White-out vs Yellowface

I haven’t seen the new film “21” but I don’t plan to, which hurts a little, because I am a big Kevin Spacey fan. I liked him since he came to my 23rd birthday party with Jason Gould. The story of “21” is based on a true one, about a group of Asian American kids who take card counting to another level and beat the house at their own game. It is a cool story about Asian Americans, and even though there are a couple of great young Asian actors in the cast of the film, they are only in minor supporting roles. Hollywood for some reason didn’t think that the film would be “marketable” enough with people who looked like the people who the story is actually fucking about! So because of this – the leads in the film are white!!!

That is right – the story, which was one about Asian American kids sticking it to the man has been stolen right from under us and given to white people. This makes me so fucking furious I can’t believe it. It makes me “railroad” mad. No fuck that – it makes me fucking “internment camp” mad. It is like they made a film about building the railroad or being in an internment camp and cast white people in it. It is up there with the casting of David Carradine instead of Bruce Lee in “Kung Fu” but it is actually worse because there was at least a slight attempt to make David Carradine seem chinky, well actually – I don’t know, what is worse? Yellowface or outright non-inclusion? Is it better to be made into a caricature or just plain invisible?

Hollywood is still racist, and even though there are a few more Asians out there making great television and movies and music and art – it just isn’t enough. I am a huge “Grey’s Anatomy” fan, and even though I think Katherine Heigl is totally hot and beautiful and a killer actress and Patrick Dempsey is truly McDreamy – to me, the real star of that show is Sandra Oh. She absolutely lights up the screen. I want to cry with pride and elation and excitement every time I see her. Here is someone who is so talented that she was able to transcend racial barriers – these weird ideas that Hollywood still hangs onto that Asian Americans can’t tell stories that aren’t directly related to their asian-ness, but Sandra, she is so good no one and nothing could stop her. I just keep thinking about that one scene when Burke leaves her at the altar and she is crying and pulling off her wedding dress. Don’t even act like you didn’t cry. I am crying just thinking about it. Omg – she rules. She is gorgeous and sexy and such a gifted amazing actress and I want to see her in some big blockbuster movie about a wedding sometime too!

Until that movie comes out I am going to make myself happy with Harold and Kumar 2

30 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. Really?! That movie was about Asian American kids originally?! Oh, shit, somebody fucked up. Does Hollywood really think America won’t watch a movie with a mostly Asian cast? Puh-leeze!

    I do notice a severe lack of Asians in Hollywood. I’m as white as they come but my best friend is Japanese and one of my other best friends from high school was Korean. I’ve listened to their anger when it comes to stereotypes and their frustrations. I remember in high school, someone came up to Sarah and said, “Oh, you must be in the math club, right?”. Because all Asians are good in math, supposedly, right? And my friend Sarah, who is Korean, goes, “No, fuck off. I’m wearing a Metallica T-shirt and hot pants, do I look like I’m in the math club?” Trust me, it was hilarious.

    I’m trying to think of strong Asian characters on TV. I can’t think of many but the show, Torchwood had a great Japanese actress, Naoko Mori. Her character was Toshiko Sato. The show is on the BBC and is seriously one of the best TV shows around. Of course, she’s not on it anymore; not sure why she left the show. But I loved her, I only wish they didn’t kill off her character.

  2. BEST POST EVER. I laughed, I got pissed off (seriously internment camp pissed off), and nodded my head to the whole dang thang! The more things change, the more things stay the same.

  3. Margaret,

    Just discovered your blog through one of those crazy and circuitous internet journeys one takes, and am so glad I did, I love it.

    I loved this post in particular….also nearly fell over laughing with “internment camp pissed off”. And I have to ‘fess up (even though I’m a man)….I was totally crying with Sandra Oh ripping at the wedding dress, but even more at how she said “I’m free” but you could see the sadness on her face and in her voice how devastated she was to be “free”.

