By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Summer is out and fall is in! But before we usher in the new season, let’s take a moment to reflect on all that has happened in the pop culture world this past month, as well as prepare ourselves for what’s ahead this autumn.
The end of an era
Famed Japanese Academy Award-winning director and animator Hayao Miyazaki recently announced that he would soon retire. His decision to retire coincides with the release of his final animated film “The Wind Rises,” which has premiered at film festivals around the world as well as Japanese movie theaters.
Miyazaki, who has become synonymous with the Japanese anime industry, is best known for the acclaimed movies “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away,” and countless other films.
Anime fans maybe remember that Miyazaki previously cried wolf about his retirement, but in a recent streaming interview in Tokyo, he clarified his decision to retire: “I know I’ve mentioned [my retirement] many times in the past, so I know that many of you might think, oh [he’s just saying that] again. This time is for real.”
He went on to cite his deteriorating eyesight, his need to rest, and a desire to pursue projects outside of animation as reasons behind his retirement.
Incidentally, “The Wind Rises” is already considered to be a potential top contender in this year’s lineup of animated films at the Academy Awards. To further boost its chances for Oscar consideration, the film will see limited release in New York and Los Angeles later this autumn. (American audiences can expect to see “The Wind Rises” out in February 2014.) But will Miyazaki’s upcoming retirement play a definitive role in his film’s fate at the Oscars? My guess is yes.
We’ll have to wait until early 2014 to find out for sure though!
Asians still look alike — even in the digital age
If there’s one industry that doesn’t see enough exposure in this column, it’s the high tech world.
A scandalous divorce and new romance sprawled out of Silicon Valley this last month, involving Google cofounder Sergey Brin, his soon-to-be former wife Anne Wojcicki, and Google Glass marketing manager Amanda Rosenberg. Word on the street is that the former power couple split up after six years of marriage when Brin began a new relationship with Rosenberg.
Rosenberg, who is of Asian descent, has had her picture plastered all over the media. She even has personal photos available on her Google+ page. And yet, the celebrity magazine “People” apparently couldn’t be bothered to verify the photo of Rosenberg that fell into their possession since their feature story of the love triangle pictured an Asian girl sporting a pair of Google Glass that was misidentified as Rosenberg. Because — and let’s all say it together now — people still sometimes think all Asians look alike!
I suppose Rosenberg and the misidentified Asian girl do have two things in common: They’re Asian women, and they’re both wearing Google Glass. But… that’s where the similarities stop.
Considering how high profile this love triangle is, as well as the sheer amount of resources available at the magazine’s disposal, “People” could’ve easily avoided this major oversight and public embarrassment if one or two people had done some proper fact checking. The ironic thing is that anyone at the publication could’ve easily Googled Rosenberg’s photo in seconds. How about some simple fact checking next time, guys?
Fall debuts: New television shows with Asians in lead roles
Is everyone ready for the new TV shows to debut this fall? This season sees the launch of several new television series showcasing Asian actors in a range of diverse roles.
One of the season’s hottest new shows, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” features Chinese American actress Ming-Na Wen as an agent who’s kicking ass and taking names. Ming-Na is most recognized as the voice of the titular character in the Disney animated film “Mulan,” as well as playing one of the leads on the former NBC medical drama series “ER”.
Korean American actor Aaron Yoo will have a lead role on The CW science fiction television series “The Tomorrow People,” which is a remake of a British show of the same name. The show follows a group of young people who suddenly develop superpowers as a result of human evolution. Yoo’s popular film work includes roles in the heist drama “21,” as well as the 2009 reboot of the slasher film “Friday the 13th”.
John Cho will star in a new mystery-adventure drama that is considered a modern-day retelling of the classic short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by author Washington Irving. Cho, who is Korean American, has graced small and silver screens with his notable roles in the short-lived sitcom “Go On,” as well as lead characters in the “Star Trek” and “Harold and Kumar” movie franchises.
Meanwhile, the highly anticipated ABC sitcom “Super Fun Night” will include actress Liza Lapira showcasing her comedy chops in a leading role. Lapira is of Chinese and Filipino descent, and is recognizable for her roles in short-lived sitcoms, as well as a role in “21” along with Yoo. “Super Fun Night,” which is produced by television host and funnyman Conan O’Brien, follows a trio of single girlfriends as they embark on a quest to make every Friday night “super fun” and memorable.
Lastly, the FOX sitcom “Dads” features two Asian American actresses as leads: Brenda Song, who has starred in several Disney Channel sitcoms and movies, as well as American television host and personality Vanessa Lachey. The show centers on two video game developers whose lives become uprooted when their fathers move in with them. Song is of Hmong and Thai heritage while Lachey is part-Filipino.
However, “Dads” has already generated controversy when a pilot was sent out to TV executives a few months ago that showcased Song in questionably racist and sexist attire (think Song appearing in a skimpy “Sailor Moon” outfit as a white male ogles her). If this joke is an indication of the racist and lowbrow humor that viewers can expect to see moving forward, then it’s safe to say that “Dads” will not survive long term. I’m interested to see how the show handles its characters and jokes moving forward — for better or for worse.
Highs and lows for the new Miss America
The recent crowning of Miss New York Nina Davuluri of Syracuse, N.Y. gave reason for celebration during this past weekend’s 2014 Miss America pageant.
In addition to her crowning, Miss California Crystal Lee came in as first runner-up, while Miss Minnesota Rebecca Yeh clocked in as the fourth runner-up. It was a big night for these ladies. When was the last time you saw so many Asian Americans in Miss America’s winner circle?
Before the winner was announced between Davuluri and Lee, Davuluri remarked to the audience, “We’re both so proud. We’re making history right here, standing here as Asian Americans.” And indeed Davuluri was right.
Predictably, other Americans thought differently about Davuluri’s win, and blasted Twitter with their outrage over the crowning. Amusingly, some of Davuluri’s detractors started their tweets by claiming, “I’m not racist. But…” Here’s a tip for such people: If you’re denying someone their birthright based on their skin color or heritage, then yeah, you might actually be kind of racist.
To contrast Davuluri’s image, some haters even reposted an image of Miss Kansas Theresa Vail on Twitter as their ideal Miss America. Vail generated a lot of buzz before the pageant for her pageant platform of breaking women’s stereotypes, as she is a sergeant in the Kansas Army National Guard. What is immediately noticeable about Vail on first glance, however, is that she is also white and blonde.
Let’s take a moment to consider why some people believe that Vail is legitimately more American than Davuluri. Is it because Vail is blonde? Is it because she is white? Let me be clear: This is not to devalue Vail’s worthiness for the crown either. This is simply a critical examination into the outdated tenets that some Americans hold when it comes to “real” and “ideal” standards of American beauty — it is an image that still ostracizes people who are not white. Because you can only be American (and beautiful, in this context) if you’re white. Apparently.
But Davuluri knows better than to let her critics get to her. In response to all the racist remarks, she said, “I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.” And it’s true — Davuluri does have to rise above the criticism because she has bigger fish to fry during her tenure. This is not the last conflict Davuluri will face as queen, but whatever comes her way next, she’ll be kicking ass and taking names as the new Miss America — and yes, all while being fabulously Indian American. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.