In mid-May, I received an email from a manager who had read about MANAA (Media Action Network for Asian Americans) speaking out against White actors taking roles originally written as Asian characters. Of his client’s video, he wrote, “I can confidently say right now there is no better tool out there to educate the public regarding the issue of whitewashing and the marginalization of Asians in the entertainment business”. He also claimed this artist was “a young singer-songwriter who can best be described as a young Elton John that can dance like Fred Astaire. I don’t say that lightly”.
“Oh boy,” I thought, this is probably going to be embarrassing. I clicked on the link for “Leading Man.” Will Jay, an Asian American actor, auditions for a role (“Deaf Note: The Musical”, a play on the much criticized Neftlix film “Death Note”) in front of two cynical casting directors. He sings well, but they quickly dismiss him. The executives are immediately more friendly to a White guy, Danny Hand, with the casting director saying, “Ooh, nice handshake! Iron Fist!” (parodying Danny Rand, Marvel Superhero Iron Fist, a part many wanted to go to an Asian American). He shakily performs the same tune, yet the executives like him.
In the 11 years that NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” has been on, I’ve never felt compelled to watch a single episode.
From seeing enough previews, I knew it drew a hodgepodge of contestants from too many different fields. I mean, how can you judge who’s the most talented when they come from a multitude of different disciplines, such as singing, acrobatics, dancing, and magic?
Asian Americans are used to not being supported when they’re treated unfairly because of their race or when they’re subjected to racial slurs (e.g. “’Jap?’ That’s just an abbreviation for Japanese! ‘Chinaman?’ What’s the big deal? How’s that different from ‘Irishman?’”). So it was nice to see a white woman come to the defense of the lone Asian American contestant on CBS’s reality show “Big Brother” Sunday night. But it was more complicated than that.
It all began when Raven told Jessica to go over and talk to Cody because he looked sad. Jessica, who’d already paired up romantically with Cody, declined: “Pao Pao’s over there, so I’d rather not.” As Paul explained to viewers, Pao Pao was the nickname of a female Latina/Asian, Paola Shea, from three years ago, who kind of resembles current player Alex Ow in looks and temperament (which is very short).
The Slants, the Portland, Oregon-based band that for six years fought in the courts for the right to trademark their controversial name, finally won Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in their favor. In doing so, they overturned a 71-year-old policy preventing words that could “disparage” groups of people from being legitimized.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said, “We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the 1st Amendment… Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
I felt a sense of deja vu hearing about Bill Maher being taken to task for saying “nigger” on his “Real Time With Bill Maher” HBO series, which aired on June 2nd. You see, I debated Sarah Silverman on Maher’s previous talk show incarnation — ABC’s “Politically Incorrect“ — on August 22, 2001, talking about her use of “chink” in a joke. And the second topic was: Can non-Blacks get away with saying “nigga?”
Check out this video at the 14:24 mark:
Little did we know when Margaret Cho’s “All American Girl” debuted on ABC in September 1994 that we’d have to wait more than 20 years to get another Asian American family sitcom.
It wasn’t for lack of effort. Since 1999, I’d been part of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC), which met annually with the top four television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) analyzing their hiring data and pushing them to cast Asian Pacific Islanders in more prominent roles.