MANAA Condemns Sony Pictures And Cameron Crowe For Continuing To Erase Asian/Pacific Islanders In “Aloha” Film

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MANAA Condemns Sony Pictures And Cameron Crowe For Continuing To Erase Asian/Pacific Islanders In “Aloha” Film

LOS ANGELES–  Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and advocating balanced, sensitive and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans, is calling out Sony Pictures for its white-washed film Aloha which opens Friday.

Taking place in the 50th state, the movie features mostly white actors (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel) and barely any Asian American or Pacific Islanders.  “60% of Hawaii’s population is AAPIs,” says MANAA Founding President and former Hawaii resident Guy Aoki.  “Caucasians only make up 30% of the population, but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 90%.  This comes in a long line of films (The Descendants, 50 First Dates, Blue Crush, Pearl Harbor) that uses Hawaii for its exotic backdrop but goes out of its way to exclude the very people who live there.  It’s like tourists making a film about their stay in the islands, which is why so many locals hate tourists.  It’s an insult to the diverse culture and fabric of Hawaii.”

In a twitter chat with imdb, Aloha writer/director Cameron Crowe said he had “family roots in Hawaii” and that “I wanted to dig deeper into the real story of Hawaii… Not only was local community so inspiring to us, we wanted to hire many of them as actors and to make sure to pay respect and help educate everyone on the mainland about the rich history and culture of Hawaii… It was a long process involving a lot of research at Hickam Air Force Base and spending time with the native Hawaiian community too. The story grew and became personal.”

“Yet somehow, in the end,” Aoki points out, according to imdb, “Crowe hired at least 30 white actors, 5 actors to play Afghans, and the biggest roles for APIs were ‘Indian pedestrian,’ ‘upscale Japanese tourist,’ and ‘upscale restaurant guests.’  They didn’t even have names.  How can you educate your audience to the ‘rich history’ of Hawaii by using mostly white people and excluding the majority of the people who live there and who helped build that history—AAPIs?”

In 2008, Sony released 21, which was based on the real-life story of an MIT math professor who taught some of his students how to win at blackjack in Las Vegas.  Most of the principals– including the teacher and the student who won the most money–were Asian Americans.  In the film, they were played by Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess, a Brit who had to have an accent coach on the set to teach him how to sound like an American.  AAPI actors, Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira, played members of the team but had the least amount of screen time.

“Sony Pictures is missing the boat by ignoring a large potential audience for its film,“ declared MANAA President Aki Aleong.  “Look at the Fast and the Furious movies where 75% of the paying audience is people of color.  Despite the star power of Aloha it’s clear to audiences that they wouldn’t be seeing an authentic story about the 50th state.  We ask them to support other movies this weekend because if this movie does well, it’ll encourage Hollywood to continue to not use AAPI talent.”  Aleong, an actor who’s celebrating his 60th year in the business, adds, “There are many talented Asian Pacific Islander actors who could’ve played significant roles in this movie.”

MANAA is a founding member of The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) which, since 1999, has met regularly with the top four television networks–ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX—pushing for more diversity both in front of and behind the cameras.

 

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MANAA Asserts Offensive Use of Yellowface Make-Up and Exclusion of Asian Actors In The Film “Cloud Atlas”

LOS ANGELES – The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) is criticizing the new Warner Brothers motion picture “Cloud Atlas”—promoted as artistically groundbreaking because its actors swap racial and sexual identities—as business-as-usual in its exclusion and offensive yellow-faced renditions of Asian people. A multi-ethnic epic spanning 500 years and around the globe, “it’s an artistically ambitious approach to filmmaking,” according to the organization’s Founding President Guy Aoki. “Unfortunately, it reflects the same old racial pecking order that the entertainment industry has been practicing for decades.”

“Cloud Atlas,” written and directed by Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (“The Matrix” trilogy) and based on the novel by David Mitchell, utilizes an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, and Hugo Weaving. In order to stress a thematic continuity among the movie’s six different interwoven stories, the filmmakers cast many of the same actors as different characters in each time period. One of the stories takes place in a totalitarian, mechanized Neo Seoul Korea in the year 2144. An Asian female clone (South Korean actress Doona Bae) is encouraged by another female clone (Chinese movie star Xun Zhou) to break out of her oppressive pre-programmed routine to serve men and become an independent thinker. The segment also includes White actors Sturgess, Weaving, and James D’Arcy as ostensibly Korean characters, using eye prosthetics to make their Caucasian features look more Asian.

