By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
With 2013 officially underway, everyone is clamoring for a fresh start by tackling their New Year’s resolutions. While it’s certainly good and well to usher in the new, I don’t think I can let 2012 slip away without recapping some of the past year’s most popular pop culture highlights — or lowlights, as the case may be.
10. Race at the movies
Race-bending and anti-Asian films weren’t a new thing in 2012, per se, but it’s certainly a trend that showed up often during this past year.
Specific offenses include “Total Recall,” a science-fiction action film that starred Korean American actor John Cho. Cho, however, was required to bleach his hair blond for the part — a move that came across as a concession of his Asian roots, as Caucasian actor Ray Baker originated the role. Then there was “Cloud Atlas,” the science-fiction drama that showcased race-bending characters, including both Caucasian and Black actors donning yellow makeup and eye prosthetics to appear more ethnically Asian.
Finally, there was “Red Dawn,” a dystopian war film that sees America overtaken by North Korean troops. The movie unleashed a bunch of hate-fueled tweets detailing how the viewers wanted to kill Asians as a sign of their American patriotism. To further complicate matters, film producer Tripp Vinson claimed that the film isn’t about race, and that the enemies in the film could be anybody. But that still doesn’t change the fact that the enemies were Asian.
It’s certain that such gaffes won’t relent in 2013. But maybe we can see more ownership for these offenses from the people that commit them, particularly from the movie executives themselves? Culpability to these actions would be nice for once.
9. Justin Lin
This has been a slow but steady year of success for Taiwanese American director Justin Lin. Readers may know Lin for directing the 2002 drama “Better Luck Tomorrow,” as well as several installments of the import car action film franchise, “Fast and the Furious.”
With the sixth installment in the franchise set for release next year, as well as Lin’s attachment to direct the science-fiction thriller “Hibernation,” Lin is on the rise to become one of the biggest Asian American directors well into 2013!
8. Jessica Sanchez
Singer Jessica Sanchez, a recent “American Idol” runner up, has seen her career blow up as a result of her success on the reality show.
Sanchez, who is of Filipina descent, has sung at several public events since, including a performance at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. this past September. Sanchez will also have a multi-arc role in the musical-comedy television show “Glee” later this year. With so much success in 2012, I’m sure Sanchez will have even more exciting projects lined up this next year!
7. Jenny Hyun
Remember when basketball superstar Jeremy Lin swept the nation earlier this year with his sweet dribbling skills?
Naturally, all his praise ensured that a backlash against the Chinese American athlete was fated. Floyd Mayweather Jr., a Black professional boxer, tweeted that Lin’s hype was based purely on the media’s fascination of his race and that Black athletes in similar situations never receive the same level of recognition despite being as equally skilled as Lin.
While Mayweather later apologized for the remark, Korean American songwriter Jenny Hyun retaliated in-kind to him and tweeted a series of racist tweets decrying Blacks, even calling for the “eradication” of the race. In typical offender reaction, Hyun quickly tweeted an apology after her backlash started, and subsequently privatized her Twitter account.
This is one of those pathetic cases that show that Asians, too, are capable of public racism. Please don’t ever speak on behalf of Asians again, Jenny.
6. John Cho
Despite my earlier gripes about seeing John Cho with bleached hair in “Total Recall,” this year has arguably been a good one for the actor. In addition to the science-fiction action flick, Cho also starred in “American Reunion,” the fourth film in the “American Pie” comedy film franchise. Cho also started appearing regularly on television with his role in the NBC dramedy “Go On.”
With his role in the inevitable blockbuster film “Star Trek into Darkness” coming up in 2013, everything will only continue to surge for Cho well into the New Year!
5. Ann Curry
Very few Asians are quite as visible in the media as news journalist and personality Ann Curry when she co-hosted the “Today” show, a position that half-Japanese Curry once coveted as her dream job. Unfortunately, her lack of chemistry with co-host Matt Lauer and her cold news anchoring personality led to a slip in the show’s ratings — an issue that made NBC network executives push for her demotion and replacement on the show.
The unceremonious manner in how the network handled her firing led to an eruption of controversy with many blaming Lauer for her dismissal. Curry still remains with NBC, and now reports as a “Today” Anchor at Large, as well as serving as an international correspondent for NBC.
4. Cecil Chao Sez-tsung and Gigi Chao
In one of the more interesting news stories to hit Asian pop culture this year, Hong Kong real estate tycoon Cecil Chao Sze-tsung announced a HK$500 million (USD $65 million) “dowry” to any male suitor who would be able to woo his lesbian daughter, Gigi Chao, away from her long-term girlfriend.
Although this news was met with disbelief from the public, Gigi Chao stepped up to her father’s defense, claiming that his “dowry” was meant to protect her from the social stigma that still exists against same-sex couples in Hong Kong. Instead, she actually views his actions as born out of genuine paternal concern, instead of intolerance.
This story drew so much public fascination that a movie based on the situation is actually in development! Currently titled “The Lesbian,” the movie will star actor and funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen, who will allegedly play the father figure in the film. If this movie actually comes to fruition, I’m not going to lie — I would actually see this.
Love it or hate it, reality web series “K-Town” offered one of the most novel ways Asian Americans had yet to be represented in the media space. The show featured an all Asian cast and focused specifically on the Asian American experience. Yes, there is a ton of petty drama — sometimes with an air of forced fabrication — but it’s still a fun, guilty indulgence.
Most importantly, the show is breaking ground by actually showcasing Asians in a less than flattering light. Critics may decry this, but I love it. It gives Asians a more complex and multi-faceted identity in American media, and one that exists beyond the “bookish” model minority stereotype.
2. Mindy Kaling
If there is any Asian who has seen their popularity skyrocket this year, it’s actress and comedienne Mindy Kaling. Kaling, who is Indian American, debuted in “The Mindy Project” this past fall, a quirky sitcom that she created and produced, and now writes and stars in as well. Television enthusiasts may best remember her writing and acting on the mockumentary sitcom “The Office.”
Kaling’s accomplishments this past year are significant as “The Mindy Project” is the first U.S. television show to star a South Asian American lead. Congrats, Mindy. You are seriously killing it!
This will come as no surprise to anyone, but Korean rapper Psy (real name Park Jae-sang) steals the title of top pop culture story of the year — not just among Asians, but also in mainstream American pop culture as well (truly a testament to his world domination).
Psy’s music video “Gangnam Style,” an all-Korean rap song that parodies the trendy elite in the Gangnam district in Seoul, broke records for most-watched YouTube video of all time. Charmed by the iconic horse-riding dance that Psy performs in the video, fans created their own parodies of the video. The collective exposure swept Psy to international attention, allowing the rap star to sing and gallop onto talk, variety, and award shows all around the world.
Psy has also faced backlash in his surge to fame, particularly among Americans. A controversy arose when Americans got wind of Psy’s rap interlude in the Korean rock song “Dear American,” which includes explicit and contentious anti-American lyrics in regards to the Iraq War. Psy has since profusely apologized for the song.
Despite the ebb and flow of Psy’s popularity in both American and international pop culture, he is without a doubt the biggest Asian star to rise in recent years, and his stardom doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. With several public appearances still booked and a new album on the way later this year, Psy will definitely continue to be a major player in the pop culture scene this coming year. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.