By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Yo, guys, how do we feel about the word “Oriental”? I know we’ve mostly decided to stop calling human beings this, unless you are like, over 60 years old — then you get a pass, I guess.
But are we still okay with calling rugs and Top Ramen Oriental? Doesn’t that seem weirdly inaccurate and outdated?
Yesterday, I was at Fred Meyer and I saw a bunch of Okinawan potatoes labeled as “Oriental Sweet Potatoes” and it was like, man, that seems unnecessary. I’m not an expert on potatoes, either. I only know that because each potato had a sticker that said, “Okinawa 4038,” 4038 being its item number.
I have to remember that “Murder on the Orient Express” probably isn’t racist.
When previews came out for “Murder on the Orient Express,” and I saw a sea of famous white actors plus uber talented Leslie Odom Jr., I got triggered and was all like, why do people need to make a movie about a racist train?
And then I chilled out and remembered that this movie is an adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, published and set in 1932. The train going from Istanbul to London is the eponymous Orient Express. There isn’t egregious visible cultural appropriation happening. Its greatest racial offense is that it’s a movie about rich, mostly-white people and their murder problems.
So we’re giving this movie a pass. Michelle Pfeiffer also looks so fab in this.
“Blade Runner 2049,” you look so pretty, but you make dystopia seem so scary with the genocides you haven’t given backstory to.
You know how the “Transformers” movies are hard to enjoy because all you can think about is the pointless destruction to infrastructure during epic alien-robot fights that will result in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people even though the Autobots made a grave vow to preserve human life? It’s a logic break that is so distracting that it takes you out of the movie.
There’s something similar happening with “Blade Runner 2049.”
Directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve, set only 32 years from now, “Blade Runner 2049” features a Los Angeles that is weirdly white, boldly going in the face of LA’s current ethnic and racial demographics.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, LA was 48.5 percent Hispanic or Latino, 11.3 percent Asian, 9.6 percent Black or African American, and 28.7 percent Non-Hispanic white. Most people in LA are not white.
I bet in between 2019 (original “Blade Runner” time setting) and 2049, there’s some sort of catastrophic incident that results in the complete erasure of all Latinx, Asian, and Black citizens of LA.
Here’s probably what’s going to happen:
In 2018, there is probably a terrible culture and race war between Latinx, Blacks, and Asians, which results in the complete extermination of Black and Latinx citizens and the freak short-lived victory of Asians — namely the Japanese Americans. I can’t tell you the details of this race war because oracles are imperfect, I only know the winner. (I see that all the buildings in 2049 Los Angeles have Kanji characters scrawled all over them, even though all the English-speaking citizens of 2049 Los Angeles are probably Japanese-illiterate.)
Anyway, so in 2019, the Japanese victors have a solid run of about maybe one year in leadership. They are probably like, “Yeah! We own this city!” as they erect a bunch of Neo-Tokyo-like skyscrapers, lighting them up like Christmas trees before their own hubris leads to their downfall. In 2019, a race of only white humans and replicants rise out of the ashes of these terrible wars, and the events of original “Blade Runner” begin.
After some years toiling in menial work, the Asians of Los Angeles circa 2022 are like, ef this! Let’s move to the suburbs!
Thus begins a mass exodus of Asians out of Los Angeles.
By 2048, most of the Asians live in the Nevada desert, eking out a scavenger’s living so that they can send their kids to good schools.
Save for one survivor. The Asian man who bravely stays behind in Los Angeles to do his art, to do the nails of white women, because sometimes we all just need to feel pretty.
Then the events of “Blade Runner 2049” begin.
I like how instead of casting a bunch of Latinx and other people of color as extras (Extras! I’m not even asking for speaking parts!), the people behind “Blade Runner 2049” would just rather we come up with a crazy backstory to explain what will happen to LA — in a year.
I know some people will be like, “It’s an alternative universe,” or, “Suspend your disbelief a little bit, snowflake,” but I’m like, “Guys, these movies are designed to resonate in our hearts because they purportedly push out these universal human themes — and I’m trying to get there with you — I am. I just get so distracted by the absence of people of color in the future. Like, did we all kill each other? Did YOU kill US? Did we board a spaceship and colonize Mars and that’s where we’re happily and harmoniously living? Why isn’t anyone making a movie about the undoubtedly kickass irrigation system that people of African descent have implemented on Mars’ harsh clime so that its citizens HAVE POTABLE WATER? This is interesting stuff, too! The gift of water!”
Hank Azaria is being a real wuss.
On Nov. 19, comedian Hari Kondabolu hosted a screening of his new documentary, “The Problem with Apu,” at Northwest Film Forum in Seattle. The documentary premiered on truTV.com at the same time.
Kondabolu has legit social justice cred. He previously worked as an immigrant rights organizer in Seattle for Hate Free Zone — which is now called OneAmerica — between 2005 to 2007, and he has a master’s in human rights from the London School of Economics.
