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Jamie Chung heads to 'Gotham' — plus 9 more diverse casting choices worth celebrating.

The recent un-whitewashing of these Hollywood roles is adding some much-needed diversity to the screen.

Actress Jamie Chung, who you might know from "Once Upon a Time" and "The Real World: San Diego," just got cast in Fox's popular bat-TV show "Gotham" as reporter Valerie Vale.

On the surface, this might not sound particularly noteworthy — probably because most casual viewers aren't instantly familiar with the character of Valerie or her better-known niece Vicki Vale who's also a reporter (and frequent Bat-romancer).


Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Absolut Elyx.

Chung's casting is notable because we live in an age when white actors are still being cast to play characters of color, while actors of actual color can't even get award nominations for the disproportionate number of roles that are available to them.

The decision to cast Chung in a the role of Valerie Vale is a pretty big deal (and a pretty low bar), but it's even better that it happened in spite of the fact that Vale has traditionally been depicted as a white woman.

Here are a few recent examples of un-whitewashing in Hollywood that's helped to add some much-needed diversity to the screen:

1. Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, in "Fantastic 4."

When Jordan's casting was first announced, there plenty of vocal internet complainers decrying how a black actor like Michael B. Jordan could possibly play the fire-powered flying brother to Kate Mara, a white actress, who played Susan Storm.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

The in-movie answer? Adoption. Really. It was just that simple.

2. Idris Elba as Heimdall in the "Thor" movies.

Look, I understand that the descriptor "Norse" tends to invoke images of strapping white men with blond or red hair. But this is a movie series about interstellar spacegods with magical hammers who traverse the galaxy on a rainbow bridge — a bridge that Idris Elba kept a watchful eye on in his role as Heimdall.

Photo by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.

Did the fact that Heimdall was white in the comics prevent Elba from convincingly guarding a rainbow galaxy bridge? Of course not.

3. Chloe Bennet as Skye/Quake in "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

Following a brief career as a pop star, Chloe Bennet didn't find her first big acting break on the superhero TV show until she stopped using her given Chinese last name: Wang.

Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Kabam.

While that's an unfortunate testament to Hollywood's problem with race, it's still exciting that we get to see an earthquake-powered superhero, who's also Chinese-American, kickin' ass every Tuesday night.

4. Candice Patton as Iris West on "The Flash."

There's nothing about the character of a reporter who's also the love interest of the eponymous Scarlet Speedster that screams "must be played by a white actor" — or any specific race or ethnicity, for that matter.

Which is good, because Candice Patton rocks it each week as Iris West, Barry Allen's best friend and love interest.

Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for iHeartMedia.

5. Lucy Liu as Joan Watson on "Elementary."

The world of Sherlock Holmes has been altered and adapted a million times over, to the point that we're all pretty familiar with at least one version of it. By casting the eccentric detective's sidekick as a woman, and an Asian woman at that, "Elementary" brought a new, robust, and utterly unique angle to a classic character that we've seen so many times before.

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images.

And who doesn't love Lucy Liu?

6. Jason Momoa as Aquaman in "Justice League."

People tend to make fun of Aquaman for his superhuman ability to speak to fish, rather than, I dunno, the fact that he's usually portrayed as a blond-haired, blue-eyed dude from an island nation that exists beneath the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for 2014 Sarasota Film Festival.

In this case, the decision to cast Momoa, a mixed-race actor of Hawaiian, Native American, and white backgrounds is actually more believable than, well, anything else about the character.

7. Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger in "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child."

Despite Emma Watson's formative portrayal of the bookish Muggle heroine in the "Harry Potter" movie series, the only explicit physical descriptors for the character in the books was that she had brown eyes and curly brown hair.

Noma Dumezweni, left. Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images.

When Noma Dumezweni was cast in the part for the highly-anticipated theatrical production, J.K. Rowling herself came to the defense of the talented black actress, saying, "Noma was chosen because she was the best actress for the job. … But what shocked me was the way people couldn’t visualise a non-white person as the hero of a story. It’s therefore brilliant that this has happened."

8. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in ... a lot of Marvel movies.

Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox.

Admittedly, this one is a little tricky: In his first iteration, Nick Fury was a white guy, and then Marvel created another Nick Fury for their "Ultimate" alternative universe, and based him on Samuel L. Jackson's appearance.

Then they cast the actual Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury for the Marvel movie universe and replaced the white comic book Nick Fury with a new black Nick Fury, separate from the other black Nick Fury.

Follow that? No? That's OK. No one really understands it either. But the point is that there's nothing about his skin color that affects his ability to be an awesome super-spy.

9. Dean Cain as Superman in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."

Here's a throwback for ya! Despite his "all-American appearance" (whatever that means), Cain is actually part-Japanese because one of his grandparents was Japanese.

Photo by Tom Sandler/Getty Images.

This is a particularly great example both because Superman is a literal extraterrestrial alien and thus has no need to conform to our earthly racial standards, but also because it's a good reminder that those same earthly racial standards are actually kind of arbitrary.

But the fact that we do acknowledge them is the exact same reason that casting with diversity in mind matters.

Opponents of on-screen diversity call this "reverse-racism" or "tokenism" whenever a white character gets "replaced" by someone of a different race.

But that same erasure has been happening to people of color for a long, long time.

When a white actor gets cast as a person of color, effectively "whitewashing" the character, that cycle of erasure continues and fans miss out on an opportunity to see themselves represented in the media.

If you're an Asian-American who wants to be an actor and you only see other Asian-Americans in background ninja roles or being good at math, well, that sends a message that that's all you can ever be — and could make you feel insecure if you aren't good at math or, say, a kickass ninja. And if you're a non-Asian person who only ever sees Asian characters in movies being good at math, your brain is subconsciously primed to think all Asians are good at math.

But when an actor of color gets cast in a traditionally white role? The only way it affects the story or the audience is that it makes us all more aware of how the world around us really looks. In turn, that helps break down racial stereotypes, and opens our minds to greater possibilities — like inspiring a brighter future where the full range of humanity can be seen in every role, on screen as well as off.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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