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.