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'Big Hero 6' Star Ryan Potter on Being Hapa in Hollywood

Ryan Potter, from the Oscar-winning "Big Hero 6," spoke out about the lack of diversity in available Hollywood roles, and how he thinks hapas fit in.
Ryan Potter
Actor Ryan Potter attends the premiere of the animated feature film "Big Hero 6" at the El Capitan Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 in Los Angeles. Dan Steinberg / Invision via AP file

Ryan Potter is the latest to join a growing chorus of accomplished actors and actresses pointing out the lack of roles in Hollywood for artists of color.

The lead voice actor of the Oscar-winning animated film Big Hero 6 said in a recent interview that he still receives notices for roles that are “borderline racist” and that some have tried to cast him as “the stereotypical Asian friend that was nerdy.” Potter bemoaned the history of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry, referencing tropes of “fake glasses” and “buckteeth.”

“We need to see more diversity whether it’s on television or in film," he said, "because the world doesn’t look the way it did 50 years ago or even 100 years ago.”

Potter made these remarks on ISAtv’s program “Half-Time,” hosted by Joanna Sotomura and Stephen Chang, both multiracial Asian American actors. The web show explores “the hyphenated cultural world of Hapas everywhere.” Hapa is a Hawaiian word that refers to someone who is of partial Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry.

Related: Multiracial Cast of 'Big Hero 6' Wins Big at Oscars

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Potter, who is half-Japanese and half-Caucasian, voiced Big Hero 6's Hiro Hamada - a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian boy living in San Fransokyo, a fictional hybrid of Tokyo and San Francisco. Big Hero 6 was the only winning film at the 2015 Oscars to feature Asian American talent. All 20 acting nominees at this year’s Academy Awards were white, making it the least diverse Oscars since 1998.

A recent report by the University of Southern California showed that approximately 40 of last year’s top 100 grossing films featured no speaking roles for any character of Asian descent.

When asked how his Hapa identity has affected his ability to land acting roles, Potter responded, “If the casting notice is specifically Asian or specifically Caucasian then it kind of works against us. But I feel like a lot of times when we walk into the room we can almost fill either casting request … We’re able to hop into more auditions, I think, because of our ethnic make-up.”

Co-host Chang disagreed. “I feel like we’re in an in-between world, because it’s either we’re not white enough to be white. Which is what - like 95 percent of roles?" he countered. "And I can’t go in for the Asian guy, because I’m not Asian enough."

Related: Study Shows Huge Lack of Diversity in Hollywood

Both hosts and Potter did agree, however, that the growing market for ethnically ambiguous roles could benefit Hapa actors.

"I can almost go in for half Puerto-Rican, half Asian," said Potter. “You’re seeing more people like us. You’re seeing more hapas. You’re seeing more blasians...I definitely think that more of the media needs to represent what the world looks like.”