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