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From Rejection to Rebirth: The Renaissance of our Childhood Idols
Perhaps it is somewhat cliché to call their success evitable. Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser were born for the constant recognition and praise that they are finally receiving from the media and critics who once rejected them both.
05 March, 2023

With the Oscars just around the corner, all eyes are on the nominees. Amongst the chosen ones are two of the biggest films of 2022; Everything, Everywhere, all at once and The Whale. Both have gained the support of movie buffs around the world, with a showstopping cast of the incredibly talented young and generational-defining actresses; including Stephanie Hsu and Sadie Sink. Contrasting, we see the rebirth of the idols of our past. Namely, Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser. Both entered the spotlight early on, and since have shared a similar story of rejection and rebirth within Hollywood.

A Promising Beginning:

Born in South Vietnam, Ke Huy Quan debuted his acting talent at age 12 in 80s classics; Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones the Temple of Doom (1984), and a year later within The Goonies (1985). With just these alone, his future seemed solidified. It wouldn’t be until a few years later in 1991 that he would return to screen with sitcom Head of Class (1991), and film Encino Man (1992). And then, Quan wouldn’t return to the big screen until 2023. The reason? He decided to focus on education, graduating in 1999 from USC School of Cinematic Arts. It was here that he won awards for his work in the production of short films, including the Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival.

At the same young age, Canadian-American actor Brendan Fraser made his film debut in 1991’s Dogfight, but it wouldn’t be until 1992 would he get his breakout role in Encino Man, alongside—you guessed it—Ke Huy Quan. His film career continued to flourish as he starred in blockbuster hits: including George in the Jungle (1997), and The Mummy trilogy (1999-2008). Fraser would continue to star in movies until 2008, and from 2015 would focus on branching out into TV shows. However, it wouldn’t be until 2022 would Fraser reclaim his role in the spotlight.

Rejection and Misfortune:

Their future seems inevitable, but their journey would not be so kind to them. 

Ke Huy Quan, in his Golden Globes speech for Best Supporting Actor, would express his deepest fears of his early career—“As I grew older, I started to wonder if that was it, if that was just luck,” he stated. “For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer. No matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid.” It was a speech that had the entire audience in tears, a new generation witnessing just how neglected the child actors of their youth had been. 

Quan further explained the lack of Asian roles offered in Hollywood that led to him not having a single audition for a year in his early 20s, but this feeling of rejection wasn’t a solely career-based emotion. From a young age, the actor expressed having “identity issues,” upon arriving in the US. 

In 2007, Fraser also went through a very public divorce that resulted in him paying a monthly fee of $50,000 on top of the $25,000 child support. The actor also faced numerous surgeries from his roles that led him to struggle to pay the alimony. Facing rejection from the courts in 2011 upon requesting that the payments be reduced, he was also accused of fraud by his then ex-wife for not disclosing movie contracts. 

Later, in 2018, Fraser would come out as a victim of alleged sexual assault towards the President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Phillip Berk, in 2003. This was an action that would have had several publications blacklist Fraser in Hollywood.

Of course, Berk disputed the allegation to the New York Times, yet this wasn’t the first time that negative press had enveloped Berk. Numerous alleged cases of sexual assault have been pinned against him, and in April 2021, Berk was expelled from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association after sending fellow members an email, labelling the Black Lives Matter Movement a “racist hate movement.”  Rightfully so!

Fraser expressed that the alleged experience caused “emotional distress…personal distress,” in an interview with CBS Morning. Further, he stated that he had “played up the rules until that point,” and that he “suddenly felt violated.” The subsequent divorce, death of his mother and allegations launched the actor into depression, and led him to pause his career due to both physical and mental health problems. 

Rebirth and Reflection:

Both fortunes would take a complete 180 turn again in 2022, when Fraster and Quan returned to the acting world in critically acclaimed movies. As of January 2023, both stars have reclaimed their own narrative, and the hearts of people everywhere. In total, the pair share over 70 + award nominations from the two films alone, including Academy Award nominations for Actor In A Supporting Role and Actor In A Leading Role.

Perhaps it is somewhat cliché to call their success evitable. The pair were born for the constant recognition and praise that they are finally receiving from the media and critics who once rejected them both.

Quan recognises that Hollywood has very much changed in its casting of Asian diversity. He acknowledges newer Hollywood films, most specifically Crazy Rich Asians (2018), that have marked a watershed moment for Asian representation. Even so, the percentage of speaking characters across 1,300 films between 2007-2019, who were Asian or of Pacific Islander descent, was found to be only 5.9%. Much work is needed to transcend the disproportionately wide gap between roles given to Asian actors and actresses. Films such as Ghost in the Shell gained huge backlash after its release in 2017 for casting Scarlett Johansson, despite it being based on anime led by a Japanese protagonist. Hollywood has had a history long before of whitewashing and yellowface. Quan’s co-star Michelle Yeoh has recently become the first Asian actor to be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role by the Academy Awards. The same organisation that nominated German-American Luise Rainer for the same title, in a role where she played a Chinese peasant, O-Lan. Here’s hoping for greater change, appreciation and acknowledgement, but only time will tell.

Fraser coming out in 2018 could also be a nod to the great leaps the newer generations have had in speaking up about sexual assault, especially in male victims, who have been frequently overlooked in the past. The discussion surrounding mental health is also one in which has greatly developed into a more open and understanding conversation. This enabled him to come back into a seemingly safer environment, different from the one he was once rejected from.    

Our reaction to all of this?  We’re obsessed. 

The internet is completely in awe of the two stars, and continues to praise and support their projects. TikTok and Youtube videos have gone viral of the two; their adorable interactions behind the scenes and inspiring speeches on stepping back into their rightful place on screen.

So, to Brendon Fraser and Ke Huy Quan, their success and public admiration quite literally continue to be everything, everywhere, all at once.

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