MANAA Urges ABC to Give “Fresh Off The Boat” Another Season

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April 24, 2015

Mr. Paul Lee

President, ABC Entertainment Group

500 S. Buena Vista Street

Burbank, CA  91521

Dear Paul,

I hope this letter finds you well.  Congratulations on an historic year for ABC.

You should rightfully be proud of showing the industry that new series starring people of color–“How To Get Away With Murder,” “Black-ish,” and “Fresh Off The Boat”—can be successful and that this model needs to be emulated if networks are to appeal to the ever-changing racial and cultural demographics of this country.

As you probably know, there have been several community screenings of “FOTB” in New York and Los Angeles, with hundreds having to be turned away.  The night of its February 4 preview, #FreshOffTheBoat was the most popular twitter subject in the country even dethroning #BrianWilliamsMisremembers.

Obviously, Asian Americans have gravitated toward “FOTB,” the first Asian American sitcom in over 20 years.  Nielsen tells me that for its first 7 episodes, 19.4% of all Asian American households watched at least one episode within 7 days and for the first 8 episodes, they over-indexed at 227, meaning Asian Americans were 127% more likely to watch the series within 7 days.

During that time, white and black audiences were also watching the sitcom in greater proportion to their populations.

“FOTB” is a favorite of the critics, many of whom (e.g., Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety, Huffington Post, Boston Herald) called it one of the best shows—if not the best show–of the season.  Time found it “damn funny… Three episodes in, it’s the best broadcast comedy of the new season… a show with more voice after three episodes than most sitcoms have after three years.”  Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times wrote:  “’Fresh Off the Boat’ does what few television shows do now, which is to make race not beside the point.  It sits inside a minority culture and looks with bewilderment and bemusement at the dominant one… it’s a consistently funny and even important one, with some lovely, nuanced performances.”

It’s a prestigious show that you cannot afford to lose.

Despite being put in the tough Tuesday night 8 p.m. hour with no lead-in, new episodes of “FOTB” average a 1.73 Live+same day rating in the 18-49 age group, but jump to a 2.2 with Live+7 numbers, which consistently increased each of the past six weeks.  Its 18-49 Live+SameDay and total viewership numbers always beat competitors “MasterChef Junior,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “The Flash,” and “Parks and Recreation.”  “FOTB” is ABC’s top Tuesday night show, as well as the most popular comedy of the night outperforming “New Girl,” “The Mindy Project,” “Undateable,” “One Big Happy,” “Repeat After Me,” “Weird Loners” and (in the 18-49) even re-runs of “NCIS.”

Impressively, “FOTB” held its 1.8 rating on February 24 even with the return of NBC’s “The Voice.”  “FOTB’s” last three episodes have increased its 18-49 numbers.  Also, its 18-49 and total viewership numbers are better than last season’s “The Goldbergs” (1.73, 5.75 million total vs. 1.68, 5 million total), which you renewed.

Last season, “The Goldbergs” held the Tuesday 9 p.m. slot but improved impressively when moved this season to Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. (up 30.87% to a 2.2 and up 39.94% in total viewers to 7.08 million) with “The Middle” as its lead-in vs. the less compatible “S.H.I.E.L.D.”  Perhaps next season “FOTB” would also benefit from having a strong, compatible lead-in?

Given all of these considerations, we hope you will renew “Fresh Off The Boat” and give it sufficient promotion to ensure its long-term success. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Guy Aoki

Founding President, MANAA

cc:  Samie Falvey

Vicki Dummer

Keli Lee

Andy Kubitz

Marla Provencio

Tim McNeal

MANAA Asks CBS to Renew “Stalker” Co-starring Maggie Q and “Elementary” Co-starring Lucy Liu

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 April 17, 2015

Ms. Nina Tassler
Chairman, CBS Entertainment
4024 Radford Avenue
Studio City, CA 91604

Dear Nina,

I hope this letter finds you well. Over the years, under your leadership, CBS has made great strides in including Asian Americans as regulars of its drama, comedy, and reality series. The two CBS shows which feature Asian Americans in the most significant roles are “Stalker” with Maggie Q and “Elementary” co-starring Lucy Liu. As Lt. Beth Davis and Joan Watson, respectively, their stories very often drive the narrative of the main plot of the week and both defy the traditional way Asian American women have been portrayed in the media. Davis is no shrinking violet and commands the anti-stalking unit of the Los Angeles police force, and Watson displays her own talent at solving crimes even under the formidable shadow of the legendary Sherlock Holmes and is not cast primarily as the love interest of anyone.

