Saturday, April 23rd in Little Tokyo of Los Angeles, George Takei, Janet Yang, Arthur Dong and Marc Bernardin lead a panel on racial erasure of Asians in Hollywood.
If you’ve been keeping up with “events,” race is an issue more present than ever. Recently in the entertainment industry #oscarssowhite was a huge event with national awareness of the absence of racial diversity. It was national news covered by serious news networks, as well as a huge topic of late night hosts. It flooded the media in every form and every scale. Basically, only way to not know about it was to be off the grid.
The Oscars were hosted by Chris Rock, who tackled the issue head on and addressed it without holding back in his opening monologue. It was a proud moment for diversity. That is until he threw Asians under the bus. It wasn’t the worse joke, but it was lazy and poorly executed. Things only got worse when Sascha Baron Cohen piled on with another cheap Asian joke. What should have been a night where progress takes step forward was taken, was actually a night where progress took a huge left turn.
Asians in Hollywood and Asians, in general, were pretty outraged and took action almost immediately. Arthur Dong, along with George Takei, Ang Lee, and other Asian academy members, protested the Oscars jokes and the Academy responded with a “we’ll try not to let it happen again” letter. That only pissed, even more, people off.
Coverage of this conflict paled in comparison to #oscarssowhite, likely due to lack of a catchy hashtag and the direct action versus social pressure. Add on the fact that Asians in Hollywood are often overlooked, in general, it’s surprising the issue made its way to The New York Times.
But I’ll sum up what happened, Asians got mad, demanded answers, got none. There’s a promise of a meeting, but it’s probably a stall tactic.
This event, as well as Tilda Swanson playing The Ancient One, Scarlett Johansson starring in Ghost in the Shell, and Emma Watson in Aloha, were among other issues discussed in the panel.
The panel was titled Yellow Nerds and Dongs @ The Oscars or Can’t You take a Joke? – The Serious Business of Diversity in Hollywood. Janet Yang masterfully moderated the panel, sharing her own insights and thoughts without ever interrupting or overshadowing the other panel members. It was an extremely enlightening panel, one with serious messages from some very powerful and successful members in the entertainment industry.
Personally, I resonated with George Takei and Marc Bernadin’s insights. Not only were they deeply personal, but expressed more objective and thought out responses that were more than just passion fueled. Passion is important, but can often lead to aimless action and unforeseen, yet avoidable, consequences.
Arthur Dong, Daniel Mayeda, and Emerlynn Lampitoc also provided great insight and perspective that seem to come from a more professionally influenced position. You can catch their sections throughout these videos. What I feel the panel did not do well was provide reasonable solutions. They set up the coming and growing trend of Asians in Hollywood but don’t really give any solutions to the present problem other than support Asians in the industry. Which when it comes down to it, support is the solution. It just seems like a blanket answer that doesn’t give concrete details and doesn’t detract away any misguided proposals. Bernardin broke it down the best with “…green is the only color that matters.” Without a doubt money and support are what will make things happen, but I feel it is a very easy solution to say rather than do.
I’ve watched a lot of Asian works, and a lot of it sucks. This is not to say Asians suck, there are loads of amazing Asian works like The Raid series. As well as plenty stuff from white people and other cultures that suck too; Batman v. Superman and Fantastic Four for example. But in terms of Asian works that suck, check out All-American Girl starring Margaret Cho. I own the DVDs of the entire series; it’s the first Asian sitcom. IT SUCKS. I did not pay for it and I would not have. It sucks because of white people, but no one who doesn’t do any research would know that.
Because of All-American Girl we had to wait 20 years to get another Asian sitcom. The messed up part is that white people messed up that show, but because all people really see when they watch the show are the Asian actors, Asians get blamed and Asians are stuck in the tertiary or ridiculous roles for another two decades. I’ll write a piece on that show later, as that one heart punches me.
The panel ended with a Q&A session, which to be honest annoyed me to no end. I understand the passion and rage of Asian erasure, and how it feels to be overlooked because you are Asian. However, a lot of the solutions proposed were idiotic and pitiful. One solution was to create a shame list. Honestly, what is that going to do? Why do I need a list to shame Emma Stone for taking a job? Or Scarlett Johansson for becoming the face of a franchise? Or Tilda Swinton for taking a role that dies shortly after being useful to the protagonist? I don’t need to be told which actors or industry members to hate because they don’t go out of their way to include or find Asians in Hollywood. I go to a lot of shows, the majority of people at comedy clubs and improv theaters are white people. If that is your best solution, it isn’t much wonder why your creative works aren’t garnering mass appeal or support.
Asians do not need to complain and rally every time we lose out on a role that should have logically go to one of our people. We need to focus on opening opportunities and capitalizing on the ones we get. Face it, Ghost in the Shell wasn’t ever going to go to one of us if it was being made by a US studio. But you know what? Masamune Shirow is about to get his come ups! This isn’t a chance for an Asian actor to lead a big movie, but it is Shirow’s chance to have a worldwide franchise. As popular as Ghost in the Shell seems to its fans, it’s not that popular. It’s not Dragon Ball popular. It’s not Pokemon Popular. It’s not eve Avatar: The Last Airbender popular. This is Shirow’s chance of growing his creation to that level, so be happy about that and support him/that.
*I will wholeheartedly concede to the thing about the studio trying to CGI the actors to seem more Asian, they lost all credibility there. Cloud Atlas got lambasted for that and they at least had narrative reason to do so.
This is not to deny the erasure Asians in Hollywood or the constant portrayal of Asians in disposable roles. Asians in Hollywood aren’t a huge force to look up to at the moment. It is a struggle that we do have to overcome. However, we do not need to shame others, breakdown others, or overly complain every time something is unfair. It’s nothing new. We should call out those situations, and take note, but it is far more important to support those who are moving forward than excessively focus on another in a long line of white actors playing Asians in Hollywood. We have to double down on our opportunities and build on our successes. There’s a fine line between what should be ours, versus what would have never been ours. Then there’s also, why should/do we care? It’s one thing to really understand the injustice and another to be angry for some vague cause you think you’re a part of. (Like this misguided outrage)
Bernardin said it best in his article Hollywood’s glaring problem: White actors playing Asian characters,
“Take two children. One of them has 1,000 action figures, while the other has just one. If you take a single figure away from that first child, it is possible, if not probable, that he or she won’t even notice it’s gone. And even if he or she did complain, any sane person would explain to that child the virtues of sharing, of generosity.
Now, if you turned to that child with the solitary toy and tried to take it away, that child would be devastated. That toy might well be his or her lifeline to imagination, to hope, to the idea that play could unlock something within that he or her didn’t even know existed.”
Asians in Hollywood don’t get a lot of chances, and when we mess up any of those chances it resonates. We don’t get to make two horrible Superman movies and still get the funding to build a cinematic universe. We can’t even get John Cho more than a season on a television show, and his shows are GOOD. Off Center, Selfie, Flash Forward? If Asians rallied in support where it mattered, instead of whining about Tilda Swinton, there would be a lot more opportunities across the board.
*If you say M Night Shyamalan is an exception, he kept getting opportunities when he was screwing over white people. Soon as he screwed over Asians and Will Smith he was DONE!
Anyways, watch the videos, gain some insight, and support diversity, not just one type of diversity. I think the main point of the panel was to address diversity as a whole. #Oscarssowhite also meant a lot to non-black members in entertainment and society. It’s not true progress if you take a step forward while making others step back. If you would like to see the videos of the Q&A, or continue the dialogue, comment below and I’ll work on getting those uploaded.