“’Cloud Atlas’ prides itself on its ‘multi-racial cast,’” said Aoki, “but that basically means White men and women of color, like La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘The Nightingale,’ which was criticized last Summer for using only two Asian American actresses but allowing five White men to play Chinese characters. Aoki said, “’Cloud Atlas missed a great opportunity. The Korea story’s protagonist is an Asian man–an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers. He’s the one who liberates Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren’t allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often.

“But instead, they cast Jim Sturgess in yellowface,” Aoki continued, referring to the historically frowned-upon practice of using cosmetics, such as eye prosthetics, to make Caucasian actors look Asian. “In fact, every major male character in the Korea story is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellowface make-up. When you first see Hugo Weaving as a Korean executioner, there’s this big close-up of him in this totally unconvincing Asian make-up. The Asian Americans at the pre-screening burst out laughing because he looked terrible–like a Vulcan on ‘Star Trek.’ It took us out of the movie. And Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy didn’t look much better.”

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MANAA Praises DirecTV for Reprimanding Former Howard Stern Disc Jockey For Soliciting Racist Jokes Inspired By Jeremy Lin

LOS ANGELES-Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA)–the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and advocating balanced, sensitive, and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans–is praising DirecTV for disciplining two on-air talent who, after discussing New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, asked their listeners to call in with “the most racist Asian jokes you know.” Although the disc jockeys apologized two days later, they invoked the Ku Klux Klan and did not adequately explain what they had done. After MANAA asserted the apology was not enough, DirecTV placed them on probation.

On the February 15th “Nick and Artie Show” (produced by DirecTV Sports Group and syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks since October 3), Nick DiPaolo and former Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange asked their listeners to call in with their “most racist Asian jokes.” As an example, they offered Lin having to do teammate Carmelo Anthony’s laundry (the hour in which it occurred has since been taken off DirecTV’s website). They also criticized Woody Allen’s wife Soon-Yi for not showing enough enthusiasm at Knicks games, saying if she didn’t appreciate the United States, she should go back to the Philippines (she’s from Korea). Tuesday, MANAA Founding President Guy Aoki spoke with Chris Long, DirecTV’s Senior Vice President of Entertainment and Production, and Darris Gringeri, VP of public relations. They informed Aoki that although the solicitation did get callers, none of them were put on the air as someone realized it was a bad idea. Long told Aoki he’d learned of the broadcast the following night, spoke to the disc jockeys and their supervisor, and asked them to apologize.

After hearing the apology, MANAA’s board wasn’t satisfied. “Artie Lange wouldn’t even come clean on what they’d done,” said Aoki. “He referenced the New York Post headline ‘Amasian’ and took that as a sign it was fair game to ask his listeners to call in with other Asian puns. DiPaolo corrected him, admitting they’d actually asked for stereotypical jokes. Lange dug an even worse hole by saying: ‘Right, we want bad, awful jokes that you hear like from someone at a Klan meeting at 4 in the morning after a couple of scotches and you can make fun of him ‘cos it’s stupid. Uh, that’s what we wanted. And we wanted to make fun of that whole situation. And if we offended anybody in that process, we’re sorry about that ‘cos that’s not what we’re about here.’”Aoki asked rhetorically, “How can you say you wanted your listeners to hear what drunk Ku Klux Klan members would say and not think it would offend people?” Added MANAA board member Miriam Nakamura-Quan, “I was appalled and surprised that their lackluster apology included a reference to the KKK. They contradicted themselves in the worst kind of way. You can’t get any more extreme or offensive than by invoking the spirit of the KKK. That doesn’t seem like a sincere and honest apology to me.”

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MANAA Praises ESPN for Firing Over “Chink” Headline; Pushes For Better Oversight

LOS ANGELES-Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA)–the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and advocating balanced, sensitive, and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans–is praising ESPN for its handling of employees who used “chink in the armor” when reporting on New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. Following the Knicks’ first loss in eight games Friday night, an ESPN mobile headline read: “Chink in the Armor” accompanied by a picture of Lin. Wednesday night, ESPN anchor Max Bretos also used the phrase in asking why Lin failed to perform as well as he’d done in the past.