However, both series have not had strong 18-49 ratings, and we are concerned about their chances for renewal for the 2015-2016 season.

New episodes of “Stalker” average a 1.53 Live+same day rating in the 18-49 age group, but jump 62% to a 2.48 with Live+7 numbers. It usually beats NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” (which has already been renewed for the Fall) and ABC’s “Nashville.” “Stalker’s” last new episode (which aired February 18) fell to an all-time low of 1.15, but that was due to the weak lead-in of the two hour finale of “The Mentalist,” which averaged a 1.28, the lowest 9 p.m. rating for any CBS first-run episode all season.

Though new episodes of “Elementary” average a 1.3 Live+same day rating in the 18-49 demo, the Live+7 audience jumps 85% to a 2.42. The show was probably hurt by beginning Season 3 a month later than usual (October 30) and a weak lead-in from “The McCarthys,” which was pulled from the schedule in February (perhaps a drama lead-in would be more helpful next season?). “Elementary” has done considerably better in the 2015 calendar year than the Fall of 2014, perhaps due to viewer unhappiness with the dominance of the Kitty character (Opehlia Lovibond), whose storyline ended in January. “Elementary” is currently beating its competition on ABC (“American Crime”) and NBC (“The Slap,” “Dateline”) and is getting closer to producing enough episodes so it can be sold into syndication. In addition, we are happy that co-star Lucy Liu has been able to demonstrate her impressive talents as a director on the show.
Given these considerations, we hope you will renew both “Stalker” and “Elementary” and give them sufficient promotion to ensure their long-term success. We would also like to see more Asian American guest stars as, for some reason, they have been sparse on those shows. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Guy Aoki
Founding President, MANAA

Cc: Christina Davis
Glenn Geller
Kelly Kahl
Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i

MANAA Berates Moderator of La Jolla Playhouse Panel Discussion For Not Allowing Aki Aleong To Speak

July 24, 2012

Dear Jeanine, I am the founding President of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the only organization solely dedicated to advocating balanced, sensitive, and positive depictions and coverage of Asian Americans in the media. Our non-profit, all-volunteer group recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Long before the La Jolla Playhouse’s production of “Nightingale” became a public controversy, we were already aware of it and the company’s possible violation of the LORT Contract, to which all local theatres are signatories. Aki Aleong (former President of MANAA) and I met with Actor’s Equity to discuss these violations on July 9. After the panel discussion was announced, I contacted Dana Harrel and suggested Aki be included on the panel because he had a different issue to discuss from the actors who would focus on the lack of opportunity for Asian American actors, etc.

Dana told me the panel was too full but she would make sure the moderator gave Aki a chance to speak to our issues. I confirmed this with her in an email Saturday. So you can imagine my anger when I later heard from my people who drove down from Los Angeles to the discussion that not only was Aki not recognized, but you were rude to him. I waited until seeing the posted video of that discussion before writing you. Aki had no choice but to stand up to speak as you were trying to wrap up the discussion. He identified himself as part of MANAA and reminded you that he was supposed to be recognized. You told him, “No, no…” When he continued to insist, you said, “No, I haven’t called on you.” He pointed out it was supposed to be on your sheet, yet you said, “You can talk to them afterwards…No, it was not scheduled.”

It was only after the audience and Christopher Ashley urged you to allow him to say his piece that he was able to continue. This put Aki in a difficult position of having to be more aggressive just to be heard (he angrily pointed out he’s been an actor for almost as long as you’ve been alive; in other words, “show me some respect!”). He read the LORT contract’s definition of “Non-Traditional Casting,” which was important to show the creative team that they were in violation of that aspect of the LORT Contract as NTC was supposed to benefit ethnic minorities, women, and those with disabilities. Not white men.

