Like any actor, Lewis Tan likes to play the central character in a story.
“Asian actors want to play the lead, the romantic character, the hero, just like everyone else,” Tan told CNN.
And like most Asian and Asian American actors, Tan has had to battle stereotypes.
“We’re cast as ninjas, monks, nerds, the third, fourth, fifth best friend who is a nerd, killers, doctors and for women, the sexy Asian woman who’s dating a white guy,” Tan quipped.
The actor, who is of Chinese, Singaporean and British descent, most recently starred as Zhou Cheng in the Netflix series “Iron Fist.”
The action-packed show follows the adventures of a martial artist who possesses a mystical force.
Yet the central role went to white actor, Finn Jones, to the dismay of some viewers who wanted to see Tan in the part even though the character in the comic “Iron Fist” isn’t Asian.
Regardless, Tan considers his role on the show a win.
“It’s an exciting time in a lot of ways because things are opening up,” Tan said. “There was a time when things weren’t as open for [Asian actors], so it’s exciting for me to see actors being booked and called in for roles.”
To date, the call for increased diversity in the film and television industry has primarily focused on opportunities for African American, Latino and LGBT creatives, with artists of Asian descent somewhat ignored.
That felt evident to some at the 2016 Academy Awards.
Even as #OscarsSoWhite took center stage, host Chris Rock made a joke using three Asian child actors that resulted in two dozen Asian members of the Academy crafting an open letter demanding an apology.
“In light of criticism over #OscarsSoWhite, we were hopeful that the telecast would provide the Academy a way forward and the chance to present a spectacular example of inclusion and diversity,” the letter read. “Instead, the Oscars show was marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians.”
There has been some notable progress with portrayals in Aziz Ansari’s critically acclaimed Netflix series “Master of None” and ABC’s sitcom-hit “Fresh Off The Boat,” but other projects showcase the challenges many Asian performers still face.
Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park departed the CBS drama “Hawaii Five-0” last week over a reported pay disparity between the actors and their white co-stars.
“The path to equality is rarely easy,” Kim wrote in a Facebook post about leaving the show. “But I hope you can be excited for the future. I am.”
“As an Asian American actor, I know first-hand how difficult it is to find opportunities at all, let alone play a well developed, three dimensional character like Chin Ho,” he also said. “I will miss him sincerely.”
Tan, who spoke to CNN prior to Kim and Park leaving their show, said while he’d like to see even more opportunities for actors of Asian descent, he applauds the inclusion of people of color period.
“I want to see everyone rise,” he said. “I think we all will have our time, if we push it, if we do the work and if we make our voices heard.”