Monday 22nd January 2018,

Bad Ass Asians

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Celebrity Short Takes: Constance Wu, Justin Lin, Daniel Wu, Matt Damon, Vanessa Hudgens and More

posted by Randall
Full Metal Alchemist

The anime characters in Full Metal Alchemist and their human actors.

By Ed Diokno

Director’s decision counters Hollywood’s ‘whitewashing’ practice


When the live-action adaptation of the wildly-popular manga-turned-anime Fullmetal Alchemist hits theaters next year, its entire cast of lead characters will be Japanese.

“I want to depict something that follows the original work as much as possible,” the movie’s director Fumihiko Sori told Natalie. “The cast is entirely Japanese, but the setting is Europe. However, their race and nationality isn’t expressed in a specific form.” This news is particularly refreshing in the wake of the upcoming Dr. Strange and Ghost in the Shell movies’ whitewashing of the Asian characters in their source material, tapping Tilda Swinton and Scarlett Johansson, respectively, to play them. Read the full story here.



Asian American actors speaking out against ‘whitewashing’


“An Asian person who is competing against white people, for an audience of white people, has to train for that opportunity like it’s the Olympics,” actress Constance Wu told writer Amanda Hess in the New York Times piece, titled ‘Asian American Actors Are Fighting For Visibility. They Will Not Be Ignored‘. “An incredibly talented Asian actor might be considered for a leading role maybe once or twice in a lifetime. That’s a highly pressured situation.” Among the actors who were interviewed were heavy-hitters George Takei, Aziz Ansari and Daniel Dae Kim. Read the full article here.


AMC has renewed martial arts drama Into the Badlands for Season 2

The dystopian drama will return for a 10-episode second season that is slated to premiere on AMC in 2017. The show delivered the third highest-rated first season in U.S. cable TV history, averaging 5.6 million viewers per episode. “With its deep dive into authentic martial arts, the visually stunning Into the Badlands proved to be unlike anything else on television,” said Charlie Collier, president of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios. “Co-creators and showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar, along with a talented team of producers, cast and crew, brought us an artfully crafted series. We’re eager to return to the world of barons and blades and spend even more time with these compelling and evolving characters across an expanded second.

Justin Lin

Justin Lin

Vin Diesel wants Justin Lin to direct the final ‘Fast & Furious’

Vin Diesel wants Justin Lin to direct the final Fast & Furious. Universal Pictures and director F. Gary Gray are currently shooting Fast 8 for an April 14, 2017 release, which is planned to launch a new trilogy of films. Fast 8 will be followed by a ninth film to be released April 19, 2019 and a tenth film planned to hit theaters April 2, 2021. Forward-thinking star Vin Diesel is already coming up with a master plan for Fast 10, which a new article from Wired indicates could include the return of Read the full story


Chinese American actress nominated for 2016 Tony Award


Phillipa Soo was nominated as Best Actress in a musical for her role as Eliza Hamilton in the Broadway hit Hamilton.  All together, Hamilton, the diversity-setting, rap-inspired musical set a new record with 16 nominations. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Soo as Korean. Read the full story

Cary Fukunaga may adapt Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Napoleon’ as HBO miniseries

Cary Fukunaga

Cary Fukunaga

According to a new report from ScreenRant, HBO is eying a revival of Stanley Kubrick’s famously never-produced version of “Napoleon” with Cary Fukunaga directing the historical epic. If done right, this could be spectacular. Anyone who has seen the first season of True Detective (or Sin Nombre or Beasts of No Nation) knows that Fukunaga is a special talent, one that could be trusted to bring a version of Kubrick’s singular vision to the screen. The project would also have the benefit of more modern technologies than Kubrick ever dreamed of, as well as the backing of HBO, which has shown a willingness to spend big money on huge projects. An hours-long program, with frequent battle scenes, filmed in multiple countries for a massive amount of money? That sounds an awful lot like Game of ThronesRead the full story


Vanessa Hudgens agrees to pay $1,000 fine for carving on red rock wall

Actress Vanessa Hudgens has paid $1,000 in restitution for carving a heart into a red rock wall during a trip to Sedona, Arizona. The payment resolves a citation issued to the Filipino American on a misdemeanor count of damaging a natural feature on U.S. Forest Service land. Read the full story