“The Problem with Apu” features interviews with South Asian celebrities (Utkarsh Ambudkar, Aziz Ansari) and other celebrities who are people of color (Whoopi Goldberg), sharing their opinions on “The Simpsons” character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a convenience store clerk. “The Simpsons” first aired in 1989, and for years, Apu was the only South Asian character that regularly appeared on TV, thus being the only exposure some people had to Indians. It was and is a portrayal rife with negative stereotypes.
Hank Azaria, who voices Apu and is white, never makes an appearance in Kondabolu’s documentary.
“[Azaria] said that he liked my work and he was very appreciative of the documentary, and he didn’t feel comfortable with me controlling the edit of the film,” Kondabolu told NPR.
Kondabolu offered to do a live interview with Azaria, who initially seemed amenable, but in the end, Azaria backed out. Because it’s hard to do something racist for decades and then get asked to talk about it super duper nicely by a person who’s been affected by the racist portrayal.
“And I still want to have that conversation because the movie is not really an attack on a TV show that I love,” said Kondabolu. “And it’s not an attack on an individual. This is about representation. Who gets to represent us? Who gets to tell our stories? And even something as magical as ‘The Simpsons,’ there’s tons of insidious racism. And that’s not to say I don’t love the thing. You can love something and criticize it.’”
Our Asian overlords are def taking over.
I remember that when I was growing up in the 1990s, stuff that was “Made in Taiwan” or “Made in China” automatically equated to shoddy quality and cancer-causing poison in plastic.
In Vietnam, my parents would constantly slap delicious things out of my hand because they say Vietnamese are unscrupulous and will dump dog poop and ammonia into their ice creams. And I’d be like, “Oh my God, why would anyone do that if they wanted customers? And why does it still taste so delicious?” And my parents were like, “Shut up, you are so American. You will never understand.”
So, the times, they are a-changing. Western-made items are no longer automatically seen as the ideal of quality and safety — statistically.
According to a survey by China Market Research Group, as reported by Business Report, in 2011, 85 percent of Chinese consumers preferred foreign brands. This last year, that preference dropped by a whopping half.
Everyday items such as Vietnamese toothpaste, Indonesian coffee, and Japanese bottled water are picking up market shares in their respective countries, edging out American brands. Nestle’s Asia, Oceania, and Africa revenue fell 23 percent between 2012 and 2016.
There’s this quote in the Business Report story, “Nestle and L’Oreal taking a knock by Asian brands,” that I really love because it reminds me that sometimes when Americans hate on China-made things, it’s emotional, not logical.
This is a quote from Qing Liu, a 47-year-old Chinese engineer. She eschews L’Oreal for Pechoin, a Chinese make-up brand:
“Pechoin is cheaper and safer than other brands,” she said. “I don’t know what kind of things have been added to the global brands’ products, so I’m not sure whether it’s good or safe for my skin.”
Guys, I told you. National treasure Daniel Dae Kim is gonna be alright.
In his first foray as executive producer, Daniel Dae Kim brought “The Good Doctor” to American audiences. And it’s proving to be quite the hit. “The Good Doctor” is the most watched drama on network television, with about 17 million viewers per episode.
The series is written by executive producer David Shore (who brought us “House M.D.”) and adapted from the South Korean series of the same name. Both series center around a doctor character who is an autistic savant and explores the challenges he faces in his work.
Speaking to IndieWire, Daniel Dae Kim had this to say about it, “[Autism is] something that affects actually so many Americans and actually per capita wise, it actually affects more Koreans. It seems to be a global phenomenon. My company has always been interested in telling the stories of people we haven’t heard from before. Even though this is about specifically autism and savant syndrome, the themes of feeling marginalized and feeling excluded, even though you have something to offer, is something that resonates with me very personally.”
In an interesting bit of timeliness, on Sept. 14, a Korean American husband and wife duo, Jun-ryeol Huh, Harvard Medical School faculty member and former assistant professor at UMass Medical School, and Gloria Choi, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, published two research studies in science journal, “Nature,” about their discovery explaining a link between autism and severe infection during pregnancy, which may be key in reducing instances of autism in the future.
Waris Ahluwalia and Joshua Jackson low-key bro across India for elephants.
Waris Ahluwalia is a Sikh American (born to Indian immigrants), a fashion designer, a former Gap model, and also an activist. For the past 10 years, he’s been a supporter of nonprofit Elephant Family, an organization that protects Asian elephants and their habitats.
Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5, Ahluwalia trekked from Jodhpur to Jaipur — in between: 300 miles of rural India. Joining him for part of the trip was “Fringe” actor Joshua Jackson (Pacey forever!).
Ahluwalia, Jackson, and Ahluwalia’s team stopped at local schools and villages to inform and educate students and villagers about conservation.
