By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Top 5 A-pop hall of famers
I bet you’re wondering how I picked the Hall of Famers.
Really scientifically and through a rigorous point system.
No, I’m just playing. It’s very biased and based on faulty intuition and logic. I chose people who I thought made a big and broad impact on the entertainment industry, who are poised to grow their influence in 2018.
Broad impact is key here, because while there are young up-and-comers who have really ardent fans who are vocal, I had to keep in mind that a lot of the enthusiasm is fairly narrow — confined to one role or one medium — social media.
5. Ali Wong
Ali Wong is a team-player that is poised to breakout as a lead star, I think. She’s seen increasing success since her stand-up special, “Baby Cobra,” in which she performed while super pregnant. Formerly, she was behind the camera as a writer on “Fresh Off the Boat.” Currently, she has a regular supporting role on ABC’s “American Housewife.”
Wong is slated to appear alongside Randall Park in an untitled Netflix rom-com. She has another stand-up special coming out later this year.
4. Daniel Dae Kim
In 2017, Daniel Dae Kim walked off his lucrative day job because he had principles and was fed up with making 10 to 15 percent less than his white coworkers, stepped into the role of Ben Daimio, who is Japanese American, in the “Hellboy” reboot (due out in 2019), and brought an adaption of Korean drama “Good Doctor” to American audiences; the American series is a breakout hit.
Daniel Dae Kim has a career spanning more than 25 years working in an industry that has been pretty inhospitable to Asians. I keep saying his entire name every time I refer to him because that’s how much respect this man should be afforded.
3. Constance Wu
Constance Wu is currently in a number of high-profile projects and has gotten a lot of buzz in the press. She plays the matriarch in ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” a sitcom with an all-Asian main cast — the first of its kind in 20 years since Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” (1994). “Fresh Off the Boat” is now in its fourth season. (Noteworthy: “Fresh Off the Boat” is an adaptation of Eddie Huang’s memoir and created by Nahnatchka Khan, who is second gen Iranian.)
Wu is also the lead in the upcoming “Crazy Rich Asians,” a movie adaption of Kevin Kwan’s super popular 2013 novel of the same name, based on Asians who are, you guessed it, rich AF. “Crazy Rich Asians” will get a worldwide release and is directed by powerhouse director of popcorn flicks, Jon M. Chu. I’m saying that this movie isn’t being set up as an indie darling. It’s gonna be like “Sweet Home Alabama”! But set in Singapore.
2. Mindy Kaling
This year, Mindy Kaling completed the run of her TV show, “The Mindy Project,” which aired its finale on Hulu on Nov. 14, 2017 after six seasons. “The Mindy Project,” a rom-com about an OB/GYN who wants to have it all (career, husband, kids), was created by, written by, and starred Kaling.
Kaling currently has another show in the works, “Champions,” about a gym owner who struggles to grow up, until his son shows up at his door. Kaling serves as executive producer and also occasional guest star. She’s too busy to star in a TV vehicle full-time because she is in huge movies, y’all.
In 2018, you can see her in Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava DuVernay and also starring Oprah and Reese Witherspoon. Kaling will also be in “Ocean’s 8,” an all-female kinda-reboot of the “Ocean’s” heist movie franchise.
Good God, this woman has so much money.
1. Riz Ahmed aka Riz MC
Riz Ahmed goes by two names, depending on whether he’s being talked about as an actor or a rapper and half of the duo, “Swet Shop Boys.” He is sooo multi-talented.
Ahmed is a man who started his career just murdering people in underground rap battles and is currently walking around so white-people legit, having won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie, for “The Night Of” (2017). Besides acting in critically acclaimed indie films, Riz will soon take a blockbuster turn in “Venom,” a “Spider-Man” spin-off starring Tom Hardy as famed Peter Parker antagonist, Eddie Brock.
