I hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to the movie “Extraordinary Measures” because it’s generally not my kind of movie. However, I recently discovered something I feel needs to be discussed. The movie is about, John Crowley, a biotechnology executive, whose two youngest children were afflicted with Pompe disease. Along with his wife, he raises money for research scientist Robert Stonehill, forming a company to develop a drug to save his children’s lives. In the movie Dr. Stonehill is played by Harrison Ford, however in his review, Robert Ebert explains that in reality there is no Dr. Stonehill, but there is a Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen:
Dr. Robert Stonehill doesn’t exist in real life. The Pompe cure was developed by Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen and his colleagues while he was at Duke University. He is now director of the Institute of Biomedical Science in Taiwan. Harrison Ford, as this film’s executive producer, perhaps saw Stonehill as a plum role for himself; a rewrite was necessary because he couldn’t very well play Dr. Chen. The real Chen, a Taiwan University graduate, worked his way up at Duke from a residency to professor and chief of medical genetics at the Duke University Medical Center. He has been mentioned as a Nobel candidate
I’m rather disappointed to hear this. It’s bad enough when a fiction character of color is portrayed as white on the cover of a book, but a real person of color being recast as a white person just seems a thousand times worse. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Asians have been recast or otherwise played by white people in movies.
The web site Racebending.com was created after it was discovered that the live action version of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” would contain a cast of primarily white actors. The movie is abased on an animated children’s television series – where the cast is primarily Asian. You can read The Last Airbender Timeline for more information about the movie and what has been going on with the cast.
Getting back to “Extraordinary Measures” you should read Racebending’s post about it: Extraordinary Measures? Yellowface? via Roger Ebert. They picked up the story from Angry Asian Man, who posted about it first. You should also check out Racebending’s post Yellowface: A Story in Pictures which shows all the movies where Asians have been played by white people.
And I’ll leave you with a quote from that post:
There are enough minority actors and actresses for marginal or sinister characters – but Hollywood continues to insist it is difficult or impossible to find talented Asian American actors for positive, substantial roles.