By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
From the Oscars debacle to the presidential election, 2016 was a crazy year in Hollywood and beyond. With 2016 coming to a close, let’s look back on some of the year’s biggest stories and controversies.
10. Tila Tequila becomes a Nazi sympathizer
In 2008, television and social media personality Tila Tequila was wildly popular — she was the most-followed person on the social platform MySpace, had her own reality show on MTV, and was a known fixture in pop culture. In 2016, however, Tequila (whose legal surname is Nguyen) has remained largely irrelevant… that is, until recently. Shortly after President-elect Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Tequila tweeted a photo from the white supremacist National Policy Institute conference, which showed her giving the Nazi salute. For the past few years, Tequila has slowly been promoting herself as a Nazi sympathizer, even going as far as to Photoshop herself in a Nazi uniform and praising Hitler publicly. It’s still unclear whether or not Tequila is doing this for the infamy or because she truly sympathizes with racists… but one thing’s clear. She made herself relevant again in 2016 in the most outlandish way possible.
9. “Ocean’s 8”: Featuring Asian American females
Casting for the heist comedy “Ocean’s 8,” the upcoming installment in the popular “Ocean’s 11” franchise, revealed that its starring all-female cast includes Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina (whose real name is Nora Lum). Best known for acting/writing and rapping/acting pursuits, respectively, these two funny ladies round out a cast that includes Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Rihanna, and more. Although the movie’s plot has been kept under tight wraps, there’s no doubt they’ll both bring chuckles to the silver screen.
8. “Mulan” gets live-action remake
When news broke that the beloved Disney animated film “Mulan” would get a live-action remake, many rejoiced. Then, a spec script for the film was leaked, which revealed that a white male hero would not only be Mulan’s love interest, but is ultimately the one who defeats the enemy of China (for those unfamiliar, the spec script is basically the opposite of the original film in almost every possible way). People were not happy and they protested. After much controversy that dismissed the spec script as “rumors,” Disney issued a public statement that the male lead will in fact be Chinese and that the script is being rewritten. Nice save, Disney.
7. Kelly Marie Tran cast in “Star Wars: Episode VIII”
You know what “Star Wars” is — one of America’s most treasured film franchises — but you probably didn’t recognize Kelly Marie Tran’s name until this year. The Vietnamese American comedian, who is a newcomer with a background in comedy, was cast in the next installment of the “Star Wars” movies. Not much has been revealed about Tran’s role except that it’ll be connected to the main character, Finn. For all the controversy that’s erupted around the lack of Asian American representation in film, it’s a huge win to see Tran cast in a blockbuster franchise like “Star Wars.” Talk about visibility. The film will be out December 2017.
6. “Crazy Rich Asians” in production
Written by author Kevin Kwan, the popular novel “Crazy Rich Asians” was green-lit for a film adaptation this year. “Crazy Rich Asians” is a character-driven story about family and culture, focused on a group of wealthy Chinese families as they prepare for a huge wedding in Singapore. Gossip and hijinks ensue. Director Jon M. Chu, who’s best known for directing projects like the documentary “Justin Bieber’s Believe,” will helm the adaptation. Chu and his production team are currently combing the globe for an all-Asian cast. Kwan will serve as executive producer of the film.
5. Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell”
Although actor Scarlett Johansson has long been cast as The Major — the lead role in the live-action remake of the classic manga and anime “Ghost in the Shell” — the decision to cast Johansson continued to be a hot button topic in 2016. In fact, Johansson has now become the default person to openly mock or reference online when it comes to whitewashed roles (second only to Emma Stone’s character in “Aloha”). With 2016 being the banner year for activists protesting the dearth of roles for Asian American actors, the Johansson casting continues to be a slap in the face. “Ghost in the Shell” will debut in March 2017.
4. Fox News vs. Chinatown
The presidential election dominated news in 2016. And “The O’Reilly Factor,” a news and talk show on Fox News, played into this fact with an outrageously racist segment. Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters hit the streets of New York City’s Chinatown and interviewed Asian American voters on their opinions about the U.S. election. Though it sounds innocent in nature, the segment included stereotypical jokes, caricature graphics, and making fun of people with limited English speaking skills. How is this still OK to broadcast as “news” in 2016?
3. Chris Rock and friends mocked Asians at the Oscars
During this year’s Academy Awards, Black comedian and Oscars host Chris Rock featured a racially insensitive skit about Asians. Featuring three Asian children, Rock’s skit included several jokes on Asian labor and model minorities. Shortly after, actor and Oscar presenter Sacha Baron Cohen took the stage to make jokes about Asian men. Outraged members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences protested the offensive skits through a letter, signed by notable Oscar winners and nominees such as director Ang Lee, and actors George Takei and Sandra Oh, among others.
2. Jennifer Yuh Nelson appointed to Board of Governors
In response to the controversy surrounding the Oscars, the Academy added three new governors — the people that vote for the Oscar winners. Of the three new governors, one includes director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who is of Korean descent. Best-known for her work on the animated movies “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Kung Fu Panda 3,” Yuh Nelson is the first woman to solely direct an animated film from a major Hollywood studio. We’ll have to find out in a few months whether or not Yuh Nelson’s appointment will make a difference in Oscar nominees.
The last two stories lead up to the biggest story and controversy of the year, hands down. For the second year in a row, there were no actors of color nominated for best actor or best actress from the 2016 Academy Awards. This was a major story that was of great importance to not just the Asian American community, but to all communities of color. The oversight saw much protest on social media and remained a hot topic of discussion in the months that followed. So much so that the incident came to influence how the public reacted to script and cast announcements throughout the year (for example, the “Mulan” controversy outlined in No. 8).
Hollywood has heard the feedback loud and clear from Asian Americans — let’s see if anything changes moving forward in 2017.
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.