[SMITHSONIAN] ‘Big Hero 6′ shows that an Asian American cast can top the box office

November 12, 2014

 

bigHero [SMITHSONIAN]

This past weekend’s box office numbers are in, and Disney’s latest project Big Hero 6 stands soundly on top. This might not come as a big surprise, considering that Frozen-fever is still holding every auntie’s TV hostage – but the film still breaks ground, especially in the scope of Asian Americans in cinema. And Hollywood should take note.

Big Hero 6 is a robotic sci-fi tale that revolves around Hiro Hamada,  Disney’s first explicitly mixed-heritage protagonist. Hamada is voiced by Ryan Potter, who is of Japanese and Caucasian descent himself (our friends at CAAM did a great interview). In fact, the entire film is placed in a “Hapa environment” of sorts, set in San Fransokyo, an architectural and cultural hybrid of the cities the name references.

Casting Asian Americans isn’t new to Disney, whose Mulan in 1998 was voiced by Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong and George Takei, among others.  Still, the studio has been inconsistent when it comes to this matter – the lead role in Lilo & Stitch wasn’t voiced by a Hawaiian (or an Asian Pacific American, for that matter), and we’d have to go as far back as Aladdin or even The Jungle Book to locate another Disney animation starring characters from a broader Asian origin (let’s pretend the Siamese Cats from Lady and the Tramp never happened). Among those mentioned films, the only voice actor of Asian descent was Lea Salonga for Princess Jasmine’s singing parts. So while Big Hero 6 is a fictitious metropolis which never reveals what country it’s actually in, its cultural mash-up of settings, characters and themes means it could very well be Disney’s first Asian/American film that actually stars Asian American actors.

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