By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
This year’s list of the top five winners in pop culture sees an emergence not only of new faces that lit up the entertainment industry this past year, but also of a few older faces that returned after being out of the spotlight for some time.
Meanwhile, the top five losers deserve their titles. Maybe they will think twice about their actions next year.
5. Michelle Yeoh
Returning with a vengeance this past year, Michelle Yeoh made it onto this year’s “winners” list primarily because of her role in the French-English biopic “The Lady,” which focuses on the life of Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. During the shooting of the film, Aung San Suu Kyi, previously under house arrest, was released from her imprisonment. Yeoh and Suu Kyi had the chance to meet. Yeoh, however, was deported from Burma reportedly over her portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi. It just goes to show how badass of an actress Yeoh is — so much that a country has to kick her out for her politically motivated work!
Yeoh’s voice was also featured in the animated family film “Kung Fu Panda 2,” along with those of a bevy of other Asian and Asian American actors. The film was a box office smash both domestically and abroad. Congrats on a solid year, Yeoh. I’m hoping to see more of your stunning work in 2012.
4. Anya Ayoung-Chee
After a history mired in scandal, Anya Ayoung-Chee rose from the ashes of her controversial past to win first place in the fashion design reality show, “Project Runway.” Ayoung-Chee, who is an American of mixed Chinese, Indian, and white descent, is a former Trinidadian beauty queen. Her reputation, however, became tarnished after she and a fellow Miss Universe beauty contestant were caught in a sex tape scandal. Ayoung-Chee’s “Project Runway” win has allowed her to redeem herself to the public, while revealing a new set of skills.
Though some people may only remember Ayoung-Chee for her past, I respect her approach to dealing with the scandal. While other public figures in her position might avoid responsibility or try to deflect attention from it, Ayoung-Chee instead embraced it and actively took control to positively turn her reputation around. You can’t help but admire that.
3. Jon M. Chu
Also making big waves in the film industry this past year is Chinese American director Jon M. Chu. Known for directing major box office hits, such as “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” a documentary of teen pop star Justin Bieber on tour, his success from it locked him in as the director of the 2012 summer flick “G.I. Joe 2.”
And as part of video-sharing website YouTube’s initiative to provide original, television-based programming in 2012, Jon M. Chu will partner up with YouTube stars Kevin Wu and Ryan Higa, as well as Taiwanese American director Justin Lin, to produce online content on everyday life, but from an Asian American perspective.
I like how Chu is expending directorial efforts in both the traditional film medium and online space. Taking advantage of both platforms will serve him well as the entertainment industry continues to change and adapt this next year. I’m excited to see what new projects Chu will be involved with in 2012!
2. Hailee Steinfeld
The talented 15-year-old powerhouse Hailee Steinfeld has had a phenomenal year. Steinfeld, who is of part-Filipina descent, earned her first Academy Award nomination in early 2011 for her supporting role in the Western drama “True Grit.” Off-camera, Steinfeld wowed fashion editorials with her style on the red carpet, so much so that fashion house Miu Miu made her the face of their Autumn/Winter 2011 campaign.
Although the advertising campaign, which depicts Steinfeld sitting on a set of train tracks, raised concern over its encouragement of dangerous teen behavior, the negative news coverage did nothing to bring down Steinfeld’s star power. The girl continues to snag leading roles. In 2012, we will see Steinfeld star in a film remake of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Keep it up, Steinfeld!
1. Ken Jeong
As perhaps one of the most recognized Asian American faces in mainstream entertainment this past year, Ken Jeong skyrocketed in popularity. While many people may know Jeong from his role on the ABC sitcom “Community,” Jeong raked in the laughs for playing the effeminate gangster Leslie Chow in the “The Hangover Part II,” a raunchy, irreverent comedy about three men and their drunken shenanigans.
Jeong also hosted the 2011 Billboard Music Awards in May, an awards show honoring musicians.
Congrats on a successful year, Jeong! May 2012 usher in new opportunities filled with even more outrageous comedy for you to sink your teeth into.
5. Jo Koy
In comedy, there is occasionally a thin line between what is legitimately funny versus what is legitimately offensive.
Earlier this year, Filipino American actor Jo Koy crossed that line when he started spouting homophobic jokes during a standup comedy routine, in which he not only physically exposed himself to the audience but also threw around gay slurs at audience members. Koy is perhaps most recognized for his comedy stints on the weekly late night comedy talk show “Chelsea Lately.”
Although Koy has since apologized for the incident, it remains as one of the lowlights for Asian American entertainers from this past year. Was there even a need to go that far with the comedy routine, Koy?
4. “Akira” casting directors
There is no shortage of Asians actors! But apparently the casting directors for “Akira” think so, as they have made every effort to cast well-known white actors in this Japanese sci-fi film, based on the best-selling Japanese manga of the same name. While well-known white actors, such as Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Kristen Stewart have been approached for roles, why is it the only Asian actor with any known attachment to the film is Ken Watanabe?
This scenario — where Asian actors get shafted for white ones — is not new in American showbiz. But one would hope this would have changed by 2011. I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed for 2012. Casting directors, I wait with bated breath!
3. Vogue magazine in Japan
Hey, editorial team at Vogue in Japan — can you tell me why it was a good idea to use white model Crystal Renn with her eyes taped back into an almond shape for one of your magazine covers?
In a video the publication posted online earlier this year, Renn was filmed in a behind-the-scenes clip getting ready for her fashion spread with the magazine. She was also filmed with her eyes taped back to be more almond-shaped, arguably for the purpose of appearing more Asian. The physical act of taping her eyes back, however, angered fashion bloggers and readers internationally. Many people felt insulted that the magazine editors expected to get away with a stunt like this without repercussions.
Nobody knows what possessed the publication to do the cover, though. I think what makes this incident most annoying is that the magazine could’ve easily used an Asian model if they had wanted to. It’s not like there is a shortage in Japan.
2. John Galliano
Making fun of Asians was definitely on the agenda this past year, and former Christian Dior head designer John Galliano was no exception to the cause. After publicly and drunkenly yelling aggressive anti-Semitic and anti-Asian insults at a Jewish and Asian couple in a Parisian bar, Galliano was immediately fired from his position with Christian Dior and then slapped with a total $8,400 in fines in a trial over the incident.
Although Galliano is remorseful over the incident, I hope he sobers up and thinks twice about what he says in 2012. Being drunk and the head of a big fashion house does not give you all the power in the world.
1. Alexandra Wallace
Remember the chick who ranted in a video blog about how loud Asian students were at a UCLA library? I personally tried to forget her, as she was easily one of the most annoying “losers” of 2011. But, for those who need a refresher, UCLA student Alexandra Wallace tops this year’s “losers” list with her incredibly offensive YouTube video about Asian students at UCLA, complete with her mockingly acting out Asians talking on a cell phone in a stereotypical fashion, “Ohh. Ching chong ling long ting tong.” Someone please tell me what Asian language that is because it certainly isn’t one that I know.
With that said, I hope Wallace has gleaned a lot from this ordeal. Just because one has the right to free speech and access to a webcam doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to broadcast racist thoughts publicly and to, well, not expect any backlash from people. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.