asian-American star in the lead role and comes almost two years after #StarringJohnCho, a movement that superimposed the actor's face on major Hollywood blockbusters, trended on Twitter.
"It is poetic that it was a Twitter movement and here I am doing a movie that talks through screens.
It certainly seems appropriate."