To NBC News, Ahluwalia stated, “These issues of conservation are not just about saving the elephant. They’re wrapped up in social justice. They’re wrapped up in human rights. … It has to be compassion for everyone. You have to understand where that villager is coming from and how we can help them solve their problem as well.”
Another aspect of the trek was raising awareness. You can see artful photos of these two posing with elephants and photos from their road trip on Instagram at @houseofwaris and @vancityjax. This is the kind of thing I would normally poke fun at — just lightly — but then I got too distracted by the arresting beauty in these pictures. Joshua Jackson seems like he’s going through something — like some sort of life event — doesn’t he? Aw.
Nadiya Hussain would totally be my best friend if only she knew I existed and was exposed to my wonderful personality.
Over the holiday, I binged “The Big Family Cooking Showdown,” which is a BBC Two reality cooking show that aired last month. It is co-hosted by “Great British Bake Off” alum and winner Nadiya Hussain.
Nadiya is Bangladeshi, Muslim, British, and arguably the most successful winner of “Bake Off.”
I’ve been following her career kinda avidly ever since she won “Bake Off” in 2015 because charisma just oozes out of this lady’s microscopic pores.
I creepily know a lot of stuff about her and she knows nothing about me. Like, I know that her marriage to her husband, Abdal, was an arranged one, and they seem really happy. He works in IT. The Hussains have three kids, and they renewed their vows just last summer.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Cirrus Cooke says
Dear NW Asian Weekly,
Regarding the “all things asian-y” article (the author’s phrase, not mine);
The Kanji that appears in Blade Runner could be Japanese, as the writer assumes – though being that Kanji means “Chinese characters” it could also be from China, the most populous nation in the history of the planet – if the writer of the article wishes to imply that the use of Chinese characters means a future without Asians – its a bit of a stretch.
I have not seen the sequel except for the trailer and in the trailer the only writing that appears is in Korean (not Japanese, not English.) Does that imply a future without Asians? I am not so sure of that. In fact the vision of Ridley Scott in the first Blade Runner was of a very multi-ethnic Los Angeles where even the language being used in the city had become an amulgamation of different languages (hence the character played by James Edward Olmos speaks in “CitySpeak” a blend of different languages.) Furthermore the women appearing on the blimps in the original Blade Runner were clearly not Japanese, but looked Chinese including their outfits and the Kanji used was not accompanied by any clearly Japanese Hiragana or Katakana – it could have been either Japanese or Chinese – one doesn’t need to know that to write for the NW Asian Weekly – but one shouldn’t write about what one doesn’t really understand – nor make bold conjectures without any basis.
I don’t even know if the article would be an appropriate Facebook post as one might have Japanese or Chinese friends who would clearly understand the problems with such assertions. In fact if anything the use of Chinese characters implies that the future will not be all-white – though sadly the casting department doesn’t quite follow along with that. (That the oppurtunity to cast Harrison Ford in the original was taken is not surprising though – he was in the middle of the original Star Wars films and was immensely popular. Hollywood – like a lot of things – operates on what is popular – what will draw in profits – and at that time Mr. Ford was a good bet. The role of James Edward Olmos – no not an Asian, but neither is he white – was a classic – highly memorable – as well the Chinese eye doctor’s role – no they weren’t the stars of the film, not every film is a perfect rainbow coalition of ethnicities – but neither is it as deserving of critique as say Matt Damon in Zhang Yimou’s film. It is what it is and the writer might have plenty to critique if the actors were in fact Asian – as the actors are playing the role of non-humans pretending to be human – the “replicants” that dominate the film. In fact all of the main cast in the first one could be argued are replicants and not real humans. More films with Asian actors are needed but it shouldn’t be a requirement that each and every film have an Asian actor – it is an industry problem not specific to this film – nor does this film seem to be particularly offensive – as say the racist portrayals and superficial treatment of Asians in the Scarlet Johansen film ‘Lucy’ – where they are expendable stereotype cut-outs.) The use of Chinese writing – Chinese characters – again, hardly seems to back up the article’s assertion that the future is a future without Asians – but, yes, more Science Fiction should include more Asians – though, often, Sci-Fi has been ahead of the game (and not just with Sulu.)
Finally – it is a fictional movie – at best a prediction of the future (a bleak prediction not a hopeful one.a bleak vision where progressive politics has not won out – it is a vision of Dystopia, not Utopia.) An argument that there is not enough Asian actors in Hollywood is not only an accurate one, but an important one. This review, unfortunately, is all-over-the-place and does not make a whole lot of sense – it reads as a rambling diatribe full of holes and also reeks of a first draft with not a lot of thought put into it nor much background knowledge on the part of the author. In fact the author seems to be practicing exactly what she is attempting to criticize – a superficial un-informed view of what is and isn’t Asian.
All apologies, but if we want to improve the dialogue… we need to improve the dialogue.
Former resident of South Korea (1 year) and Japan (4 years) and the International District (on and off for 20 years.)