There were more issues he wanted to speak to, but he was clearly flustered at having to push through so much resistance just to say that. I spoke with Dana yesterday and she told me she had called you on Friday to tell you about our agreement and that she also reminded you of that on Sunday before the panel started. You allegedly said you did not write down his name because you were in the supermarket the first time (even though Dana told you to) and rationalized that although you forgot about Aki, it worked out “beautifully.” No, it did not.

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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

Why MANAA Protests “The Goods”

Message from the MANAA President

I received a copy of the following letter addressed to the Executive Chairman of Paramount. This letter expresses, as persuasively as any press release that MANAA could issue, why the studio needs to hear about “The Goods.” Not everyone is going to be convinced that MANAA and other organizations should protest this movie, but many will recognize their own anger, fear, and frustration, expressed right here.

Phil Lee
MANAA President

August 19, 2009

Mr. Sumner M. Redstone
Executive Chairman of the Board & Founder
Viacom, Inc.
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Redstone:

As an American of Japanese ancestry, I am writing to express my extreme outrage over a scene in Paramount Vantage’s comedy “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” depicting the use of a racially offensive slur followed by a physical attack against an Asian American character in the film.

The scene in question, broadcast across the country in the film’s trailer and now playing nationwide, shows the character, played by Jeremy Piven, giving his used-car sales team a pep talk. The Piven character then says, “Don’t get me started on Pearl Harbor-the Japs flying in low and fast. We are Americans and they are the enemy! Never again!”

A man looks at the Asian American character and says, “Let’s get him!” which results in a mob of men beating the Asian man. Piven’s character then says, “All right, stop! We have all just participated in a hate crime. Let’s get our stories straight. Dang came at us with a samurai sword, fire extinguisher and Chinese throwing stars.”

This is supposed to be funny? Ask the family of Vincent Chin, who was brutally beaten to death by two out-of-work auto workers who mistook him for being Japanese during the height of “Japan bashing” during the early 1980s. Ask them if this is funny. Ask the thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry who were called “Japs” all their lives growing up, and were later unjustly racially-profiled and incarcerated after the bombing of Pearl Harbor into American concentration camps for up to four years during WWII. Ask them if this is funny.

Using the word “Jap” is equivalent to the use of the “N-Word” when referring to African Americans. The use of the word alone is offensive enough. To combine it with the beating of an Asian character is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable in
today’s media. Imagine if this scene were to take place against an African American.
The African American community would not stand for it. And neither should we.

Earlier this week, the National Office of the Japanese American Citizens League voiced its strong objection to this scene, and called on Paramount Pictures to apologize to the Japanese American and Asian American communities nationwide.

Paramount has responded by saying “The Goods satirizes and exaggerates the extremes of the sales and celebrity culture” and “is in no way meant to be mean-spirited, disparaging or hurtful to any individuals and we regret any offense taken. We understand that when presented out of context, jokes and situations in the movie about a variety of topics might be offensive to some people.”

This does not sound like an apology to me. In fact, it fits conveniently into the category of “You people need to get over yourselves-can’t you take a joke?”

As Chairman and Founder of an international media conglomerate which includes Paramount Vantage, you are well aware of the power of both the written and spoken word, and how words can uplift, move and literally change the world, and the people in it. You also know that words, when used in a negative, mocking way, have the same power to insult, denigrate, and can cause unthinkable damage to our psyche, our spirits, and the world we live in.

I grew up in San Francisco, California and when I was in junior high school I heard words and phrases such as “Ching Chong Chinaman,” “Jap” and the like from fellow classmates who took great joy in taunting me. And I can tell you, as I stood by and took this verbal abuse, I also remember other kids standing by and laughing at me, pointing at me, and saying things like “Why are your eyes so tight? Why don’t you open your eyes?” Unless you stand in my shoes, and feel the humiliation of being singled out and ridiculed solely because of my race, you cannot understand what
I-and people of Asian ancestry have gone through in this country since we first came here over 150 years ago. I can tell you this: It hurt me deeply, and it’s a pain that I carry with me to this day.

