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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What Happened after the Paramount Protest?

For those who want to know what’s been going on with Paramount and “The Goods” — Paramount sent a written apology to the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) right before the protest happened. Though the protest went on as planned, Paramount deserves some credit for actually responding with an apology, and a pretty well-written one at that (see below).

What’s really cool is Paramount and JACL agreed to have a meeting in the future. MANAA believes that not only will this be a chance to talk to Paramount about The Goods, but also The Last Airbender!

Date: Fri, 21 Aug 2009 14:42:24 -0700
To: <dc@jacl.org>
Subject: The Goods

Dear Mr. Mori:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding ‘The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.’ At Paramount, we take these concerns very seriously.

On behalf of the studio, I want to extend our sincerest apologies to the Japanese American Citizens League and the greater Asian-American community for the racially demeaning language used in scenes depicted in the film. While this film is intended to be an extreme satirical comedy, it was never the objective of the producers or the studio to single out any one group for ridicule or to promote hurtful, racially disparaging language. We genuinely regret the use of this language in the film.

We’ve discussed your concerns, at length, with the producers and we have discontinued online promotion of the red-band, age-gated trailer that depicts this scene. The general audience, green-band trailer has also been pulled out of theaters.

We appreciate you bringing to our attention the concerns of the Japanese-American community and the broader Asian-American community. We truly regret any anguish that this film may have caused. We assure you that this was never the intention of the producers or the studio.

At Paramount, we would welcome a continuing dialogue over the next several weeks with you and other leaders of the Asian-American community. Again, on behalf of Paramount and Paramount Vantage, we hope you accept our sincerest apologies.

Yours truly,
Adam Goodman

Mr. Yunioshi Featurette Decoded with Mark Young

breakfast at tiffany's

Despite the beauty and iconicity of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, there was one thing that stuck out as being a terrible mistake, particularly to Asian Americans—the character of Mr.Yunioshi. Played by Mickey Rooney, the role called for using makeup and prosthetics to transform the White actor into a caricature of a Japanese man. This practice, called “yellowface,” was unfortunately fairly common in early cinema, but Rooney took the act to new lows by affecting a hideous accent and generally making the character an embarrassing buffoon. When producers began planning extra featurettes for the Centennial Collection’s version of the film, Eric Young of Sparkhill saw the opportunity to openly discuss the problem of Mr. Yunioshi.

“It was almost like the proverbial elephant in the room that needed commenting on,” said his brother Mark Young, who eventually produced the segment, Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective.“Breakfast at Tiffany’s is such an iconic film and it just had this mistake right in the middle of it, this character, and here we are in a more contemporary era—it just begs to be addressed and discussed.”

Young knew that he wanted to interview a panel of experts for the featurette, so he started making phone calls to academics who studied representations of Asian Americans in the media. Since it was the beginning of the school year, they were too busy to participate in the project. That’s when he turned to MANAA, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans.

“When I was able to reach Phil Lee at MANAA it was like reaching pay dirt, he was so receptive and he invited me to a meeting,” said Young. “When I first met the group at MANAA’s meeting I knew I’d have a nice lively group of individuals to interview, each with a different personality. Everyone’s background was different so we had different voices in discussing the same topic.”

From MANAA, Young found President Phil Lee, Vice President Jeffery Mio, and Founding President Guy Aoki. Since they wanted to include a female perspective as well, they suggested Marilyn Tokuda, an actress who had a long history of acting in films and was currently involved with East West Players.

In the 17-minute segment, stories of reactions to the film and the character of Mr. Yunioshi eventually opened into wider territory.Lee, Mio, Aoki and Tokuda also discuss the Japanese American internment, activism toward redress for Japanese Americans, the perils of being an Asian American actor/actress, and the impact of George Takei’s role on Star Trek for the Asian American community, among other topics.

“I know I’ll get specific answers to specific questions to build my story, but I like to leave room for personal stories or other topics or issues that are important to the person I’m interviewing,” said Young. “I found it very interesting to hear from the interviews what it’s like, what impression the movie made on them, and growing up in the environment with yellowface being part of the culture. Myself, an Anglo, not having that sensitivity but in hearing the stories, I gained a real appreciation for it.”

It may seem strange for a studio to include information on their own DVD that criticizes the film, but Young said that Paramount was open to the idea from the first proposal. They were curious to see how the segment would turn out, but he says that when they saw the final product they were happy to put it on the DVD. For his part, Young is proud to have contributed to a discussion of these important issues.

“For me personally I’ll always remember it,” he said. “It’s a standout both because of the subject matter and the people I met and interviewed for it.”

 

 

Washington Post Covers Airbender Controversy

washington post

The Washington Post wrote about the Airbender controversy, including quotes from MANAA’s Guy Aoki — as well as casting director DeeDee Ricketts. It’s nice to finally hear someone from the production side respond to the criticism, but of course it still seems like they’re going to populate their world with Asian extras and White heroes.

MANAA on Breakfast At Tiffany’s

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We’ve been voicing our feelings about Breakfast at Tiffany’s for years now, which is a bit sad since the movie is 47 years old. Still, the racism of the Mickey Rooney character was too much to let go, even with a movie so beloved, and it continues to teach a valuable lesson about the dangers of “yellowface.”

