Hollywood has a depressing history of anti-Asian sentiment. White actors like Marlon Brando and Mickey Rooney donned yellowface to portray Asian characters in films. Even when Asian actors did get roles, they were severely limited in what they could do as a result of the Hays Code, a set of rules that dictated what could be shown on screen from the 1930s to the 1960s. Anna May Wong was a trailblazer for Asian representation in movies, but with the Hays Code, she couldn’t have on-screen romances with white actors, and she regularly starred alongside white actors in yellowface.
Even in recent decades, Asian actors have often had to resort to racist caricatures in films, such as Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) in “Sixteen Candles,” who speaks with a racist accent, and whenever he enters a room, a gong sound plays. There have been more recent strides toward better Asian representation in Hollywood projects, with the success of films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and shows like “Fresh off the Boat.” However, there’s still a long way to go to make sure people of all ethnicities are represented and seen.
People may be quick to say, “Sentry isn’t Asian in the comics.” Who cares? He’s a fictional character who’s basically an overpowered, deranged take on Superman. His whiteness in the comics is never integral to his character, not in the same way T’Challa being Black is vital for telling that character’s story. Ultimately, Sentry’s race doesn’t matter; it’s all about the story, and the casting director clearly felt Steven Yeun best encapsulated who Sentry will be in “Thunderbolts.” Anyone who has a problem with Yeun’s race shouldn’t be taken seriously.