When the landmark television series Twin Peaks debuted on ABC in the early 90s, it was a watershed moment for the industry. Critics and audiences alike were floored by how such an avant-garde production, helmed by none other than the eccentric genius David Lynch, could not only air on network television but actually be a ratings and critical success.
One of the show’s stars, Joan Chen who portrayed the guarded and driven businesswoman Josie Packard, already had a career in China starring in major films and was principle cast member of The Last Emperor (which won several Academy Awards).
At the time, Chen’s racial background was not a primary focus of the media coverage of her. She was well-liked and respected, but not particularly fawned or celebrated over for her historic casting in major Western films and TV shows.
But times have changed, and Chen has taken note.
“I think Hollywood is, by far, the most conscious of any other national industry to try to be inclusive. But sometimes it’s superficial. Sometimes it’s a matter of making seven action heroes into seven different colors. It’s not about truthful experiences or authentic experiences,” Chen recently said in an interview.
“I actually believe that political correctness is detrimental to art,” she continued, “I think talents are talents. [If] you have the talent, you have the drive, nothing can stop you. Whether or not it’s a political movement – that really shouldn’t mean anything to an artist. It’s completely meaningless. You have the drive, you need to express [yourself], you have something to say, and then you will say it. And there is nothing to stop you, whatever race you are.”
Asked whether or not she feels actors of other races have it much easier than her, Chen seemed unconvinced.
“Nothing is easy. When a white actor wants to break out, it’s not easy.” she said.
Chen also praised the film industry in her home country of China, which she believes has improved a lot over the past decades. She recently directed a China-based upcoming film called English, which is her third directorial experience.
“Directing means that I get to have the most wonderful toolbox ever to help me construct a story, and to transport audiences to my world,” she said. “I just told the story the best I could; I didn’t think about any political implication.”