‘The Great Wall’ aims to bridge Hollywood-China divide

Matt Damon sported a new ponytail as he told fans in Beijing about his part in the fantasy epic The Great Wall, a $150 million U.S.-China co-production which could be a game-changer for the world’s second biggest film market, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The legendary fantasy film, which is described as the largest film ever shot entirely in China for global distribution, centers on an elite force making a last stand for humanity on the iconic Great Wall in China. The English-language movie is directed by Zhang Yimou and is due to finish filming in August. The global release date is Nov. 23, 2016. Read the full story

First Filipina to win ‘Best Actress’ at Cannes Film Festival


Jaclyn Jose has become the first Filipino to win the best actress award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Jose won for her performance as a mother who falls prey to corrupt police after being forced to sell drugs to survive in Ma’ Rosa. The movie was directed by Brillante Mendoza, who in 2009 became the first Filipino to win best director at the festival for Kinatay.


NBC winds up its ‘Life Stories’ of Asian/Americans


The Filipino American a capella singing group, the Filharmonics, was one of the groups and individuals profiled by NBC as part of its ‘Life Stories’ series in honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Other episodes of ‘Life Stories’, can be found here.



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  1. Ben says:

    RE: Celebrity short takes: Phillipa Soo from the Broadway play Hamilton is actually half Chinese, not Korean.

    1. Randall says:

      You are correct. This has been corrected

  2. Re:Celebrity Shorts: The NYT’s article yesterday on Asian Americans in the entertainment biz really hit home, and both the conclusions there and the announcements on this page are at least sort-of reassuring that things are getting better in the industry.

    Still, I feel like the main problem is a lot deeper, because it’s not just the entertainment biz. The way the US media and publicity machines work, their priorities and incentives– they constantly find more and more over the top ways to minimize our achievements in general, to the point of making things up out of whole cloth and omitting our accomplishments entirely, and that spills over into entertainment. This is the real-deal bamboo ceiling, and having come from Long island, I saw a pretty egregious example of it in what you might call the case of Natalie Portman and the Asian-American “Vanishing Valedictorian”. Apologize for the rant but this is a record that needs to be set straight.

    Here’s the background: For the East Coast Asian American community, Syosset High School in Long Island is one of our great success stories, for years now Asian Am’s have dominated the class ranks, National Merit Scholarships, student representation and used our success there as a launching pad for solid careers. Syosset is in a rich white suburban area of Long Island with a ton of connections to the film and TV industry, so it’s also been the H.S. of tons of celebs like Judd Apatow and Natalie Portman, a.k.a. Natalie Hershlag when she was there. As a result Syosset winds up in the news a lot, but here’s the thing—US media does a bang-up job of finding a way to whitewash, literally, the stellar achievements of Asian-American Syosset students and graduates, who by far have excelled the most there. And one of the most blatant, outrageous cases has been the way publicists and media have pushed to erase even the mention of the Asian-American valedictorian in Natalie Portman’s Class of 1999 there.

    Take a quick look at these articles from the local Long Island papers in 1999—these are the neighborhood newspaper articles published every year around graduation time, where they celebrate the hard work and achievements of the valedictorians and salutatorians.

    Notice that 2 out of the 3 top grads at Syosset in Natalie Portman’s class—the valedictorian (Michael Ma) and one of the two salutatorians (Robert Wong)—are Asian-American (the other salutatorian, Ian Yohai, was smart as a whip himself). And Michael, the valedictorian, was a heavy-hitter. I was a few years behind him in L.I., but plenty of my friends and relatives knew him, and that guy worked his butt off and earned every bit of that valedictorian honor and all the things he accomplished afterwards. His family was the classic Asian-American immigrant story of struggle and persistence despite not having a whole lot, and the community was justly proud. And being best in class at a school like Syosset matters, it’s the sort of thing you keep on a CV well into your career.

    But now take a look at these fawning media puff pieces on Natalie Portman in the years afterward–and as I’ll repeat here, this is not Natalie’s own doing so this isn’t on her specifically, it’s much worse—a systematic thing, by her publicists and the “no Asians need apply” media. Somehow just like magic, the name of Michael Ma the real valedictorian disappears, and out of nowhere they just plop Natalie’s name in there for kicks:

    Even something this easily fact-checked, even when a journalist’s first job duty is supposedly to get the facts straight—here we see the same fabricated foolishness in article after article after article. And here’s the nastiest part: it isn’t just unintentional sloppiness. One of my friends and a number of her acquaintances wrote repeatedly to these self styled “media outfits” in the years after to correct the mistake, yet most persisted, deliberately, with the same fact-free made-up nonsense year after year.