Saturday, MANAA Founding President Guy Aoki spoke with Rob King, ESPN’s Senior Vice President of editorial, print, and digital media, who was upset that the unfortunate incidents had hurt the reputation of the network. King explained that ESPN executives knew there were two upcoming games involving Lin and wanted to prevent any off-color remarks in reporting, so on Wednesday at the company’s monthly editorial board meeting, they reminded their department heads to be careful. An e-mail to their employees went out that night and early Thursday morning. It wasn’t clear if Bretos (who later tweeted that his wife is Asian and that he meant no disrespect toward Asians) had seen the memo, but the editor who wrote the Saturday morning article and headline should have.

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Asian Pacific American Media Coalition’s Annual Television Report Card – 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 8, 2011, 11 a.m. PST

Asian Pacific American Media Coalition Challenges TV Networks to Create Asian American Stars in Next Three Years LOS ANGELES-

Concerned with the slow progress of TV networks in the area of diversity casting, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) has released its 2011 report cards grading the networks’ past 2010-2011 season while simultaneously challenging ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC to cast at least one Asian Pacific American actor as the main star in a TV show within the next three years. “Since APAMC began meeting with the networks in late 1999, only two new shows have starred Asian Pacific Americans (APAs),”said co-chairs Guy Aoki and Marilyn Tokuda in a Coalition statement, “‘Cashmere Mafia’ with Lucy Liu and ‘Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann (Inaba),’ both on ABC. We believe that, without a timetable, the networks will never confront the perceived obstacles to using APAs as the faces of their series. So we have issued a challenge that within three years–by the Fall of 2014–they air a series which stars at least one APA clearly cast as the central character (the star’s name usually appears first in the credits when they aren’t listed alphabetically).”

For example, the star of “Parks and Recreation” is Amy Poehler, not Aziz Ansari.

The Coalition challenge included a further condition: “Because many actors are part-Asian Pacific and viewers are unaware of what their heritage is, we always encourage the networks to make it clear within the context of their shows that the character is Asian Pacific. However, if all we end up getting are stars who are part-APA but don’t look it and who don’t play recognizably APA roles, then the goal of more meaningful inclusion will not have been reached.”

Last year, the total number of APA regulars amongst the top four networks jumped from 32 to 38–an all-time high. This past season, that number dropped to 31. Overall, NBC, with a B (up from a B-), ranked highest in this year’s APAMC report cards, which marks the 10th anniversary of judging the inclusion of APAs in eight categories: actors, unscripted show participants, writers/producers, directors, development, procurement, executives, and network initiatives.

No other network has ever received this high a grade from the coalition. Out of 12 report cards since 2000, NBC has received the highest overall grade 8 times (5 of them ties with other networks). This past season, the peacock network also had the highest grade for actors, development deals, and writers/producers, and tied for top honors in procurement, executives, and diversity initiatives.

CBS maintained a B- for the third year, ABC slid from B- to C+. Fox fell from C+ to C-, the worst network grade since CBS received the same rating in 2005. “Last season, NBC had 13 regulars of Asian Pacific descent (boosted by five regulars on ‘Outsourced’,” Aoki stated. “This was the highest number any network has been able to achieve in the 11 years the Coalition has released report cards. Accordingly, we have issued our highest grade in the actors category ever, a B+. NBC is the only network to receive this high a grade, which they also received in 2004.” According to the APAMC report, between 2006 and 2008, ABC either had the highest number of APA regulars or tied for that distinction. But ABC’s record has declined noticeably since then. This past season, ABC could claim only 5 regulars and 4 recurring characters, their exact numbers in 2005. Of all four networks, ABC received the lowest grade in the actors category, a D+. The day after the new “Hawaii Five-0” debuted in September of 2010, the APAMC encouraged CBS to hire writers and actors from Hawaii in order to truly capture the essence of the people of that state. “We have been disappointed that most of the APAs used are as suspects or villains and increasingly, most of the guest stars—who often get more screen time than regulars Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park and Masi Oka—are white and from the mainland,” Aoki said. A meeting with CBS has been set for next week to address these concerns. ABC scored best in the unscripted series category for the fourth consecutive year. Since 2008, the network has featured APAs in many of their unscripted series, including Carrie Ann Inaba as a judge on “Dancing With the Stars.” CBS made the biggest improvement in reality shows, jumping from a C- to a B- for its profiles of two Asian American CEOs in “Undercover Boss” and many contestants on “The Amazing Race” and “Live to Dance.”