  4. I agree it is outrage of the first class. And it’s so cynical. Also? check out Yahoo’s “Cinco de Mayo” Mexican dancers icon on their home page.
    Racism with a side of salsa please.
    Actors act. People are beautiful. Let’s be truthful with our art. Let’s give people some credit for being intelligent enough to see a great film or actor or script for what it is. Then again, I’m usually wrong about such things.
    Sandra Oh is freaking gorgeous too. As is Dustin Nguyen. And Takeshi Kaneshiro. And lots and lots of people with all different colored skin and hair and sexual preferences…..ooooh!
    Mad now.

  5. I commend your post (definitely going to forward it to friends), the statements you made are right on point and exposes the racism we still live with.

    Although I do sympathize with your statements, I believe the right procedure is to not celebrate “Asian-American Awareness Month” and not pride around begging to be heard. I believe its better to “be like the white man” and act as if we are no different. If Asian-Americans acted no differently as Americans, then eventually we will be accepted as Americans. In particular, there is no Irish-American Month or no German-American Month, why should there be an Asian-American Month; I feel it only separates “us” from “them”, making relations more and more divisive. Furthermore, I do not think Harold & Kumar help relations any further.

    Comedic acts like Harold & Kumar created something to laugh at, not something to laugh with and the difference to also divisive. I believe a better way of handling the issue is to make it a non-issue. I bet most are preparing their words against me, but I believe there’s a better way than pointing out differences. Asian-Americans are woven into the fabric of America, as well as every other ethnicity, to call one specific background can only create a rift between the threads. And the outcome… well, that train is never late. America’s ethnic make-up is still being made, the foundation has not settled and powder has been been brushed, calling any ethnicity out is like calling out blemishes.

  6. Sandra Oh also got to play a character that was originally white in (the book) Sideways. Because not only is she awesomely Asian, but she forces Hollywood to let her transcend race as well.

  7. Sandra Oh went to my high school in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We are super proud of her. I think another memorable performance is as Principal Gupta in Princess Diaries.

  8. I hate “Grey’s Anatomy,” but Sandra Oh rocks in everything she does. Too bad it’s usually Canadian films with limited release here — “Double Happiness” and “Last Night” come to mind.

  9. Hi Margaret! I am of Korean Descent and also really love watching Sandra Oh on Grey’s. You know what I have been rooting for in terms of inclusion on Grey’s however? (Which I view as a pretty diverse show) An Asian Male doctor… and a HOT Asian Male doctor!! Then again I haven’t watched much of this season, so if it has happened, please let me know!!

    People have this view of an Asian men that includes bookishness, but not sensual-ness and sexiness. So apparently Americans would be able to believe that Asians are smart enough to get into med school but not hot enough to be on a medical drama where a lot of sex is going on. They would probably be more likely to add on another Asian female… you know one that they can fully sexually exploit with the whole exoticism angle.

    About 21. Young Black ensembles have been able to lead this influx of inspirational sports stories that have become so popular. Is that because the mainstream is comfortable believing in the ‘value’ of black athleticism? On the other hand, how did that debate movie with Denzel do? Wouldn’t know, I didn’t see it. But Asians counting cards at Vegas? I mean give it to us Hollywood, MATH IS our Sport!! hah, but all kidding aside with all the stereotypes about Asians and math you think this would have been a shoe-in for execs.

    This is my first time reading your blog, I’m definitely going to subscribe. Much love!

  10. Ugh. I had a casual interest in this movie, solely BECAUSE of the Asians that were playing in it. Now I am equally disgusted and I am glad that I didn’t go see it yet. I agree whole-heartedly that Hollywood has major race issues. Asian can only play “Asian roles.” That drives me nuts. I watch enough Asian movies and tv shows to know that they can be better actors than most of the crappy American one’s (there are great actors, just not all of them are) and I think that it’s time Hollywood realized that we would LIKE to see a film about strong Asian-American people. Or just people who happen to be Asian. I would have RUN to the theater, had this stuck with the original story without replacing the characters with white actors. But instead, I will boycott it right along with you. Whether or not he’s been type-casted, I AM running to the theater to see Rain/Jung Ji-Hoon/Bi in Speed Racer this week. Thanks Margaret for getting my blood running.

