A monthly column about all things Asian in popular culture
By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Last month started off with a bang as the media shined a light on those who have wronged the Asian community.
Leading the relay race was cable television channel AMC, which has been promoting its new show “Hell on Wheels.” The historical drama is based on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the tent city that moved along the railroad as it was being built.
It’s well known that Chinese immigrants contributed enormously to the nation’s first transcontinental railway. However, the AMC producers seem to think otherwise, as no Chinese immigrant characters exist on the show.
When WashingtonPost.com’s Lisa de Moraes asked about this discrepancy, the show’s creators, Joe and Tony Gayton, replied with the following:
“I think what a lot of people think of when they think about the Transcontinental Railroad is the contribution of the Chinese immigrants,” said Joe Gayton.
“[But] one of the things that really caught me [about the Transcontinental Railroad] is, just, it’s so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves … and just, budget-wise and time-wise … we could really only concentrate on one side of [the railroad building], and that’s probably why we, you know, that’s why we chose [to focus on] the Union Pacific as opposed to the Central Pacific.”
The two creators continued to dance around the answer before Joe Gayton mentioned that the Central Pacific, which was the stretch that was built primarily by Chinese immigrants, was originally written into the pilot episode. However, because it was unrealistic to cover both the tent people and the Chinese immigrant workers into a one-hour pilot, the Chinese storylines “ended up getting excised.”
“Excised.” Like the workers never existed! Looks like the AMC executives need to hit the history books again to reevaluate who were truly some of the more important players in the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. Next, the baton was passed to Vogue magazine in Japan, criticized for one of its behind-the-scenes video clips featuring a white model, Crystal Renn. In the video, Renn, who graces the magazine’s latest cover, has her eyes taped back to emulate the almond-shaped eyes on Asian faces.
Fashion blogs around the world erupted in anger over the incident, insulted that the publication thought it could fool its readers by showcasing Renn as an Asian-like model.
It’s still unknown why the magazine editors decided to use her in this particular way.
Perhaps they were trying to achieve a new and unique look? Still, if the objective was to use an Asian-looking face for the photo shoot, it seems like it would be easier to just, well, use an Asian model.
Finishing the relay race is British fashion designer John Galliano, who was found guilty of “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race, or ethnicity” in a Paris court.
He was formerly the head designer for fashion house Christian Dior until earlier this year when he was fired for publicly throwing aggressive anti-Semitic and anti-Asian insults at a Jewish and Asian couple in a Parisian bar.
Galliano, who was previously put to trial over another anti-Semitic incident, has now been sentenced to a total of $8,400 in fines. He must also give a single euro to the couple he insulted as a token of deep regret. Because, you know, a single, heartfelt euro will ease the pain of a hate crime and all.
Notable Asians on television
On the popular music sitcom “Glee,” the Asian American character, Mike Chang, finally received a character backstory. In an episode titled “Asian F” — a light jab at how any school grade under an “A” is deemed a failure by Asian parents — Chang, played by Asian American actor Harry Shum Jr., comes to terms with whether he should follow his parents’ stereotypical Asian aspirations or pursue his own dreams.
The episode guest-starred Asian American actors Keong Sim and Tamlyn Tomita, who played Shum Jr.’s parents. They may be best known for their movie roles in “The Last Airbender” and “The Joy Luck Club,” respectively.
Anya Ayoung-Chee, a contestant on the fashion design reality show, “Project Runway,” has been dominating her rivals this season, despite learning how to sew only a few months prior to competing on the show. Ayoung-Chee, an American who grew up in Trinidad, is of mixed Chinese, Indian, and white heritage. She is known for winning the 2008 Miss Trinidad and Tobago Universe pageant title, but also, with a fellow contestant from the 2008 pageant, for a subsequent sex tape.
She believes her recent success on “Project Runway” highlights that she is more than a beauty queen and victim of a sex tape scandal.
“Each human being is made up of so many different layers, so many aspects. To imagine that anyone should be labeled one thing, is not only unfair, it’s just untrue … nobody is one-dimensional.”
Interesting thoughts from someone who’s been through the scandal ringer and back. Best of luck with “Project Runway,” Ayoung-Chee.
Earlier in July, the Food Network initiated a contest for America’s Favorite Food Truck.
The food truck garnering the most online votes would win $10,000 and the chance to appear on season three of “The Great Food Truck Race.”
I’m happy to announce that Chef Tai’s Mobile Gourmet Food Truck, headed by Tai Lee, beat out 599 others and was crowned America’s Favorite Food Truck.
Latest entertainment happenings in Korea
Korean superstar Rain announced that he’ll start his mandatory military service in Korea.
In Korea, when males come of age, they are required to serve the nation for 21 to 25 months, depending on the military branch they enter. Although Korean males should begin military service before age 35, Rain, who is 29, felt he was overdue to serve.
I don’t think Rain’s star power will diminish during his time in the military. We’re talking about the guy who continuously manages to top TIME Magazine’s annual list of 100 most influential people in the world — despite the fact that most Americans barely know who he is.
The 2011 Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s largest film festival, recently welcomed both Asian and international celebrities in Busan, Korea. The nine-day festival showcased several newly released Korean films, highly anticipated movies from other Asian countries, and award-winning films from around the world.
Notably, the cast and crew behind “The Lady,” a biopic on Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s life, was screened at the film festival. Hong Kong-based Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh plays Aung San Suu Kyi in the film. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.