I don’t know what role Ahmed is inhabiting because the internet won’t tell me, ‘cause it’s all apparently super secret, but I’m just excited to watch Ahmed beat people half to death on-screen.
Oh, and Ahmed was also in “Rogue One.” I don’t care that much about the “Star Wars” franchise, but I know you do. So that’s why it gets a mention.
Hall of fame honorable mentions: Justin Lin and Dwayne Johnson
Johnson’s mom hails from Samoan chiefs and his dad is a famous Black Nova Scotian wrestler. Johnson’s filmography is so lengthy that it has its own Wikipedia page. I couldn’t include him in the top five because it’s such low-hanging fruit, and he’s more API-adjacent than he is full-on API, but really, what makes up someone’s identity anyway?
This year, the Rock was in “Baywatch” and “Jumanji” and “The Fate of the Furious.” He will soon team up with OG “Furious” director Justin Lin, for the ninth and tenth films in the franchise. They are both also super rich.
Top 5 A-pop hall of shamers
I know what you’re really here for. It’s for the shame. Let’s go!
5. United Airlines
Dr. David Dao unwittingly became a viral star when he was filmed by a fellow passenger being forcibly dragged from a United Airlines flight headed to Louisville on April 9, 2017. The flight was overbooked — no one volunteered to get off the plane — so United staff called law enforcement and started picking people off, Hunger Games-style.
Dao refused to go quietly into the night. For his troubles, he suffered blood down his face, missing teeth, and a concussion. In a bizarrely self-destructive decision, United victim-blamed publicly and said that Dao kinda deserved it because he was belligerent. Dao also learned — the hard way — that it’s not easy being a Snapchat star. A bunch of dirty laundry about his past was written about in the press, which basically taught me that only saints deserve empathy when they get punched in the face and dragged off of planes.
Weeks later though, Dao received hush money from United, aka a settlement. The sum was undisclosed, but I bet it qualified as “handsome.”
4. George Takei
Northwest Asian Weekly has been covering George Takei since its inception. In the past, he was referred to as Hikaru Sulu, then an outspoken champion against our history of Japanese incarceration during World War II. The Weekly also covered his wedding to his husband, Brad Takei, and his LGBTQ activism.
So it’s pretty sad to witness Takei being accused of sexual assault by former model and actor Scott R. Brunton, an event that Brunton says took place in 1981.
Brunton was 23 at the time of the alleged incident.
Takei denies the allegation, but he can’t seem to do so very elegantly. In October (right before the assault accusation), Takei was on Howard Stern’s radio show basically stating that it was no big deal to grab people who are afraid or skittish by the genitals.
Takei later backtracked and said his comments were taken out of context and he was joking on the show, but I listened to the clip and all I heard was Stern actually trying to give Takei so many opportunities to give himself an out, and Takei just burying himself and saying that what he did wasn’t about “power” (therefore it was not in the dicey realm of assault or harassment).
And then on Twitter, Takei blamed Russian bots for the traction Brunton’s story gained. He said Putin hates him because he heroically criticized Putin’s LGBT policies — but George will not be cowed.
To be clear, Takei is not on this list just because of the assault allegation. He’s on this list because he was accused and then tried to shift the blame to Russian internet robots, because that’s a sensitive way to respond to assault allegations.
3. Athletes who get so passionate during sporting events that their passion spills forth in chink-eye gestures
Man, I get it. Competition and testosterone are heady and intense and when you go full man-mode, you just can’t be culpable for what happens. I know that when I’m balling so hard and someone fouls me, I also just lose my mind when the Asian ref totally makes an asinine call. My first instinct is also to pull my eyes back with my fingers so that the ref knows exactly what I don’t like about him.
Just kidding. I don’t know what that’s like at all, but it is kind of an epidemic, not just this year, but all the time. Just imagine how hard it is to be Jeremy Lin sometimes.