  11. I had no idea 21 was based on a story about Asian-American kids!

    And I think John Cho is sooo fucking hot and adorable. I’ve had a big crush on him for years.

  12. What is better – a hugely misogynistic and vaguely homophobic movie with a few mildly funny but unoriginal social comments on racial profiling and racism, or no movie at all?

    I saw Harold & Kumar last night and spent half of the movie put off by the bigotry and the other half of the movie falling in and out of sleep.

  13. i feel the same way about seeing toni colette in every part that calls for a fat chick. that size 10 skanch has probably never seen the inside of a lane bryant!

    i’m surprised they allow “jon and kate plus 8” to air. 9 out of 10 of the characters are of asian descent! i guess TPTB decided that was our asian allowance, and therefore no asians may appear anywhere else!

  14. Hollywood is a strange place, because, ultimately, it’s fucking cowardly.

    Asian men basically aren’t allowed to headline shit because the cultural image of an Asian man is automatically asexual and meek, where all their stars must, for marketting reasons, be sexy and aggressive (and just a little dumb, but smartass).

    It’s not that Hollywood itself is bad, they’re just too chickenshit to step away from old prejudice because they’ve got an eye on their wallets at the end of the day. The culture creates the market.

    The only times they step outside the bullshit prejudiced mold, they make a big show of it. This goes for anything, not just race, but also gender, sexual orientation, whatever. They can’t just break the mold, they have to point out and highlight that it’s transgressive for the sake of it. It can’t just be “this kid wants to be in ballet,” it has to be “this BOY wants to be in ballet” and make it into a story about being a rebel. It can’t just be “these people are in love,” it has to be “these people are in love — BUT THEY AREN’T THE SAME COLOR! OH NOES!”

    Every. Fucking. Time. They do this, and by highlighting this “lack of prejudice” in their choices, they’re just creating the impression that this is made for shock value, that a fat girl can’t really be a star, a gay couple can’t really be in a love movie, and a boy can’t do ballet. They reinforce rather than demolish the barriers by eliminating the personal story in the movie, shortening the whole thing to a hypothesis of equality they never actually seek to confirm.

    If they truly want equality, what you do is ignore that it’s transgressive of taboos at all. If the movie or tv show suggests it’s no big deal, the culture will respond with “no big deal.”

    I can’t tell you how stoked I was, the first time I saw an interracial couple on TV and they didn’t have to deal with “the race issue” when they first got together. They weren’t a one note thing. They were just two people who happened to be in a relationship, just like any other couple. And I thought to myself “finally. About time we got passed this bullshit every time.”

    I’m still waiting for that normalization to happen in the media for:
    Gay couples
    Asian males in lead roles (esp. in “sex symbol” roles, double points if paired with non-Asian females)
    Female leads (in something other than a romantic comedy “how I got the guy” movie)
    Women heavier than 120 lbs

  15. This is the second movie Kevin Spacey has been in that they’ve significantly changed the race of the main character. His character in “Pay It Forward” was black (and much more disfigured) in the book.

    I adore Sandra Oh. But the star of Grey’s, in my opinion, is Chandra Wilson who plays Miranda Bailey. That woman is an AMAZING actress. And cute as a button, too 😀

    Great post. Love it.

  16. Sigh… Hollywood broke my heart with the movie “Forbidden Kingdom”. They manage to get the 2 of the biggest icons in the Chinese entertainment world – Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and turned it into a piece of crap by casting the HERO of the movie with a white kid. They justified by saying that the movie is about a young man who goes on a “journey of discovery” and grows into a “man”. These kinda movies just emphasize one theme- the white superiority.

