2017 was an insane year. Psycho-in-Chief (his name does not deserve to be mentioned in these pages) and his racist Repuglican [sic]supporters and talking heads said outrageous things about the Asian/Pacific Islander community that raised our blood pressure (why bother recounting all of them here?).
After the fall of Harvey Weinstein in October, one Hollywood star/producer/director/actor/executive after another was accused of past sexual offenses and their projects/deals/contracts were dropped/canceled/erased in shockingly quick reaction.
Olivia Munn is one of many actresses who have recently come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by powerful men in Hollywood.
Asian actresses were among those preyed upon by Weinstein. Olivia Munn finally set the record straight years after director Brett Ratner characterized her as promiscuous, insisting they had never had a sexual or romantic relationship, and that he sexually harassed her for years. When she and other actresses went on record with The Los Angeles Times, Warner Brothers dropped his projects, pledged to not renew his production deal with them, and forced him to give up his prestigious office on the lot.
Scott Brunton, a former model, accused George Takei of drugging him at the actor’s apartment in 1981 and trying to take sexual advantage of him. Though the iconic actor denied even knowing Brunton, his excuses for remarks he made on the Howard Stern show in mid-October (he admitted to using strong arm techniques to sway timid would-be lovers and there were awkward silences when asked point blank if he’d ever come on to men who didn’t return his affections) led to uneasiness. Takei wanted us to believe that for the past 27 years — whenever he’d been on the show — he had not been himself but playing “a naughty gay Grandpa” caricature and that the October interview had also been “a skit.” In the end, because no one else accused Takei of similar improprieties, there was no major fallout, though Densho dropped a Takei-narrated video from their website and some advertisers quietly dropped support of the actor’s Facebook page.
Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park left “Hawaii Five-O” after seven seasons because they weren’t getting equal pay to their white co-stars, netting an encouraging amount of support from the general public, though it was clear to anyone watching the show that they were always third and fourth on the totem pole and even lower considering the amount of white recurring guest characters who often got more screen time, which plagued the series’ early years.
Hollywood continued to “white-wash” films by casting white actors to star in projects based on Asian characters. Like most from the recent past (“Last Airbender,” “Aloha,” “Ghost in the Shell”), they lost money.
The laughable insertion of Matt Damon in to a movie about medieval China (“The Great Wall”) was rewarded by losing millions of dollars. “Birth of the Dragon, with a $31 million budget focusing not on martial arts legend Bruce Lee but a fictitious white man coming on to an Asian woman (again?!) justifiably flopped with $7.1 million in receipts.
The luxury of having two Asian American family shows on at the same time sadly ended in May when “Dr. Ken,” starring Ken Jeong and Suzy Nakamura, was canceled. And though two movies featured Asian men in relationships with white women got critical acclaim (“Sophie and the Rising Sun” and “Columbus,” starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson) no one bothered to see them in theaters.
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico and John Boyega as Finn in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
However, Kelly Marie Tran got Asian Americans excited as the heroic Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which is on its way to becoming the second-highest-grossing movie of all time (“The Force Awakens” sits on top, naturally), and there’s Oscar talk for Golden Globe-nominated actress Hong Chau for her performance in “Downsizing,” though its bad performance at the box office doesn’t help her odds.
Here, in chronological order, are my takes on some of the significant issues, people, and events that impacted Asian Americans during the calendar year.
January: A-Hole Award to Steve Harvey, who mocked an old self-help book for Asian men wanting to date white women and laughed and laughed at the notion that women of any race would find Asian men attractive (any of the 2 billion on the planet). The fallout from that, meeting with the Psycho-in-Chief, and a lawsuit from a former assistant led Harvey to hire a PR expert, but none of his business partners cut their ties with the blowhard.
February: Best Expression Following a Performance on the Oscars Award to Auli’i Cravalho, who sang the Academy Award-nominated song “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana” amid distracting dancers swirling blue bedsheets behind her only to get hit in the head by one of them. After the powerhouse vocalist finished the tune, the bug-eyed smile on her face seemed to say, “OMG! I can’t believe he hit me in the head!” or “I can’t believe I managed to continue singing after that!” In any case, she left this Hawaiian feeling proud.
Gone Too Soon Award to the Kaeru Kid, aka Glenn Nakadate, for his wanderlust spirit and columns chronicling countries I’ll never see. Through his work and communications with me over the years, I’d always assumed he was a 30-something and was shocked to realize in one of his last submissions that he’d fought in the Korean War. In December, he told me he was 81 and revealed he was suffering from an autoimmune disease and was on his last legs. He was young at heart and deserved to live a lot longer. Farewell, Kiddo.
After saying she “obviously” wouldn’t play someone of another race, Scarlett Johansson obviously changed her mind and starred as Motoko Kusanagi in “Ghost in the Shell.”
March: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! Award to Scarlett Johansson, who lied when she told the media she would never play someone of another race “obviously.” She obviously did. At the end of “Ghost in the Shell,” she meets her mother and learns she was Motoko Kusanagi. Despite being one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood, the public was smarter. Paramount admitted potential viewers did more online research than usual, found the accusations of “white-washing,” and stayed away in droves. The Huffington Post predicted the $110 million film would lose $60 million.
April: Hypocrite Award to Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang, who in a Sunday Calendar discussion with the more “awoke” Jen Yamato, gave lip service against the white-washing trend in Hollywood. Nice try. Re-read his reviews of those films. He made excuses for Tilda Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One in “Dr. Strange,” didn’t even mention that every major Japanese character in “Kubo and the Two Strings” was voiced by a white actor, and even called Scarlet Johansson’s performance in “Ghost in the Shell” “near perfect.” On top of that, he denied Matt Damon was “really a white savior” in “The Great Wall” even when three Chinese characters literally thanked him for saving their lives!
Yamato asked, “Which film critics are holding studios to greater standards, and which of them simply pass the buck on accountability onto someone else’s think pieces?” You were looking right at him, Jen.
Many passengers on United Airlines Flight 3411 shot video of David Dao being dragged from the plane.