Paramount offers apology for racism in “The Goods”

Sometimes, protesting works. It took about a week of buzz on the blogosphere to get the attention of Paramount Studios for the obnoxious racism disguised as satire in the trailer for the comedy starring Jeremy Piven, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.”

The scene shows car salesmen worked up by the thought of Pearl Harbor being attacked by the Japanese and chanting “never again,” until they all pounce on an Asian character in the film. Piven’s character then tries to make light of the hate crime by trying to blame the Asian.

It’s a clumsy reprise of anti-Japanese sentiment from 70 years ago, with a scary flashback of the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death by two Detroit autoworkers who thought he was Japanese (he wasn’t) and somehow directly responsible for them losing their jobs.

Well, enough outrage over this scene built thanks to coverage from Asian American blogs including Minority Militant, Angry Asian Man and 8Asians, that the JACL released a statement expressing outrage a couple of days ago, and several national organizations announced a protest yesterday. (There were also letters of protest sent around by individuals like actor Ken Narasaki and Soji Kashiwagi.)

The protest was held yesterday, and though I haven’t noticed if national mainstream media had picked up on the issue, Paramount has heeded the protest. A little while ago, I received this email from JACL:

PARAMOUNT APOLOGISES TO THE JACL

Los Angeles — The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the nation’s largest and oldest Asian American civil rights and community advocacy organization, welcomed Paramount Pictures’ apology for “racially demeaning language” in its recently released film, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.

Adam Goodman, President and CEO of Paramount, emailed the apology to National Executive Director and CEO of the JACL, Floyd Mori, on the afternoon of August 21, just prior to a protest that was planned by Guy Aoki, head and co-founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). Mori and Craig Ishii, JACL Regional Director, and other JACL members and staff participated in the protest. The JACL had expressed its disapproval of the film and the widespread marketing effort in trailers that used an objectionable scene with racial slurs and a feeble attempt to depict a hate crime as comical. The JACL had requested the apology.

Goodman stated in his email: “On behalf of the studio, I want to extend our sincerest apologies to the Japanese American Citizens League and the greater Asian American community for the racially demeaning language used in the scenes depicted in the film.” He further explained that the marketing tools in question had been pulled, and he went on to invite the JACL and other leaders in the Asian American community to a continuing dialog on the issue.

Mori welcomed the apology and stated: “We are encouraged that Paramount recognized its error in using a racial slur and violence against Asian Americans as comedy. We find nothing funny about racial slurs nor do we see the comedy in using a well known hate crime as so called satire. We are heartened by Mr. Goodman’s invitation to meet with Asian American leaders to discuss the use of racial slurs against Asian Americans, which perpetuates a dangerous message to the younger generation in this country. This movie indicates that there is an ongoing need for groups such as the JACL to be vigilant in the fight against discrimination. We look forward to this discussion with the movie industry.”

The scene to which the JACL had objected has a sales manager cheering, “Don’t get me started on Pearl Harbor-the J___ flying in low and fast. We are the Americans, and they are the enemy! Never again!” This is followed by the group of sales personnel mobbing and beating up the lone Asian American salesman. There is recognition that a “hate crime” has been committed and then a following attempt to cover up the crime. Many would recognize the similarity of this incident to an actual hate crime against Vincent Chin, who was killed 20 years ago in Detroit by out of work autoworkers who blamed Japanese auto companies for their troubles and took it out on an innocent man whom they mistakenly thought was of Japanese descent.

Some of the other groups that issued statements joining the JACL in their objection to the racial depictions in the movie are The Anti Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the OCA.

Now, the movie’s already open and the scene is still in the movie. But apparently the trailer will be edited so this scene is cut (it’s still included in the YouTube version I embedded in my earlier post). And more important, the studio hopefully will have a better awareness and sensitivity in the future toward scenes such as this.

It’s not a great victory, but I’ll take it. Paramount at least had the class to make a REAL apology not one of those “we’re sorry you were offended” non-apology apologies.

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14 Responses to Paramount offers apology for racism in “The Goods”

  1. darleene says:

    Hey, at least there’s that!

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hey Darleene, yeah, it’s a start.

  3. Diamondswamp says:

    Gil,

    A sincere apology? I don’t buy it. Why an email? That’s not even window dressing. After they have already rolled out the film and will be making millions. If Goodman is really sorry, he should have Paramount donate portion of the profits to the Asian American Justice Center or the Asian American Legal Defense Fund.

    Jim

  4. Gil Asakawa says:

    Jim, good point — it’s symbolic. But I do appreciate that he comes right out and apologizes for “the racially demeaning language used in the scenes depicted in the film.” (Never mind the violence of the attack against the Asian character.) I’ve totally come to expect the “sorry you were offended” line, especially from corporations.

    I think the email was just a quick way to communicate back to JACL — and I hope they’d make something more official. Same with JACL — this new info isn’t on their website yet. But if Paramount donated some of the profits to an AAPI org, that would certainly show they “get it.”

  5. I have lived long enough to remember being called a dirty rotten jap…and having my face slapped by my first grade teacher who told me she hated japs..dead or alive and we should all be sent back to Japan….so I shudder whenever I hear that the White man thinks it is comical to start this kind of dialogue again and say it was meant as a joke…it can never be considered a joke to demean a person’s ancestry or facial features…makeing fun of our “Slanty Eyes”…can’t we take a Joke?…NO we can’t…not when we know what is truely meant…and we know it was not a joke…history repeats what we forget and we asian americans are only a stones throw away from that….Remember the Japanese Americans…who were removed from their homes and put in camps…it taught us one thing….we have to STAND UP for US…no more it was a Joke…we didn’t mean it…then remove that dialogue from the movie…make fun of the Black Man or the Jews in America and see the Outrage you will get…they need to get the same from the Asian American Community..the quiet Minority….Stand up Now…an apology is one thing…but the movie is still running with the hipocritical dialogue there…..

  6. Gil Asakawa says:

    Well put, Janice. You go, girl! 🙂

  7. junne says:

    i guess what i find disturbing is that it actually happened in the first place…

  8. Gil Asakawa says:

    It’s true, what’s troubling is this scene was written in the script, and was left in by the directors and producers, and then even chosen for the trailer as a funny “highlight” of the movie. What were they thinking?

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  12. Philip Fullington Ripper says:

    Janice, that’s truly horrible. I’m sorry you’ve experienced such ugly, despicable crimes.

    May I request that you not refer to “the White man”? Being a white man, it kinda freaks me out. I would take a bullet before I let anyone remove anyone from this Nation. When you’re joking around, it’s all good, but when you’re angry, please don’t think of white men as a singular entity.

    Thank-you kindly for hearing me out.

  13. Ditto says:

    Thank you Mr. Ripper. I also found the term “the White man” as much a generalization as that which is being protested against. Perhaps specifically identifying the person who thought up the horrible “comedy” routine, might be a better, more effective approach.

  14. Pingback: Paramount Apologizes for “The Goods” :: Racebending.com

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