These are the power of words, and how when they are abused-especially in film and television-can perpetuate hate, which can lead to more hateful words and mocking of Japanese and other Asian Americans, which can lead to hateful acts of violence and going one step further, murder.

As you can see, this is no laughing matter. May I remind you of Viacom’s Global
Business Practices, which on pages 23-24, states to your employees: “Therefore, you may not: Make inappropriate statements concerning a person’s race, religion, color, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnic origin, disability, age, gender, sex, gender expression, etc.”

I’m assuming these practices extend to the products your company produces, and I’m assuming these words mean more to you than mere words on a piece of paper.
Therefore, I am asking you to do all in your power to edit or remove this scene from the film, and see to it that scenes such as these-that denigrate any racial group-do not happen again in the future.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Soji Kashiwagi

cc: Philippe P. Dauman, President & Chief Executive Officer, Viacom, Inc.
Adam Goodman, President, Paramount Films Group
Gary Sanchez, President, Gary Sanchez Productions
Floyd Mori, National Executive Director, Japanese American Citizens League

Join Our Protest!!

MANAA and other Asian American activist groups will be protesting the film ‘The Goods’ TOMORROW at Paramount.

Join us at 4:30pm, Friday Aug 21
Paramount Studios
5555 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA

We believe that the film condones the beating of Asian Americans and makes light of hate crimes.

Please email us at letters@manaa.org if you are planning on joining us, we need all the help we can get!!!!

Kudos to Pixar for Asian American Star of “Up”

Guy Aoki’s letter to the editor was published in the LA Times:

While it was interesting reading John Horn’s story about how the creators of the movie “Up” developed the plot of the movie (“Up, Up and Away,” May 10), he missed a very significant element of the production: The costar of the film is an overweight Asian American boy. So in addition to praising the studio for telling the story of a senior citizen (an often overlooked demographic of society), kudos should be given to Disney/Pixar for not shying away from using a person of color — who also didn’t fit the ultra-thin model of attractiveness foisted upon us by the media — to costar in their big budget film.

Guy Aoki

MANAA’s Response to Letter from Paramount on The Last Airbender

April 9, 2009

Dear Producers of The Last Airbender,

Thank you for your letter. Because it raises important questions regarding your perceptions of diversity, we are again requesting a meeting to discuss the casting and depiction of cultures in the movie (and your future projects) so this film can truly be the success we all want. We are interested, for instance, in how your ideal of including people from “all corners of the globe” correlates with your casting policies. Specifically seeking out white actors and casting four white leads for what M. Night Shymalan admitted was an “Asian fantasy world” does not celebrate ethnic diversity. Re-casting the sole villainous lead with an actor of color is a concession that results in three heroic nations going to war against an evil nation of color.

After dealing with Hollywood studios for the past 17 years, we are more than familiar with the justifications used to cast white actors instead of actors of color. Other film productions have previously used the same pretexts, touting diversity through the casting of supporting roles–but only after first discriminating in casting the lead roles. These are the points MANAA and others—including East West Players and a petition of industry professionals— listed as specific concerns:

· The outdated and discriminatory practice of casting white actors to depict Asian characters. · Casting calls indicating a preference for white actors for leads; people of color for extras.

· Culturally ignorant language used by members of the production (e.g. DeeDee Rickets: “If you’re a Korean, wear a kimono” to the casting call).

· The implications of featuring a villainous nation with dark-skinned, partly South Asian actors and a heroic nation led by white heroes who liberate the “Asian and African” nation.

· Cultural appropriation of Pacific Rim cultures and the franchise’s core Asian concepts, despite a glass ceiling blocking off Asian American actors from playing lead protagonists.

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Letter from Paramount on The Last Airbender

March 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Aoki,

Thank you for your letter and interest in our film. As devoted fans of the original series, our goal is to create a film that will not only live up to the expectations of the television series’ fan base, but also expand it to a world-wide audience in ways that only a full-length motion picture can offer. From the outset of the creative process, the Producers and the Director have envisioned embodying the Airbender universe with a large and ethnically diverse cast that represents many different heritages and cultures from all corners of the globe. The Director’s vision for this film is one of world, influenced and inspired by the Asian undertones of the series, and that is both diverse and inclusive in the make up of the four nations represented in the film’s cinematic world.

