Usually, POC lovers of media are quick to call out moments of whitewashing. However, now comes the time when we have to police how POC actors take roles from other POC.
Adam Beach, one of the most prominent Native actors in Hollywood, is calling on people to boycott the Paramount Network’s first scripted series, Yellowstone. The show, starring Kevin Costner, focuses on Costner’s character John Dutton, who owns the biggest contiguous ranch in the country. The ranch under attack by Yellowstone National Park itself, as well as land developers and a nearby Native American reservation who, I’m assuming, see it as a threat to their way of life since the rest of the synopsis, according to Coming Soon, reads thusly:
“It is an intense study of a violent world far from media scrutiny—where land grabs make developers billions, and politicians are bought and sold by the world’s largest oil and lumber corporations. Where drinking water poisoned by fracking wells and unsolved murders are not news: they are a consequence of living in the new frontier. It is the best and worst of America seen through the eyes of a family that represents both.”
The controversy comes in with the casting of Kelsey Asbille, formerly known as Kelsey Chow, as the Native American character Monica. Asbille is half Chinese, according to Wikipedia. As Clevver writes, “the 25-year-old actress is half-white/half-Taiwanese ‘with some Cherokee ancestry.’ Others state that she was born to a ‘Chinese-Taiwanese father and a mother of English and Cherokee descent.’” Wikipedia’s entry on Asbille states nothing about any Cherokee ancestry. At the end of the day, there seems to be a question surrounding her possible Native American ancestry.
This isn’t the first time she’s been cast as a Native American, which is troubling, since her recent role before Yellowstone, a Native American character named Natalie in the acclaimed film Wind River, is probably what allowed her to secure this Yellowstone role.
According to Clevver, Beach wrote on Instagram that the Yellowstone casting was “failure in diversity.”
“I’m asking my Native Actors to stay away from this project. ‘Yellowstone’ is telling the world that there are no Native actresses capable of leading a TV show. Unless your great-great grandparents are Cherokee,” he wrote.
“I speak on behalf of all my woman Natives who work so hard to get noticed and they wake up to this,” he wrote.
Will more speak out against Asbille’s casting? We’ll see what happens as Yellowstone ramps up.