By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
With May underway, spring has officially sprung! And so has news for all of our Asian friends in the media. From controversial band names to casting news, see what’s happened during the last month with pop culture.
“The Slants” lose their appeal to register band name
Simon Tam, founder and bassist of a Portland, Ore.-based Asian American dance rock band named The Slants, recently filed an application to register the mark “The Slants”.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in the Federal District rejected his application, upholding a US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision that the name could not be trademarked since the name refers to a racial slur that the greater society would find disparaging. Evidence, such as organizations refusing to do business with the band due to their objection of the “offensive and racist” name, were brought up in court against Tam’s application.
In previous interviews about the band, which were used as material for consideration in the appeal, Tam has stated: “I was trying to think of things that people associate with Asians. Obviously one of the first things people say is that we have slanted eyes.”
This is an important point for Tam: He is arguing that the use of “slants” was meant to be a subversive re-appropriation of the derogatory term, and part of a larger project for the group to “take ownership” of anti-Asian stereotypes. Rejection of the band name, Tam claims, is a violation of his First Amendment rights of freedom and speech.
With documents that support his band’s name, including letters vouching for its use from Asian American leaders, Tam went on to argue that the Patent and Trademark office has purposely discovered ways to find the slur offensive. He details this struggle in an article with the Oregon Live:
“‘The Patent and Trademark office has created a composite that finds the name offensive, but we can’t find an actual Asian who is offended,’ he said. ‘This is so much bigger than just our band—this law disproportionately affects minorities.’”
This issue was brought up to spotlight a law that Tam believes needs updating. By disproportionately using this law against minorities versus non-minority applicants, there has been an uptick in excessive vagueness in determining what is “too offensive” to register as a mark.
In the same Oregon Live article, Tam went on to say: “‘I’m definitely disappointed, but not completely surprised since we have been fighting this thing for so long. … We’re going to exhaust every available option to fight this thing.’”
With the recent trend of Asian slurs serving as the namesake for television shows and band names, there is a growing trend of Asian Americans reclaiming epithets to, as Tam previously mentioned, take control and ownership of Asian stereotypes and images. We’ve seen this recently with celebrity chef and author Eddie Huang’s sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” which originally drew criticism from television executives and the public for its controversial name.
But like Tam, Huang fought to keep the show’s name as homage to his roots and reflective of his experiences of growing up in an immigrant family. Previously used in a derogatory manner, here, Huang celebrates and repurposes the phrase “fresh off the boat”, much like Tam hopes to do with “The Slants”.
As Asian Americans begin to dominate more of the arts and entertainment scene, will this be a continuing trend that we continue to see among artists and creatives? I am curious to see how this will redirect the conversation for Asians about the mainstream use of Asian slurs as a way of asserting identity.
Recent casting and directing news
Actress Olivia Munn was casted in the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse” film as Psylocke, a telepathic, psychic character. Munn, who is of Chinese descent, is best known for her television journalism career before delving into acting aspirations, such as her role in the political drama “The Newsroom”. Psylocke is a fan-favorite character, which means Munn will have big shoes to fill once she takes on this role!
Meanwhile, director Cary Fukunaga will team up with the screenwriters from the critically acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain” film to create a movie based on the lives of Joe and Jadin Bell—a son and father who were known for their plight and eventual suicide from gay bullying and fight against anti-bullying respectively. Fukunaga, who is of Japanese descent, is known for his directing work on the popular HBO drama-mystery series “True Detective”. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.