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.”

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MANAA on Breakfast At Tiffany’s

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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.”

MANAA Blasts White-Washed Casting of Kevin Spacey’s “Based on a true story” New Film “21”

Organization raised concerns with Sony Pictures back in 2005

LOS ANGELES–Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and its depiction and coverage of Asian Americans, is upset that 21, the new film starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth and based on the best-selling novel “Bringing Down the House,” chose a white male lead instead of an Asian American and that Asian American actors were denied the opportunity to get meaty roles in a true-life story that featured mostly Asian Americans.

Ben Mezrich’s 2002 book was based on the true story of an MIT professor who taught 10-12 of his students how to count cards and beat Las Vegas casinos at blackjack. The majority of the players were Asian American, and the lead member of that student team was Jeff Ma, an Asian American. Although the filmmakers were aware of Ma’s role (he served as a consultant), the producers chose to give his part to a white British actor, Jim Sturgess. Two smaller, undeveloped roles went to Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira. MANAA had been aware that producers Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti were “white-washing” the project back in 2005 when Mezrich told a forum at MIT that he was disappointed that Sony executives had decided to make most of the students white.

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Controversy Surrounds DVD Release of Movie “21”

Film could’ve been just as successful- and more accurate- with Asian American stars

LOS ANGELES – 21, the movie starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, will be issued on DVD on July 22nd. The controversial film, based on the best-selling novel Bringing Down The House, told the true story of the MIT professor who taught his students how to beat Vegas at blackjack and make millions. In reality, the professor, the player who scored the most money, and most of the team, were Asian American. In the movie, they were mostly portrayed by white actors- Kevin Spacey as the professor, and Jim Sturgess as the lead member. In this case, the ethnicity of the players was pertinent to the real-life drama. According to House author Ben Mezrich, a white person winning a lot of money in Vegas would raise suspicions, whereas Asians winning a lot would not.

Prior to shooting 21 in 2007, Sturgess had never starred in a film, and Across the Universe flopped upon release later that Fall, barely making back half of its $45 million budget. The British actor was not a household name. The fact that 21 grossed $81 million without big stars demonstrates it succeeded not because of the actors but its concept. Therefore, Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA- the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and its depiction and coverage of Asian Americans), believes the movie could have done just as well with Asian American stars as well-known as or better known than Sturgess (e.g. John Cho, Ivan Shaw, Masi Oka). Chinese American Jeff Ma, the real leader of the team, inflamed Asian Americans when he told USA Today, “I would have been a lot more insulted if they had chosen someone who was Japanese or Korean, just to have an Asian playing me.”

Boycott21 and other anti-21 websites quickly sprang up. After the “white-washing” issue was raised on Entertainment Weekly’s website, producer Dana Brunetti wrote: “Believe me, I would have LOVED to cast Asians in the lead roles, but the truth is, we didn’t have access to any bankable Asian-American actors that we wanted… If I had known how upset the Asian-American community would be about this, I would have picked a different story to film.” But Guy Aoki, MANAA’s Founding President, had spoken to Brunetti about the film in October of 2005. Back then, Brunetti said he did not care about realistic ethnic casting and was merely looking for “the best actor for the role”- a common excuse to cast white people in place of minorities. Says Aoki, “Asian American actors are 40 years behind African Americans in being allowed to play themselves in their own stories. 21, unfortunately, continues that discriminatory tradition.”

Please note our new address PRESS CONTACT P.O. Box 6188 Burbank, CA 91510-1105 (213) 486-4433 manaaletters@hotmail.com www.manaa.org

MANAA Blasts Rob Schneider For Offensive Racial Caricature in “Chuck & Larry” Movie

LOS ANGELES-MANAA (the Media Action Network for Asian Americans), the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and advocating balanced, sensitive, and positive coverage and depictions of Asian Americans, is offended by Rob Schneider’s “yellow face” portrayal of a Japanese man in the current #1 movie in the country, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James.

In a scene where the main characters journey to Canada to get married, Schneider plays a minister who makes their union official, donning prosthetic make up (slanted eyes, bigger nose, darker skin color, etc.) to play a stereotypical Japanese nerd with thick eye-glasses and a bowl-style hair cut who speaks in broken English with missing “r”s. Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, “I felt victimized by the stereotype shtick of … Schneider.” And Emmy-nominated actor Masi Oka (“Heroes”) told USA Today he was also offended by the yellow-face portrayal. Says MANAA Founding President Guy Aoki, “In August of 2006, shortly after Mel Gibson’s tirade against Jews, Schneider, pointing out he was half Jewish, took out a full page ad in Daily Variety promising to never work with the writer/director/actor. We wish Rob had the same pride about being part-Asian. Somehow, we don’t think he’d make the same assertion against someone who spouted anti-Asian hatred because the actor has himself done quite a good job of putting down people of Asian descent.

As Richard Roeper of ‘Ebert and Roeper’ recently said in his review of Chuck and Larry, ‘Rob Schneider’s Filipino background [he’s a quarter] hardly excuses his portrayal of an Asian minister in perhaps the most egregious stereotype of its kind since Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’” Rob Schneider also repeatedly perpetuated the tired stereotype that Asian men have small penises in a 2005 movie he co-wrote, Deuce Bigalo: European Gigolo” (e.g. an Asian male prostitute says in broken English, “I no more man-whore! Too much danger! I take my three inches elsewhere!”).

Besides an Asian American fireman who gets no lines, the only other Asian faces we see in Chuck and Larry are five Asian women who come out of a van wearing Hooters-like clothes to “pleasure” Chuck (Sandler) and who’re later seen “having fun” with each other while waiting for Chuck to come back to bed. “Therefore,” Aoki points out, “the impression people get from watching this film is that Asian men are disgusting-looking geeks and that Asian women are sluts.” “Sandler showed his movie to GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and edited out scenes they deemed offensive because he didn’t want to make a movie that would offend the gay community. He should’ve shown it to MANAA; we would’ve had quite a few things to say to him (MANAA has consulted with studios about their films, including Rising Sun and Pearl Harbor).”

MANAA is reachable atmanaaletters@hotmail.com, (213) 486-4433, and P.O. Box 6188, Burbank, CA 91510. Please note our new address PRESS CONTACT P.O. Box 6188 Burbank, CA 91510-1105 (213) 486-4433 manaaletters@hotmail.com www.manaa.org