“The networks have always struggled with using APA directors on their shows,” said Coalition co-chair Tokuda, reporting that Fox had the highest number (11) of APAs directing a total of 28 episodes. Except for one episode of “Traffic Light,” however, all of those shows were animated. Still, Fox earned the biggest grade improvement in any category this past season, jumping from a D- to a B-.

However, Fox had no development deals with APAs, receiving an F in that category, as well as an F/Incomplete for its failure to report verified procurement data (they have promised to provide this in the near future). The network also received the lowest grade for diversity initiatives (C-), as the head of the Diversity department left in October of last year and the entire team was eventually dismantled. Fox is now taking a different approach with its “Audience Strategy” department, and we look forward to seeing whether its promising new diversity initiatives bear more fruit at the network than have past efforts.

The Coalition singled out CBS President Nina Tassler, praising her for convening a second meeting with her show runners and the APAMC to discuss ways to include more people of color (POC) in their series. In the 2011-2012 season, CBS will have at least 10 APA regulars, the highest in its history. Unfortunately, this includes the heavy-accented restaurant owner played by Matthew Moy in “2 Broke Girls,” which many in the community feel sets back the cause. Fox’s numbers also look better for this new season with the inclusion of three Asian Indian/half -Asian Indian regulars as part of the main family on “Terra Nova.” Also, the network once again includes an Asian American doctor–played by Charlene Yi–in “House.”

Despite losing five regulars on the now-cancelled “Outsourced,” NBC only slipped from 13 to 12 as it included 7 new API regulars on 7 new series. Although the road to reflecting reality has been an ongoing challenge, since the 1999/2000 meetings, the networks have implemented many initiatives to increase the presence of POC before and behind the camera.

Although the programs do not guarantee employment, they provide access and a means to getting a foot in the door in areas POC have historically been denied.

APAs have gained ground as writers, with some elevated to producers, co-producers and executive producers on such series as “ER,” “Lost,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Prison Break,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Bones,” “Medium,” “The Walking Dead” and “Body of Proof.”

“For actors,” Tokuda stated, “winning a place in the network showcases is like harnessing the brass ring. The exposure can lead to solid agency representation, multiple auditions and, in some cases, an ongoing mentorship with casting executives. People like Carrie Ann Inaba (“Dancing with the Stars”) and Liza Lapira (21, “Traffic Light”) were discovered in the showcases.”

Graduates of directors programs have gone on to direct shows like NBC’s “Community” and the Julia Roberts film Fireflies in the Garden.

The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) has agreements with ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, committing them to work to increase diversity on-screen and behind the camera. APAMC members include such organizations as East-West Players, Japanese American Citizens League, Media Action Network for Asian Americans, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, and Visual Communications.

MANAA Condemns Asian-Bashing in ‘The Goods’ as Harmful, Not Funny

Los Angeles — A scene from Jeremy Piven’s new comedy “The Goods” has incensed Asian Americans, who find the beating of Ken Jeong’s character frighteningly reminiscent of real violence perpetrated against Asian Americans.

“MANAA contacted Paramount to request a chance to screen the film. We tried to give them the benefit of the doubt that seeing the whole movie could somehow salvage this scene. But we received no response,” said Phil Lee, President of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans.

The scene in question, which has been widely promoted in trailers, begins with Jeremy Piven riling up his car sales team by saying, “Don’t even get me started on Pearl Harbor — we are the Americans, and they are the enemy. Never again!” The other workers start shouting “Never again!” as the single Asian American, played by Jeong, joins in but looks nervous.Then the crowd turns on him and begins a violent assault that visibly injures him. Piven’s character also uses the racial slur “Japs” — an insult that goes doubly unpunished since Jeong later tells everyone he is Korean, as if the attack would be acceptable if only he were really Japanese.

While the scene is played for comedy, the threat of physical violence against Asian Americans is all too real. December 7, the day of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, is commonly dreaded by members of the Japanese American community and the wider Asian American community. Many Asian Americans have been subject to slurs and verbal assaults on this day, and there is a widespread fear that individuals who still harbor anger against the Japanese will erupt in physical violence.

The scene showing the beating of Ken Jeong by auto workers is also painfully evocative of the killing of Vincent Chin in 1982. Chin was a 27-year old Chinese auto worker in Michigan who happened to be at the same bar as two white auto workers who felt that the Japanese were to blame for the loss of their jobs. They beat him with a baseball bat, and he died from the injuries. The scene in the movie similarly confuses Japanese individuals from Japan with all individuals of Asian descent. Even so, this does not justify retributive violence for an event that occurred during a war nearly 70 years ago.