    Notice something else? I had to obtain the original articles (the contemporary notices around the Syosset graduation in 1999) from the news archives. Well, here’s the funny thing about this. My friend who’d been notifying the sloppy news outfits of the error, trying to get them to correct it and recognize the Asian-American valedictorian and salutatorian? She’d been able to access the original Syosset Jericho Tribune news articles with the 1999 class Commencement info (The Pride of 1999 and Challenges of the Coming Century, both articles by Brad Barth) at their original Websites just last year. But then, poof, the originals were taken down, available only in the archives. Any of us who works in the biz will roll our eyes at this, cuz it’s called “Celeb’s overzealous publicist/agent brazenly calling the local newspaper and demanding that they pull an article with inconvenient information” (even though the article in this case doesn’t contain anything groundbreaking, just drab factual data about a commencement ceremony with Asian-American valedictorian and salutatorian who happened to finish in the class rankings ahead of Natalie). That’s right, rather than simply acknowledge the original articles, correct the error and give the slightest bit of respect to the successful Asian-Americans at Syosset, they instead moved immediately to censor the information itself! Think there’s a reason for that? You thought right.

    Again to be clear, not trying to single out Natalie here, it’s just her case is easy to fact-check and document because of the celebrity connection, so it’s like a representative example of the media disparagement against Asian Am’s in 1000’s of other similar cases that get less attention. It’s also not a knock on Portman’s acting in any way, she’s a respected and capable actress even without all the media embellishment—but it isn’t Portman herself who’s been pushing the misleading media memes against her Asian-Am classmates at Syosset. The guilty culprits are the publicists and gullible, or willingly complicit pretend-journos who were so desperate to push their convenient storyline that they had little qualms about making things up and belittling a bunch of nerdy, unglamorous Asian-Americans along the way. After all, why let a fobby, studious, boring Asian-Am kid get even a smidgen of public respect or recognition when there’s a born-rich white girl celebrity the media can just manufacture a fairy tale storyline around?

    And that’s exactly what went down. Back in the mid-2000’s, Natalie Portman’s publicity drones were trying to present her as the smart, wholesome alternative to all the dingbat, drugged-out actresses making fools of themselves while they flaunted themselves for the tabloids. Natalie was a legitimately bright student back at Syosset but not quite to the level of academic superstar, yet the publicity drones figured the “academic superstar” label was just the thing to turn her into “the model citizen” actress. And so the real academic superstars of Syosset, almost all Asian-Ams, got shoved off to the side to make way for America’s newly anointed princess. Michael Ma’s achievements and domination of Natalie’s class at Syosset got practically rubbed out in the fawning media reports from that publicity stunt.

    And this isn’t trivial, as my old friend (from his class) told me, every time Michael would have noted his valedictorian and other achievements at Syosset on a resume, he had to hope that the background-checker or HR employee at the company would actually do their homework and get to the original records and articles. The ones clearly documenting the reality that Michael Ma was top dog in Natalie’s class, a hard-earned achievement, and not Natalie herself. Of course we all know this often doesn’t happen—shortcuts in HR are taken, shoddy secondary sources are used, and thus who-knows how many sloppy background checks would have referenced the Hollywood publicist-fueled BS that kept repeatedly denying Michael due recognition for his achievement.Aided and abetted of course, by Anglo-American media’s reliable conviction that Asian-Americans are little more than uncreative copycats who couldn’t possibly surpass a privileged pretty while girl. (Sure, forget about all that paper and gunpowder they ripped off from Asian inventors and used to invade the rest of the world..)

    It’s the same BS that causes a hard-working, straight-A first-generation immigrant girl from Vietnam to get rejected from top schools while some permanently drunken moron son of an alumnus gets in as a legacy admission. Yeah, I did see this and a boatload of other cases like it, so many times and it never ceases to set me off when someone claims US Ivy League colleges are a “meritocracy”. Who knows how many times Michael’s applications got quietly turned down without him ever knowing why, or down-right ignored because the media fabrications kept denying him recognition for an achievement HE HAD ACTUALLY EARNED?