We’re proud to say that our voice has been heard, and is now part of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s Paramount Centennial Collection, which was released this January. The remastered edition includes a good deal of new material, including a documentary called “Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective”. The segment stars our very own Guy Aoki, Phil Lee, and Jeffrey Mio, as well as actress Marilyn Tokuda, and has been getting great reviews so far.

A sample:
Colin Jacobson from DVD Mag:”It proves pretty interesting. I worried that “Perspective” would do little more than act as an apology for the awful Yunioshi character, but it doesn’t. Correctly, the participants regard the portrayal as a product of its time, but they don’t simply excuse it. This turns into a thought-provoking chat.”

Frank Sifaldi at Einsiders.com: “The reason I was glad to see this included is because I remember the first time I saw this film, I was a bit disgusted to see Mr. Rooney is such a horrible, comically stereotyped role as an Asian…It appears that time has healed the wounds of 47 years ago when some Chinese people wouldn’t go see the film because of the unjust portrayal of their people. I hope that in the future, ethnic persons will be able to get their roles played by persons of that ethnicity.”

Jeremy Thomas at 411 mania: “It’s certainly not the kind of featurette that you would expect to see on a celebratory DVD set, and Paramount deserves some praise for addressing this one issue with the film quite candidly and in a balanced way.”

Oscar Night!

Oscars 2009 - Slumdog Millionaire Cast

Slumdog Millionaire Cast- Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, Dev Patel at the Oscars (2009)

 The new face of America’s global cinema.

The Academy Awards aren’t generally a big night for Asian Americans — after all, there haven’t been many noteworthy Asian American wins, and little recognition given overall within the community. This year, with the dominance of Slumdog Millionaire, it was exciting to see Asian faces light up the screen. Despite the fact that the movie can hardly be considered “Asian American,” given its British crew and Indian locale, we’re crossing our fingers that its impact will nevertheless be felt throughout the Asian American entertainment world.

Some of the major arguments used by studios against casting Asian Americans in lead roles is that they are unheard of, or that mainstream audiences won’t come to see Asian actors. While we strongly disagree with the implication that Asian Americans aren’t part of “mainstream audiences”, or that there aren’t enough Asian Americans going to movie theaters to warrant Asian American faces or narratives (um, hello, the spending power of Asian Americans is predicted to be $528 billion this year…do you think they don’t spend that on media?), we now have a terrific counterargument for both claims. Slumdog has shown that mainstream audiences will devotedly pour into the theaters to see actors they have never heard of, and stories that take place a world away. As long as the storytelling is strong and the narrative is compelling, there is always room to expand our image of what an actor, or a mainstream film, should look like.

While the film is still potentially problematic for its glorification of third-world poverty and what may or may not be exploitation of its child actors, we gleefully applaud the recognition of a film that opens our doors to a new idea of what American cinema could be.

Posted on http://manaa.blogspot.com

Interview with Asian American Oscar Nominee

steven-oscar

MANAA member Lori Kido Lopez recently had the opportunity to interview Oscar nominee Steven Okazaki, who is up for short documentary yet again this year. One of the topics that came up was the absence of Asian Americans at these award shows — a topic that MANAA cares about a lot! Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

LKL: Big award shows like these are starting to recognize more African American filmmakers and performers, do you ever look around and wonder where the other Asian Americans are, or when their work is going to be recognized?

Okazaki: Well, I just won an Emmy a couple of months ago and the guy who handed the award to me was the actor on Heroes, and so I said, the first thing I said when I got up on stage was something like, wow, two Asian Americans on stage at one time. That doesn’t happen. When you said there were a lot of Asian Americans [nominated for Academy Awards], I guess…it seems like there should be a lot more. I think that Asian Americans are still really pigeon-holed, particularly the actors. I think the directors and producers are as well. I think I’m lucky, I work with HBO and they, I’m an independent filmmaker but I work with HBO a lot, and they don’t see me as an Asian American filmmaker, they see me as a filmmaker. Where I worked previously there were certain, you should only do Asian American subjects, and your opportunities are really limited. Obviously the actors suffer most for that. There are these tiny little breakthroughs, usually those are like one part in a motion picture or television season. I think it’s still rather dismal compared to what an important part Asian Americans play in our society and in our culture in general.

LKL: You’ve made a lot of movies about Japanese Americans and their stories. Do you think you’re done with making movies about Japanese Americans?

Okazaki: No I don’t think so. I think that I actually haven’t made that many about Japanese Americans, I’ve just made like two out of 20 films. I think that I wanted to explore different subjects from my own creative range, but I do see myself as Asian American filmmaker. I do think telling Asian American stories is important and a fulfilling thing for me. It’s not necessarily a mission or a chore, I find it a really fulfilling thing to connect. And making documentaries gives you an opportunity to dig really deep, deeper than if you were just having a conversation with someone, it gives you license. There were Japanese American subjects, sure, I think at the same time I really think it’s bad enough that people try to limit you because of what you are, so at the same time I want to open up those possibilities as well in terms of the kinds of things I can do. I’ve tried to do a range of documentaries and mess around with narrative films and thing. For me the biggest danger is being bracketed as one thing, or being limited to do only one kind of film or genre. That’s what I’ve tried to put my energy into. To fully express myself as a filmmaker. But I’m hoping to do other things related to the Asian American community. We’re working on things now, and I’m hoping to do things totally unrelated, things relevant and irrelevant as possible.

To read the whole interview, check out VC Online