“MANAA believes that this scene should be removed from the trailers, and asks that Paramount apologize and acknowledge the concerns of our community,” said Lee. “The fact it is a comedy makes it worse, because the anti-Asian violence is downplayed as harmless. Playing a hate crime scene for laughs or satire doesn’t automatically protect it from being offensive.”

MANAA is the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and its depiction and coverage of Asian Americans.

Asian American Media Watchdog Group Praises Disney/Pixar’s “Up” for Creating Asian American Protagonist

“Up’s” co-star, Jordan Nagai, plays a Wilderness Explorer who just happens to be Asian American.

LOS ANGELES – The Media Action Network for Asian Americans, the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring media depictions of Asian Americans, is praising Disney/Pixar for creating an Asian American boy as a co-star in their summer blockbuster film, “Up.” Nine-year-old Jordan Nagai, who is Japanese American, beat out 500 other auditioning children to star as Russell, a chubby Wilderness Explorer and wayward stowaway who tags along on septuagenarian Carl Fredricksen’s South American adventure. “Because Russell is just about the only young character in the entire movie, children will identify with him and see the film through his eyes,” Guy Aoki, founding president of MANAA, said. “The fact that he’s Asian American will help bring acceptance not only to Asian American boys, but overweight ones at that.”

The character’s design was inspired by the physical appearance of Pixar employee Peter Sohn, a Korean American director and story artist whose short film, “Partly Cloudy,” plays in theaters as the opening act for “Up.” “Children watching this movie will not see race in this story, but accept Russell as a fellow kid, which will make them more broad-minded than many of today’s adults in accepting people of color as heroes,” Aoki said. Noting that “Up” grossed $68.2 million over the weekend, making it Pixar’s third-highest opening film, Aoki says, “We hope the success of this project will lead studios to cast Asian Americans as the stars of live-action movies, because just as audiences can relate to Russell in “Up,” they’ll be able to relate to Asian American characters in live-action projects as well.” Veteran actor Aki Aleong praised Disney/Pixar for rebuking typecasting and creating a unique Asian American character and urged the Asian American community to support the movie. “Disney/Pixar could have drawn Russell as a white character, but instead, they demonstrated their commitment to diversity,” Aleong, a past MANAA President, said. “MANAA sincerely hopes that producers and film studios will follow Disney/Pixar’s lead and cast Asian Americans in non-traditional lead roles.”

With a career spanning half a decade, Aleong, 74, has witnessed first-hand the discriminatory practices Asian American actors have faced in Hollywood—and continue to face even today. Recently, MANAA condemned Sony Pictures for using mostly white actors to play real-life Asian Americans in the film “21” and Paramount Pictures for choosing white actors to portray Asian characters in next year’s “The Last Airbender.” “While other studios continue to deliberately cast whites to play Asian characters, Disney/Pixar has recognized that people of color can be heroes in feature films, too,” said Marissa Lee, spokesperson of racebending.com, a fan site protesting the casting of “The Last Airbender.” “Disney/Pixar did not define Russell’s character by overemphasizing or stereotyping his ethnicity,” Lee said. “He was courageous, determined, and kind to the people and animals he met on his adventure. While he is Asian American, what mattered most was the content of his character.”

In 1999, MANAA honored Disney for producing the Chinese-based story “Mulan” and again recognized the studio in 2006 for using a Hawaiian setting and creating an Asian Pacific American protagonist, Lilo, for “Lilo And Stitch.” Disney’s next animated feature film, “The Princess And The Frog,” also features a protagonist of color, Tiana, a New Orleans waitress-turned-princess, who is African American. “We are a country of change, and a colorblind America for all can only be realized when we portray the American scene honestly,” Aleong said. “Against the accustomed and unfounded fears of box office failure if a main character is non-white, ‘Up’ is a solid hit and now, history has been made.”

