September 28, 2020

Chinese actor discusses stereotypes

Actor Parry Shen discussed prejudice in the film industry. (Christopher Lombardi / Staff Photographer)

By Eman Hassan

Parry Shen has faced prejudice throughout his career as an actor — but that hasn’t stopped him.

“Most importantly, embrace your uniqueness. No one can perform your lines the way you interpret them,” Parry Shen said in the Library Auditorium on Thursday, Nov. 11.

Shen, a Chinese-American actor, was born in Queens. He fell in love with acting and storytelling at a very young age. “I grew up watching a lot of television and movies. I also liked to play with my G.I. Joe action figures. They are the ones who taught me storytelling,” he said.

Inspired by actors like John Ritter and Matt Damon, Shen improved his craft over the past 15 years. Ever since he decided to pursue his dream, Shen has been featured in films such as “Better Luck Tomorrow,” “The New Guy” and “Hatchet.”

Shen reminded the audience that fame comes with a price. Judgment is almost inescapable for the actors that seek work, he said. When movie directors cast actors for specific roles, they might have preconceived notions about a certain culture. A perfect example is director Gus Van Sant’s masterpiece, “Milk,” a film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 2009. In the casting call, it was demanded that the man to play Harvey Milk’s assistant should be “Chinese-American, fiercely intelligent, really nerdy and even asexual,” Shen said.

Shen also remarked that the directors can even throw in particular stereotypes when the actor is running lines. He engaged his audience in an activity where a member from the College’s Asian American Association would be told how to behave or communicate with the other actors. Some recommendations that Shen made as the “demanding director” included a voice that would sound “very Asian” or for the actor to look equipped with “fighting skills.” Though the audience members in Shen’s presentation laughed during the acting demonstration, the point was clearly made.

Shen said that being an actor with a unique culture is really a “double-edged sword.” The actor is talented in his craft, and his culture makes him special. However, he cannot seem to break free from the labels that the media holds against him. Yet, Shen remarked that there also is a positive to this negative. His independent film, “Better Luck Tomorrow,” which focuses on a group of Asian-American friends that commit a murder, allowed its viewers to focus on universal themes, not the culture.

When asked if he had any advice for the aspiring actors in the audience, Shen smiled and said, “Profession is not really a profession. It’s an obsession. Excel in your profession so it garners you national attention.”

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