    What’s worse is that if an asian speaks against movies like “Forbidden Kingdom”, “Kill Bill, “Bulletproof Monk”, “Last Samurai”, etc., we’re “racist”. Uh. Excuse me?

  17. the more things change the more they stay the same. i just recently (yes way way way behind the times) rented “all american girl” from the library and watched it in horror. it was so blatantly racist and sexist and horrible. 🙁

  18. I’m half Japanese and half black and I grew up with my Japanese side of the family and I am acutely aware of not seeing any movies that resemble any part of my family and life.

    My grandmother was upset about the whole “Memoirs of a Geisha” film too. What the fuck was that? I suppose at least it featured Asian actors but it looked like a movie for white guys with a fetish for the submissive sterotype of asian women. And as for beautiful actors who should have more screen time…..Margaret Cho, you are gorgeous girlfriend. And as for sexy male asian actors, what about Ken Watanabe (the real samurai in “The Last Samurai”) smokin’!, and Takeshi Kaneshiro from House of Flying daggers? That guy could melt butter just by staring at it he’s so hot!

    There as so many beautiful and talented asian actors and actresses out there that it makes me mad to not see the represent us in the movies as much as black people are see. I’d like to see ALL my peeps represent ya know!!!

    And while I’m ranting, why is it that none of the girls in sex in the city (love the show except this)seemed not to have any friends who weren’t white .. in New York of all places.

  19. Sandra Oh kicks ten kinds of ass. She came into my coffee shop on a busy Sunday and was just super.

    And she ROCKS on film too. 😀

  20. Sandra Oh rules! I’ve loved her from the moment I first saw her in Double Happiness. … and Last Night is my favourite movie of all time. (I’ve always had a big crush on Don McKellar.) I usually groan when Canadian actors move to the States to do lame Hollywood shite, but I’m thrilled for her and hope she continues to get cool roles.

  21. Hollywood is stupid. They make a movie about sticking it to The Man when they are The Man, and want other The Man’s to buy tickets. It’s twisted. I didn’t and won’t go to “21”, but I heard it was lame. I guess whitewashing doesn’t pay.

    Hollywood did score with Grey’s Anatomy. It’s set, not in a white wonder world, but it a reality full rich of characters. No stereotypes and racial demographic representations? In a TV show? I can watch an American TV show without fear of being offended by the production team.

    Sandra Oh is fantastic and a favorite of mine. I would go to any movie to see her work.

  22. For more hollywood whitewashing, check: http://www.abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=4991235&page=1

    Not to mention examples like:
    – Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder (the role was originally meant for a Black Actor, but I have to admit, it looks like this movie makes fun of the concept of casting a white actor for a non-white person’s role)
    – Rob Schneider (unfunny offensive Asian stereotype in Chuck & Larry, and unfunny offensive Middle Eastern stereotype in Don’t Mess w/ Zohan)

    It’s not just Sandra Oh did a great interview with NPR where she spoke specifically about how she tried to avoid playing “ethnic” Asian roles (probably to the detriment of her career, at least at first). I am too lazy to look it up, though!

  23. This is incredibly depressing but, like a lot of people have said on here, unsurprising. My good friend Ernesto co-wrote and co-produced Better Luck Tomorrow, which I thought was a fantastic movie (and also starred John Cho from the Harold & Kumar movies) but I felt like it was only given a lukewarm reception and didn’t make huge money at the box office. But the same movie with an all white cast? I bet they would’ve promoted the fuck out of it and it would’ve blown up the sales. And that is fucking sad.

    Someone totally needs to make the REAL version of 21!

  24. They probably put white kids there and only a couple of asians because they were afraid that people would find it stereotypical but I don’t see the problem if they really were asian. I also don’t think anybody with a normally functional brain would claim racism/stereotypes. That’s why when I make movies (which I will), I’m gonna make an asian movie where no one is fighting kung fu and a black movie that isn’t ghetto. I got DREAMS and more importantly, I got PLANS. They will come true. I promise.

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