By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
There is an idiom about March that says it “comes in like a lion and [goes] out like a lamb.” While this refers to the weather, the expression is also relevant to the state of affairs in Hollywood — March started with a bang and ended on a cool and relaxed note. Read on to learn more about the lows and highs in pop culture last month.
Oscar drama over offensive Asian jokes continues
If you thought the Oscars were over, think again. As a refresher, controversy erupted at this year’s Oscars when host Chris Rock included a racially insensitive skit which featured three Asian American children on stage as accountants.
The skit was a veiled dig at the stereotype about how Asians are great at math. A following joke by presenter and actor Sacha Baron Cohen (while in character as comedy persona Ali G) made fun of stereotypes directed at Asian men.
Outraged by the jokes, 25 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Asian descent sent a letter to the organization’s president, protesting the “tasteless and offensive skits” about Asians. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
“In light of criticism over #OscarsSoWhite, we were hopeful that the telecast would provide the Academy a way forward and the chance to present a spectacular example of inclusion and diversity. Instead, the Oscars show was marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians.” The letter was signed by notable Oscar winners, nominees, and Hollywood luminaries, including Ang Lee, George Takei, Sandra Oh, and more.
Shortly after, a spokesperson for the Academy issued this lukewarm statement: “The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive. We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive.”
It’s basically the type of bland declaration that shows you’ve acknowledged the complaint, but without the commitment of actually needing to affect change. More ire came from this response, resulting in Academy leadership announcing that they would meet with the signees of the original letter.
Since this announcement, the Academy has added three new governors (the people that vote for the Oscar winners) to its 51-member board and appointed six members of color to other leadership positions. Voting rights were also revised in hopes of improving membership diversity. One of the new governors includes “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who is of Korean descent. Yuh Nelson is the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio.
The Academy’s meeting with the letter’s signees was slated to happen in early April. As of this writing, there are no updates yet on the meeting.
Television and film castings
A new teen drama titled “Riverdale,” a live-action take on the classic “Archie” comic book series, has cast Asian American actors Ross Butler and Daniel Yang as iconic characters on the show. The one-hour drama is set in present day and follows Archie and his friends as they explore “the surrealism of small town life — the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale’s wholesome façade.” It’s certainly a different take from the usual wholesomeness that the “Archie” comics are known for.
Butler is cast as Archie’s wealthy and obnoxious rival Reggie Mantle. Butler is best known for his roles on Disney Channel television series and original movies, including the teen sitcom “K.C. Undercover.” Yang, whose character is described as the smartest teenager in town, will play Dilton Doiley — an acquaintance of Archie’s. Traditionally, the characters of Reggie and Dilton have been depicted as white males, so the Asian casting of both roles is an interesting and welcome choice.
From the high school characters to plotlines centered on the underbelly of suburban life, there’s something about this show that reminds me of the cult television classic “Veronica Mars.” If “Riverdale” resembles the addictive mystery of “Veronica Mars,” I’ll definitely be tuning in.
CBS has announced production on a new drama called “MacGyver” — a reimagining of the classic 1980s action and adventure series by the same name. The reboot centers on a young 20-something named Angus MacGyver who has a knack for solving problems in unusual ways. Actor Michelle Krusiec has been cast as a character named Agent Croix, who works for the Department of Homeland Security. Krusiec is best known for her role in the indie drama “Saving Face” — a coming-of-age story about a young Chinese American lesbian — and has had notable recurring roles in several popular television shows.
Steven Yeun, who plays fan favorite character Glenn on AMC’s zombie drama “The Walking Dead,” has signed on to star in the indie action thriller “Mayhem.” According to an online article from “Variety,” the movie tells the story of a virus that is “capable of making people act out their wildest impulses.” As the film’s hero, Yeun’s character will have to fight for his life. If there’s any actor who has experience portraying characters fighting for survival, it’s Yeun. Filming for the movie began in late March.
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.