Early casting includes an Indian actor, born in Mumbai and raised in the UK and the US; a Persian actor born in Tehran and raised in the UK, Switzerland and the US; a Maori actor born and raised in New Zealand; a Korean-American actor, born and raised in Chicago; an American actress of Italian, French and Mexican heritage; among several others of varied nationalities from around the world. The four nations represented in the film reflect not one community, but the world’s citizens. These societies will be cast from a diversity of all races and cultures. In particular, the Earth Kingdom will be cast with Asian, East Asian and Africans.

With this global perspective in mind, we believe we can best honor the true themes, ethos and fantastical nature of the Airbender stories and best capture the spirit and scale of the series to appeal to its worldwide fans. Our challenge and commitment to our film audience is to harness all the elements that have made the series the incredible phenomenon it is. We look forward to introducing you to THE LAST AIRBENDER next summer.

Sincerely,

The Producers

The Last Airbender – Letter to The Producer

Scene from the animated series  Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005_

Scene from the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005)

 

Lots of people have contacted MANAA about the casting of the movie “The Last Airbender.” As a group we’ve discussed what the best way to join in these efforts. What follows below is a letter that MANAA sent to Paramount.

This issue is not over. Stay tuned for more.

 


 

February 11, 2009

Dear Mr. Mercer:

I left two messages with you—one with your assistant Ricky on Monday and another with Lauren yesterday. I’m writing on behalf of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), which is dedicated to monitoring the media and advocating for balanced, sensitive, and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans. Since 1992, we have consulted with movie studios and met regularly with the top four television networks about ensuring diversity.

We would like Avatar: The Last Airbender to become a successful movie trilogy. However, given the recent outcry over the lack of Asian/Asian American actors in the lead roles, we fear bad word of mouth may doom the first film before it gets off the ground and stop the potential franchise dead in its tracks. Indeed, the outrage over its casting has been greater than anything we’ve witnessed in the last several years. On Entertainment Weekly’s website alone, there are 78 pages of comments from people who feel a strong emotional connection with Avatar, and most of their responses are strongly negative with many threatening to boycott the film.

Surely you have already seen or at least heard some of these concerns. While the show Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko created was a great success in creating a fantasy world inspired heavily by Asian and Inuit elements, M. Night Shyamalan chose Caucasian actors to play all four main characters. Recently, Prince Zuko’s character went to an actor of Asian descent, but otherwise, the only Asian presence in the film is in the sets and background characters. Compared to other shows, including many anime imports, Avatar: The Last Airbender was unique because it was created for an American audience yet used Asian faces for its main characters. We appreciated that the Nickelodeon series (with the help of Asian American consultants) was intelligent enough to avoid using many of the common Asian stereotypes—both positive and negative–often seen in the media, and that it even made strides in casting Asian American voice talent.

The Asian American community, and the movie-going public at large, is used to seeing Asian men depicted as villains and rarely get the opportunity to see Asian heroes they can get behind and cheer for. This is also an historic opportunity to give Asian American actors a chance to shine in a big-budget film franchise which would bolster their careers for future projects. You will get deserved credit for launching those careers and can break down barriers by understanding that the audience that loved the television series is ready (and expects) to see Asian Americans playing those characters on the big screen. One of the reasons the Avatar television series was so well-received was that our former Vice President, Edwin Zane, served as its cultural consultant for the first two seasons and helped the producers avoid ethnic missteps.

Likewise, please take advantage of us as a resource. We invite you to dialogue with us about the film so that it can really be something fans of the show (and potentially new future fans of the movie) can get excited about.

Sincerely,

Guy Aoki

Founding President, MANAA

cc: Mike DiMartino Bryan Konietzko Dan Martinsen, EVP corporate communications, Nickelodeon Jenna Lutrell, executive in charge of production, Nickelodeon