PARAMOUNT DISCRIMINATES AGAINST ASIAN AMERICAN ACTORS FOR MOVIE ADAPTATION OF ASIAN-BASED TV SERIES

April 29, 2009 Asian American Advocacy Groups, Fans Condemn Racial Bias in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Whitewashed” Casting of “The Last Airbender”

Los Angeles–Thousands of fans and two prominent Asian American advocacy groups are protesting Paramount Pictures’ upcoming “The Last Airbender,” accusing the production of racial bias in selecting white actors to portray ethnically Asian characters. The movie-a live action adaptation of the hit animated television series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”-is part of a franchise widely advertised by Nickelodeon as set in a “fantastical Asian world” and is set for release in July of 2010. Even though all of the series’ characters were ethnically Asian or Inuit/Yupik, casting sheets for the leads indicated a preference for white actors-and ultimately, they were chosen for the top four starring roles. The part of the villainous Prince Zuko went to Jesse McCartney. After dropping out, he was replaced by “Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel. Consequently, in a Eurocentric twist, actors of color have been relegated to villain, supporting, and background roles.

Immediately after the initial casting announcement in December, thousands of outraged fans mobilized to protest through a letter writing campaign, petition, and website, www.racebending.com. Fan protest efforts were featured in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE and THE WASHINGTON POST. “We’re mortified that the film is turning this story we loved and respected into just another symbol of Hollywood discrimination,” Marissa Lee, one of the fans protesting the casting, said. “That’s why we decided to speak out and fight back. These ignorant casting decisions have compromised the integrity of the original series.”

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MANAA Blasts White-Washed Casting of Kevin Spacey’s “Based on a true story” New Film “21”

Organization raised concerns with Sony Pictures back in 2005

LOS ANGELES–Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and its depiction and coverage of Asian Americans, is upset that 21, the new film starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth and based on the best-selling novel “Bringing Down the House,” chose a white male lead instead of an Asian American and that Asian American actors were denied the opportunity to get meaty roles in a true-life story that featured mostly Asian Americans.

Ben Mezrich’s 2002 book was based on the true story of an MIT professor who taught 10-12 of his students how to count cards and beat Las Vegas casinos at blackjack. The majority of the players were Asian American, and the lead member of that student team was Jeff Ma, an Asian American. Although the filmmakers were aware of Ma’s role (he served as a consultant), the producers chose to give his part to a white British actor, Jim Sturgess. Two smaller, undeveloped roles went to Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira. MANAA had been aware that producers Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti were “white-washing” the project back in 2005 when Mezrich told a forum at MIT that he was disappointed that Sony executives had decided to make most of the students white.

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Controversy Surrounds DVD Release of Movie “21”

Film could’ve been just as successful- and more accurate- with Asian American stars

LOS ANGELES – 21, the movie starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, will be issued on DVD on July 22nd. The controversial film, based on the best-selling novel Bringing Down The House, told the true story of the MIT professor who taught his students how to beat Vegas at blackjack and make millions. In reality, the professor, the player who scored the most money, and most of the team, were Asian American. In the movie, they were mostly portrayed by white actors- Kevin Spacey as the professor, and Jim Sturgess as the lead member. In this case, the ethnicity of the players was pertinent to the real-life drama. According to House author Ben Mezrich, a white person winning a lot of money in Vegas would raise suspicions, whereas Asians winning a lot would not.

Prior to shooting 21 in 2007, Sturgess had never starred in a film, and Across the Universe flopped upon release later that Fall, barely making back half of its $45 million budget. The British actor was not a household name. The fact that 21 grossed $81 million without big stars demonstrates it succeeded not because of the actors but its concept. Therefore, Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA- the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and its depiction and coverage of Asian Americans), believes the movie could have done just as well with Asian American stars as well-known as or better known than Sturgess (e.g. John Cho, Ivan Shaw, Masi Oka). Chinese American Jeff Ma, the real leader of the team, inflamed Asian Americans when he told USA Today, “I would have been a lot more insulted if they had chosen someone who was Japanese or Korean, just to have an Asian playing me.”

Boycott21 and other anti-21 websites quickly sprang up. After the “white-washing” issue was raised on Entertainment Weekly’s website, producer Dana Brunetti wrote: “Believe me, I would have LOVED to cast Asians in the lead roles, but the truth is, we didn’t have access to any bankable Asian-American actors that we wanted… If I had known how upset the Asian-American community would be about this, I would have picked a different story to film.” But Guy Aoki, MANAA’s Founding President, had spoken to Brunetti about the film in October of 2005. Back then, Brunetti said he did not care about realistic ethnic casting and was merely looking for “the best actor for the role”- a common excuse to cast white people in place of minorities. Says Aoki, “Asian American actors are 40 years behind African Americans in being allowed to play themselves in their own stories. 21, unfortunately, continues that discriminatory tradition.”

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