I wrote about Guilherme Clezar and Robert Kenedy Nunes Nascimento a few months ago. They were upset about something while performing their professional duties and showed their displeasure with a gesture that every Asian knows if they were ever school-aged and went to an elementary with more than five non-Asian kids. It’s possible that being a professional athlete is one of the rare jobs in the world where you can racistly be a total dick to someone and then maybe have a whole arena clap for you.
Also semi-recently, Astros’ first baseman Yuli Gurriel was suspended five 2018 games for doing the chink-eye gesture at the Yankees’ Yu Darvish, who is ethnically Japanese and Iranian. To be fair, Gurriel did try to apologize to Darvish really soon after the game. But Darvish was like, nah man, it’s okay. It doesn’t bother me. And I totally don’t want to have a conversation with you.
Darvish said it through his interpreter. And I editorialized a little bit.
Do you think that was a burn? Was that a really awesome, classy snub?
2. Cultural misappropriation
Cultural appropriation is often inevitable and sometimes even very positive. It’s how a subset of Asians got really, really good at breakdancing.
Other times though, it is pretty gross — usually when the looming white culture in power tries to adopt some cultural practice that they think is cute and quirky and then in turn, make it into some monstrosity that deeply influences what we see as societal norms and archetypes. I think this is why Blackface is still in the top 10 of Halloween costumes for the 20-something crowd.
This year, we learned that C.B. Cebulski, Marvel’s new editor-in-chief who is white, wrote under the pseudonym Akira Yoshida in 2005 and 2006. He tried to hide this for a long time until he was caught. When he was caught, he tried to say it was no big deal and forgot to talk about how he exploited diversity to further his career. Go figure.
This year, we also had to deal with watching a white guy be really bad at martial arts and spout made-up Asian-y wisdom in “Iron Fist” and “The Defenders.”
(Infamously, there’s a clip out there of a 35-second fight scene that required a frantic 56 cuts to disguise actor Finn Jones’ lack of training). People keep telling me it’s not misappropriation because Iron Fist was a real Marvel superhero.
Guys, you are ridic. Also see: Shang-Chi.
Whitewashing is a natural extension of cultural misappropriation. I like to think that it’s when cultural misappropriation goes hard and really wants to get an A-plus on its report card.
Whitewashing is when you take a character that definitely is or telegraphs strongly as “Asian” and you make that person lily white because you want to make more money. Whitewashing is not always simple and the perpetrators are not always obvious. Sometimes people like to blame the Chinese or the Japanese for the whitewashing that happens because those global markets are so white-supreme-y. I think that’s problematic — to simply blame the Japanese and Chinese because we don’t want to look inside ourselves and see how we are more than complicit.
Like, I don’t think a powerful Chinese person (a man, obviously I meant a man) ever held a gun against Matt Damon’s head and was like, “You have to save the Great Wall, Matt!” I don’t think a Japanese man ever did the same to Tom Cruise back in 2003 and was like, “You are the last Samurai, Tom!”
A lot of assumptions we make are kind of faulty and based on marketing and hundreds of years of societal norms in which one race tends to rise above all the rest, and I drive a Honda because I was told that the fact of the matter is that it’s the best, most reliable, and safest car on the market — ever. You know what I mean?
Hall of shame honorable mention: Airbnb host who told her Asian American guest to GTFO
Guys, remember when, earlier this year, Tami Barker, Airbnb host extraordinaire, found out that the woman renting her cabin was pigmented?
Barker cancelled the reservation and was like, “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person on earth. One word says it all. Asian,” and she was also like, “It’s why we have Trump. I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”
For her forthrightness, Barker had to pay $5,000 in damages for racial discrimination and take a college-level course in Asian American studies.
You know what is crazy? Barker was a teacher. An English language teacher at Mt. San Jacinto College through spring 2017! This goes to show that sometimes people tasked with helping immigrants in this country have pretty insidious viewpoints lurking underneath the helpful demeanor they show to the rest of the world.
Happy New Year!
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.