MANAA Responds to Frank Marshall’s UGO.com Comments

The Media Action Network for Asian Americans would like to respond to Frank Marshall’s comments that “Paramount has since been in regular dialogue with Asian American advocacy groups including the Japanese American Citizens League and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans to ensure that such a mistake does not happen in the future.” Although we are pleased to see that Marshall admit that their use of third-party casting agents resulted in casting language that was “poorly worded and offensive,” their dialogue with Asian American advocacy groups on the issue of discriminatory casting in The Last Airbender have been far from productive.

MANAA, Asian American advocacy groups, and members of the Asian American community contacted the producers of The Last Airbender in early 2009. In the letters, voicemails, and emails, producers were made aware that the casting language “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” was discriminatory, and that this language had clearly affected the initial cast of lead actors. After over a year of ignoring public concerns over this casting language as well as the production’s cultural competency as a whole, it is disingenuous for Frank Marshall to trot out his iteration of the casting language to excuse the production’s repeated gaffes. The phrase “Caucasian or any other ethnicity”—language that would be unacceptable for any job posting that was truly open to all races—was used on every major casting website and document, including Paramount’s own. The resultant casting reinforces a double standard and glass ceiling where it is acceptable for a white actor to portray any ethnicity, but Asian American actors cannot even portray characters of their own ethnicity. M. Night Shyamalan’s recent dismissive comments to UGO.com that the casting is “more than [fans] could have expected” in terms of diversity are indicative of the production’s failure to recognize the true discriminatory impact of their casting decisions.

In early 2009, MANAA and other Asian American advocacy groups repeatedly asked for a meeting to discuss the casting and depiction of cultures in the movie. The only response MANAA and other groups received was a letter from the production anonymously signed “The Producers.” We have received no indication that “these mistakes will not occur in the future” because the production has never spoken with us. The production was not willing to meet with concerned Asian American advocacy groups, even though they were willing to fly Airbender fans to New York City for a catered breakfast with Shyamalan and lodging at a luxury hotel.

The “regular dialogue” Marshall mentions was actually the result of a protest over racial humor, hate crime jokes, and the use of the word “Jap” in another Paramount Pictures film, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. Due to outrage over this other Paramount production, we have been able to discuss the casting situation of The Last Airbender with the newly-promoted Paramount executives. In November 2009, Paramount promised MANAA diversity statistics and a pre-screening of The Last Airbender to assuage our concerns about the film’s diverse depictions. Despite the fact that The Last Airbender has been prescreened to at least two groups, we have been repeatedly rebuffed in our requests to see the version shown to these groups. Although it has been five months since that November meeting, we hope Paramount still plans to live up to its promises.

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

Asian American Coalition Protests Paramount and ‘The Goods’!

thegoods protest

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to support us with our protest at Paramount. It was a stunning success, with over 40 protesters and of course lots of supportive horn honking and a few tv station trucks to boot.

thegoodsprotest2

We rallied with cheers of “The Goods were rotten, that’s why no one bought them!” and “Your humor is tasteless, stop being racist!” Eric and Sylvia came up with some great chants and were great chant-leaders!

the goodsprotest3

Dariane from Racebending showed awesome support and helped to organize, which was great since Paramount is the studio behind the whitewashed “The Last Avatar” as well. We look forward to working with Dariane and all of the folks at Racebending on future activist endeavors!

thegoodsprotest4

Floyd Mori, executive director of JACL, brought a squadron of protesters and was interviewed by Channel 7 News along with MANAA’s Guy Aoki.

thegoodsprotest5

IW Group, Inc. also sent a huge group of supporters and as well as provided materials for the posters and space to create them.

thegoodsprotest7

And boy did we have a lot of posters! Some favorites — “Hate Crimes Aren’t Funny” and “The Goods are Bad.”

thegoodsprotest8

Thanks again for all the support, we think that Paramount is starting to get the picture now!

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!!!!

An Interview With Mark Young

Q&A with Mark Young about MANAA’s participation in a segment on the new DVD release of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Why did you decide to do the Mr. Yunioshi segment?

Well to begin, I work with my brother Eric Young, his company is called Sparkhill. They actually produced all the extra bonus material for the DVD, so I was the producer on this one and it was his idea. To him it was obvious because of the Mickey Rooney character that the film just had, for its time, a mistake that was made. Now with the perspective since then it needed to be addressed. It was almost was like the proverbial elephant in the room that needed commenting on. He presented it to Paramount as part of the overall proposal for the DVD. They encouraged him to go further and see how it would turn out. When they saw the final product they were pleased with it and were happy to put it on the DVD. We were very proud of it, you know. 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.

When you first proposed it to Paramount there was no resistance?

I wasn’t part of that presentation, but Eric indicated that they were willing to give it a try and see how it worked out. Do the interviews, put the piece together and see how it came across. They were quite pleased with how it was put together.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.”

Read More

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

MANAA on Breakfast At Tiffany’s

250x250xbreakfast-at-tiffanys-yellowface.jpg.pagespeed.ic.o8__v5DYea
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.”