    Even worse is that it doesn’t stop there. Like I said, Natalie was a decent student in a lot of her subjects, but not academic superstar level, including in the sciences. (This after all, is why Natalie didn’t quite have the grades to make valedictorian or salutatorian at Syosset in 1999.) Let’s be honest about this, Natalie had every advantage imaginable over the Asian kids who ultimately topped the Class of 1999—she not only came from one of the richest families in Long Island, her Dad is Dr. Avner Hershlag, who is THE top ob-gyn doc and fertility specialist in the eastern US. (Let’s put it this way, for the pre-meds back in Long Island, Natalie’s Dad was the celebrity, a lot more than Natalie was.) Like the other Syosset kids, Natalie did science projects, in her case with major help from a privileged background to get the connections and assisting scientists in labs to get the project done. Not knocking this as that’s often how it’s done, the same for the kids from Stuyvesant or Bronx Science always going to the big science fair gigs. But the result was much like her class rank—a solid achievement but not academic superstar level. She did well at the Intel Science Talent Search but didn’t make Finalist level, and the project she worked on got written up in the Journal of Chemical Education—which all of us who did science fairs at Syosset know about, it’s one of the classic “student project journals” where your project adviser gets your project written up as a sort-of educational aid.

    Once again to be clear, I’m not trying to rag on Natalie herself here, but her publicists again inflated this whole thing way beyond what it was, and in effect put down the achievements and true innovations of other Syosset science fair talents who really did achieve breakthroughs—most of them Asian-American. Natalie’s project clearly wasn’t that—it was a very old and well known reaction involving carbohydrate enzyme chemistry. (Something one of Louis Pasteur’s students got figured out 120 years ago, which is why it wound up uncited in an education journal as opposed to original research.) And yet the publicists kept going on about how it made Natalie some science smartie. (This includes some lame and pretty ridiculous puff piece article by Natalie Angier in the New York Times of all places—sad how that newspaper’s standards have fallen ever since all the propaganda they tried to peddle with Judith Miller and the Iraq War.) In the process, the media of course managed to totally ignore all the Asian-American Syosset high-schoolers who did real innovative scientific projects, without all the built in advantages. Often these kids, all first or second-generationers, were coming up with important discoveries that got them published in the biochemical or medical journals that report true research breakthroughs, some developing software platforms or even environmental clean-up systems that were independently recognized and followed up on. These things have a real positive impact on society, and one would think they’d get the respect they deserve for all of their hard work and real scientific contributions with a potential for significant impact. But no, not one bit of recognition by comparison, after all, they’re just Asian-American copycats who can’t think for themselves, they couldn’t possibly have done any true innovation.

    And on and on. Natalie didn’t graduate with honors from college and to her credit, she’s never claimed otherwise and has a good sense of humor about it (she started out pre-med, probably following in her father’s footsteps but struggled with the classes and switched to psych—and hey, let’s be honest, seems to have worked out okay for her). Yet just like the valedictorian thing, more embellishing false media stories began springing up on this before, in this case (unlike the valedictorian BS), being taken down when the fact-checkers started in on it more aggressively. As contrast, a lot of Asian superstars at Syosset got into Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Duke, Penn, Cal Tech, all the top schools, *on their own merits*– no ultra-rich family or child-star perks to open the doors for them—and graduated magna cum laude or other top honors at these ultra-competitive schools, doing great things afterward. And their achievements, as usual, are greeted with a yawn.

    This thing about Natalie and the languages she speaks? Well, she grew up natively speaking Hebrew and English spoken in the home, just like Asian kids growing up bilingual speaking Korean, Hindi, Chinese or whatever their parents speak at home. She took some French and Japanese but couldn’t speak them (hence that infamous Conan O’Brien interview, though living in France now she’s gotten the French down since). And to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with that, hell I took four years of French and Spanish in high school and college, I only managed some broken Spanish cuz I needed it for work, and my French right now doesn’t go much beyond “bon voyage”. Yet once again we get the same publicist BS about how she’s some kind of multilingual specialist. At Syosset in my class we really did have about a dozen multilingual prodigies, again mostly Asian-American. They spoke their heritage language at home (which of course we never get credit for by comparison). But many could manage a half-dozen or more languages on top of that, and they used them to do real-world good—creating special medical advisories for Spanish or Haitian-Creole speakers, using their fluent Tagalog or the Portuguese they’d picked up to boost community festival attendance by immigrant families. Yet for all intents and purposes to US media, those fobby Asian kids, however accomplished, might as well not even exist.

    So this is what it boils down to, a case that exemplifies how we’re viewed and treated by “greater America:”. A born rich white girl celeb, talented but with things handed to her on a platter from Day 1—yeah, her publicity team gets to embellish and puff her up ad nauseum, and the media eats it up. A tough hustling first or second-generation Asian-American kid from a poor or middle-class struggling background who attains far more in the way of real achievements in these areas, having to sweat for everything they earn and achieve, without any of the built-in family wealth or privilege of someone like Portman? You know, supposedly the bill of goods we were all sold about rags to riches, the American dream? “Nothing to see here” according to US media, we’re all just too fobby and our actual achievements don’t count compared to the made-up fabrications from the publicists and lackeys for the US nobility.

