The topic of my last published column (http://tinyurl.com/jyheew6) was reaction to news about a possible revival of the 1980s-’90s TV series “L.A. Law,” one of the many successful shows from the mind (and word processor) of Steven Bochco.
The gist of the column was that if a new “L.A. Law” were to actually make it to series now, then it should have at least one Asian American in the law firm — and not just in some token role but something stereotype-breaking. Had the show done so in the 1980s, it would have been a real groundbreaker.
Asian Americans were, of course, in the law profession back then. But casting Asian Americans as part of an ensemble was, evidently, not on Bochco’s radar at the time. (Not to excuse him, but it evidently wasn’t on anyone’s mind in the 1980s, even though it happened in the 1960s and ’70s, be it “Star Trek,” “Barney Miller” or “Happy Days.”)
It would have made for some great stories, though, had the law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak had a Japanese American attorney during a time when Japan-bashing was part and parcel to the then-roaring Japanese economy.
By the time a revived “L.A. Law” hits the airwaves (if it gets that far), sitting in the White House will be Donald Trump, who many fear will make good on promises to not only make it difficult for emigrants who are Muslim to enter but also do to Muslims who are U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents alike what President Franklin Roosevelt did to Japanese Americans during WWII.
Not sure if Bocho is thinking that far ahead, but he should be — and if there was a Japanese American lawyer in this fictional law firm, what a dramatic story it would be for him or her to have to represent a Muslim suspected of plotting terrorism.
But that got me thinking about movies I wish Hollywood would deign to make about neglected and overlooked stories with some sort of Asian American or Asian connection. After all, if we can’t be inspired by the adaptation of author Naomi Hirahara’s Mas Arai character into an indie movie (http://tinyurl.com/hwgkoec), then what can we be inspired by? So, with that in mind, just in time for Christmas, here’s my movie wish list.
Anna May Wong
No. 10 — An Anna May Wong biopic: This L.A.-born actress deserves to have her story told to modern-day audiences. Anna May Wong spanned the silent era to 1950s TV and was, for a while, a true movie star. The obstacles she faced are still relevant in this era of whitewashing. Turns out that Variety reported in 2014 that a biopic (titled “Dragon Lady”) was in the works. I’ve also read that Chinese actress Fan Bing Bing may take the role. I have to agree with those who want a Chinese American (or Asian American) actress to play the part, because being American-born is fundamental to who and why she was who she became.
No. 9 — An Iva Toguri biopic: This is another one that, over the years, has bounced around Hollywood, with nothing ever coming of it. But the story of Iva Toguri D’Aquino — who was mislabeled as Tokyo Rose during WWII — is astounding, with a prison sentence and a presidential pardon all part of her story.
Iva Toguri D’Aquino
No. 8 — A biopic on Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi or Min Yasui: Take your pick for this biopic. The story of any of these three men who challenged aspects of Executive Order 9066, all the way to the Supreme Court, deserves to be told on the big screen. Actually, why not all three?
No. 7 — Momotaro: OK, we need to lighten the mood just a bit. With CG animation capabilities so strong now, this Japanese children’s story of a boy born of a peach, who travels with three odd companions to fight demons is like a riff on Dorothy and her three companions (not counting the dog who shares the name with the Japanese toilet manufacturer) in “The Wizard of Oz.” Amazing that it hasn’t already been done.
No. 6 — “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt”: Michael Lewis’ exposé on high-frequency trading screams to be made into a motion picture, just like adaptations of his books “Moneyball” and “The Big Short.” Turns out in this story, the hero is Japanese Canadian Brad Katsuyama. But as the Sony Pictures cyberhack from a couple years ago revealed, uberscribe Aaron Sorkin wrote in emails with the studio: “The protagonist is Asian American (actually Asian Canadian) and there aren’t any Asian movie stars.” If any studio should take a leap of faith anyway and make the movie, it’s SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT!! (Cut to Akio Morita, a single tear coming from his eye, as he hangs his head in shame.)
No. 5 — Adaptation of “Tea”: The timeless, haunting and funny stage play by Velina Hasu Houston about the friends, daughters and husbands of a deceased Japanese “war bride” is one that is probably difficult to do — but would be so rewarding once figured out and made.
No. 4 — “Allegiance”: It too was a play. Now, instead of just showing the stage play in movie theaters in a very limited way, make it into a movie that shows in movie theaters. (Then I can finally see it!)
No. 3 — A remake of “Farewell to Manzanar”: The telefilm based on the book came out in 1976. The window for remakes is now something like two weeks (OK, I’m exaggerating — but it almost seems that way!), so why not remake this 40-year-old movie with a bigger budget and production values and breathe new life into this classic American story?
No. 2 — A Ben Kuroki biopic: The story of the Nebraska farm boy who improbably flies 30 bombing missions over Europe, survives getting shot down and imprisoned, inspires other Japanese Americans to fight for their country despite their country imprisoning them, then going to the Pacific to drop bombs on his ancestral homeland sounds completely crazy. Except it’s true.
No. 1 — A 100th Battalion/442nd RCT movie: For Hollywood, WWII is the gift that keeps on giving — and it’s deserved. The most recent example: “Hacksaw Ridge,” about a medic who won the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot during the Battle of Okinawa. Improbable but true? Well, how about a big-budget movie that tells the true story of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland who at first hate each other, then become blood brothers in one of the most-decorated Army units in American history, with 21 Medals of Honor collectively? ’Nuff said.
My official title is director of business development. That covers a lot of territory. But that’s a good thing, with flexibility beyond selling advertising. That said, I can use all the help I can get. If you know of businesses that should advertise or if you have a business that would like to reach a great demographic, use that email address at the end of this column and get a hold of me.
In the meantime, I’m including a photo I took recently while in my car and stopped at a light next to a mail delivery truck. I’m taking it as a good omen for the future of this newspaper.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2016 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.