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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