    Yeah, it’s a pattern, and sad thing is it’s real and it’s everywhere. I’m not trying to be a wet blanket on people’s dreams here but if there’s one thing my college thesis adviser taught me, it’s that you gotta look at the country with your eyes open and see it like it actually is. And it doesn’t mean you give up, but it does mean you realize there’s a certain group in America—rich white kids—that’s gonna get showered with buckets of media privilege on top of the privilege they were already born with. And even though you started with less, you’re gonna have to work 20 times harder and achieve 20 times more, and when you realize that isn’t enough, jack it up to 40 times, then 50. And then still realize that the media will do everything it can, passively but sometimes actively, to frown on you and your achievements, or ignore them entirely, even to the point of making up fish stories out of thin air to puff up the pretty rich white kids and the slacker heirs of Yale and Harvard legacies to make you look worse. Every now and then one of us will still manage to break through that impossible barrier (Ken Jeong in my line of work being one of the very few examples), but just don’t use the examples of the pretty rich white kids to blaze your path, cuz that one’s closed off to you and us.

    This is what the bamboo ceiling means in the real world. You can be reasonably accomplished, even pretty successful and comfortable like my sibs and me have managed. And yet when the whispers are made behind closed doors or the smoke-filled rooms where the real power decisions are made, you can bet your bottom dollar that when it comes to the face the institutions want to represent their highest levels to the world, or symbolize American style or elegance or to occupy the exec suite, they’re gonna be looking for the high-born white American—sometimes immigrant themselves, usually from the old aristocracy—and will barely notice you exist. The hard truth is we don’t fit into any of the narratives the US has concocted either to designate its nobility or atone for historical guilt. We’re closed off from the halls of power and importance that are reserved for the rich white aristocracy, but as the “model minority” without historical roots in the land, we don’t fit into the “victim making it in America” narrative either. America’s institutions and media have no place for us, and that’s at the heart of how we’re brushed aside here, despite our achievements.

    As a last point, I think this explains a hell of a lot of what I used to think was a crazy phenomenon, with all the second- and even third-generation Asian-Ams heading back to the mother country to start their careers and families even after all the fancy degrees and internships in the USA. It’s why we’re getting all these shocked media stories (to the extent they cover us at all) about how the gyopos are heading to Korea or the ABC’s to Taiwan and China, or the South Asian heritage kids heading to the Subcontinent, the Fil-Ams back to Manila or Quezon City. Look I’ll be honest, I thought this whole idea was crazy when I first heard about it in college—why in the world would we want to head back to the same overcrowded messes in Asia our parents left before we were born? But then my favorite professor in college did the same thing when he headed back to China, telling me exactly the things I and I’m sure a ton of the rest of us had to learn the hard way. That America will tolerate a certain level of success for us, but it’ll penalize us for it, and only let us go so far. Not saying we’re the only ones dealing with this, other minorities have certainly had their own struggles, and to be fair about it, poor and middle class white kids who don’t start out with a lot of wealth and family connections generally don’t make the cut either, even if they too hustle like the Asian-American second generationers and blow past their rich white peers in terms of real achievement.

    But there’s a reason the ceiling we face has its own name. The United States truly does have its own aristocracy now, a nobility that’s very very rich and privileged and also (with few exceptions) very very white, whether born in America or not. The land of opportunity it ain’t, at least not like it was (or at least pretended to be). Nobody’s saying the mother countries are paradises free of corruption or bias, but from what my gyopo, South Asian,Vietnamese and ABC friends back there have been telling me, nor will you be effectively shut out because you didn’t have the born-rich white pedigree to be a media darling or a “respectable” front for some self-important company or institution. With that same media moving to puff you up to the point of fabricating things straight out to put down the fobby Asian-Am strivers who don’t fit in anywhere within the self-serving narratives the publicists are trying to spin. We all gotta figure out our own path. But for a lot of us it really does mean looking past US borders, whether it’s the old country for us or somewhere different entirely. And for those of you who do head back across the Pacific, don’t for a minute think you’re abandoning anything or depriving yourself of opportunity, cuz in a whole heck of a lotta cases, the only thing you’re really abandoning is a mirage.

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