John Cho, best known for playing Sulu in the rebooted Star Trek franchise and Harold in the Harold & Kumar films, is making history with his latest performance. Chos new movie, Searching, is the first mainstream, contemporary thriller headlined by an Asian-American actor.
“I accept that its a big deal. Im excited,” Cho said of the milestone Wednesday, on the first night of the 41st annual Asian American International Film Festival, opened by a screening of Searching.
“I havent thought of that, but what is meaningful to me is seeing the image of a whole, loving Asian-American family [more] than anything else,” he continued. “Its very rare in movies. The image of that is much more startling than it should be. It was surprising to me how powerful it was. I want the future to be where its completely normal to see an Asian-American family on-screen.”
In Searching, out in select theaters on August 24, Cho stars as David Kim, a doting husband to Pam (Sara Sohn) and a caring father to 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La). When Margot suddenly vanishes, an investigation led by a detective (Debra Messing) begins. With no clues, David decides to search his daughters laptop computer. Written and directed by Indian filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, the movie is told from the point of view of computer screens and smartphones. The film also presents its characters— predominately an Asian cast—free of clichés or stereotypes.
“For so long, identity has to be justified in a narrative. You always have to explain why, especially when youre casting anybody who isnt white in a movie,” said Chaganty. “There has to be this element explaining what the Asian-American hook is. In our movie, theres no justifying it. We are trying to not make it an issue. Thats the victory to us. When we got the opportunity to tell a movie, we figured, why not take this opportunity and do something that we always wanted to do, to see various versions of ourselves on-screen, since it never happens?”
In 2016, digital strategist William Yu created a viral social-media movement with the hashtag #StarringJohnCho, which advocated for more Asian-American actors to be cast in traditional leading roles—and to end the ongoing whitewashing of Asian parts in Hollywood. The campaign reimagined Cho as the protagonist of action flicks and romantic comedies by Photoshopping him into various movie posters, like Spectre and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Cho, who was not affiliated with the online campaign, appreciated the movement for igniting a conversation about the lack of Asian-American leading roles.
“I think it started a discussion in a positive way,” said Cho, who participated in a Q&A panel moderated by Yu following the screening. “The visual of seeing an Asian-American face on a poster said a lot in a moment. It was simple and impactful. We are taking the same idea and showing an Asian-American family as a simple thing. It says more in that moment than an entire Asian-American studies class could.”
Although #StarringJohnCho has stopped trending, and the Asian-American acting community has been largely left out of the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, Asian representation both in movies and television is slowly progressing. With Searching and next months film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, featuring an all-Asian cast, Cho is optimistic that Asian-American artists will continue to be more visible in Hollywood.
“I hope its not a peak. I hope its the beginning, leading to more,” said Cho. “Ive been thinking its less about casting, and more about creation and expression. Thats the real starting point for change. Im hopeful it will lead to more Asian creative content.”
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Every Time Meryl Streep Died in a Movie—And Still Stole the Show
The House of the Spirits, 1993
In the film based on the 1982 novel by Isabel Allende, Streep plays Clara, the clairvoyant matriarch of a wealthy family in Chile, who dies when she is middle-aged. Afterwards, the spirit of Streep guides her family through various trials, in their lives and through the revolutions of Chile. She spends the whole film as this sort of otherworldly goddess—and the movie is squarely hers.Photo: From Everett Collection.
One True Thing, 1998
In the film adaptation of writer Anna Quindlens novel, Streep plays a housewife and the mother of a Manhattan journalist (Renée Zellweger). She is diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of the film, and spends the entire movie carrying out heartbreaking scene after heartbreaking scene. Finally, she delivers a monologue about choosing to “love the things that you have,” which defines the meaning of life in one perfect, Streepian swoop.Photo: From Universal/Everett Collection.
The Bridges of Madison County, 1995
Meryl is dead at the beginning of this movie, so brace yourself for that. Her kids return to their childhood Iowa home to examine their mothers will and sort through her things. What they find are a bunch of letters from a lover (Clint Eastwood) they knew nothing about. Then come the flashbacks, featuring Streep as a 1960s Midwest transplant with a masterful Italian accent—commanding the screen, even if shes just a flashback of a memory.Photo: From Warner Bros/Everett Collection.
Death Becomes Her, 1992
This one, now hailed as a queer classic, features Streep opposite Goldie Hawn, playing age-obsessed women living their best afterlives. Come for the special effects; stay for the campy scene where Streep sings a narcissistic solo (though she is technically alive when she sings it).Photo: From Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Defending Your Life, 1991
Here, Streep and Albert Brooks fall in love while in what is essentially purgatory. She stuns in an all-white outfit, like the very image of an angel—but really, shes just a dead lady named Julia who has to kiss Albert Brooks. Somehow, it works.Photo: From Geffen Pictures/Everett Collection.
Angels in America, 2003
Did you ever know that you needed Meryl Streep to play the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, smiting a dying Roy Cohn on his deathbed? Well, you do. Streep plays a total of four characters in this celebrated miniseries, including a rabbi who Maurice Sendak mistook as an “alter cocker” in real life. But her dead Rosenberg is really the one to watch.Photo: By Stephen Goldblatt/Hbo/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, 2018
Shes dead. We find out in the first scene, as if the trailers werent clue enough. But just like we need her to, Streep still shows up at the very last minute, her entrance worthy of cheers, her spandex-clad reprise of “Super Trouper” (now featuring Cher!) well worth the wait.Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures.PreviousNext