I don't know about you, but seeing the darling kid Kylie on her series of TV commercials for Windows 7 makes me smile. Big smile. To me, she's one example of a tectonic shift in American pop culture, which is shaking up mainstream media with more and more Asian Americans.
Note that I said Asian Americans, not Asians. The great thing about Kylie and the new faces of Asian American Pacific Islanders on the small screen is that they have my face, and my voice -- which is to say, they don't have accents and clearly aren't foreigners.
I should add here that I have nothing against recent immigrants and first-generation Asian Americans. They are the rich soil in which our identity is deeply rooted, and whether you're Japanese American, Korean American, Chinese American, Vietnamese American, Cambodian, Indian, Thai, Laotian, Hmong, whatever, we owe the immigrants who endured hardships to leave their country to start new lives in the U.S. a salute of thanks for making it possible for us to be who we are today. We're the sum total of our ethnic cultural values and the freedom and experience of growing up in America.
Anyway, my point: My fellow AAPI bloggers have been pointing out how many Asian Americans are showing up in TV shows in roles where they don't have to act as foreigners, but are allowed to be Americans of Asian heritage. And those heritages don't even have to be part of the plot.
Sure, there are still roles that cast Asian Americans as foreigners.
"Lost" features Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim as Jin-Soo and Sun Hwa Kwon, Koreans who began the show cast as the most foreign of the castaways. Masi Oka's Hiro Nakamura character in "Heroes" is Japanese and he has an accent, but he's still a leading character, and so is Korean American actor James Kyson Lee (whose phonetic pronunciation of Japanese still amazes me) and his character, Ando Masahashi. So their Asian culture is very much part of their narrative.
But look at the list of Asian American actors you can dial in to see this season, whose roles could have been filled by someone of any ethnicity:
Erin and I are taking September off from doing interviews for visualizAsian.com, our series of live conversations with leading Asian American Pacific Islanders. But we're kicking off October with a star: Tamlyn Tomita, whose inspirational career as an actor spans movies, television and the stage, and whose leadership and activism spans the Japanese American and Asian American Pacific Islander communities.
Our conversation with Tamlyn Tomitawill be on Tuesday, October 6 at 6 pm Pacific Time (7 pm MT, 8 pm CT and 9 pm ET) is archived as an MP3 and is available for download for a limited time.
When we thought of starting visualizAsian.com, Tamlyn was the first person we thought of to interview, because of her prominence and passion, and because we'd met her on the set of "Only the Brave," Lane Nishikawa's powerful movie about the Japanese American soldiers of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.
She was funny, approachable, salty and very real. I have a very vivid memory of her during the filming, taking a break between scenes by sitting in her pickup truck (this was a low-budget production -- no trailers for the stars). She was yelling and screaming and so animated we thought something was wrong. It turned out she's a huge LA Lakers fan, and was listening to the playoff game in progress.
Last year, we saw her again at the Democratic National Convention, when I was one of the emcees at an APIA Vote Gala along with Tomita and Joie Chen, formerly of CNN. She's a passionate, exciting and entertaining public speaker, and I've since seen her on video (just search YouTube) giving lots of speeches and serving as an emcee on many Japanese American and Asian American community events.
Last year I received one of the coolest gifts ever -- a 41-DVD boxed set of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," the TV spy series that ran from 1964-'68. The set came in a package that looks like a secret agent's briefcase, and includes all 105 episodes of the program, plus a ton of extras such as documentaries and commentary by the show's stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.
I'm still sifting through this pop-culture treasure chest, and having a blast. The series was my favorite TV show from my childhood -- I had a bunch of toys related to the show, and I read and collected books, gadgets, magazines -- anything to do with U.N.C.L.E.
I've been struck by a few observations about the show, in light of 40 years of being a fan, and then suddenly being able to see every episode on DVD.
First (and relevant to this blog), I'm surprised at how many Asian Americans were cast in the show as guest stars. There were some episodes set in Asia, like one that takes place in Japan, and that's kinda hokey since all the sets and scenes are actually shot in Hollywood. But in many episodes, the requisite woman who's an innocent bystander but gets dragged into the plot as a sidekick is Asian American, and I mean Asian American as in, no phony accents. They're Asian American actors cast in American roles, which is nice.
Second, they had some big name guest stars. I just watched a goofy one from the third season (of the four, the third was the one where the show got silly, comedic and unbelievable) titled "The Hot Number" that featured Sonny and Cher. Cher was a snooty fashion model (not a stretch) and Sonny was a bumbling fashion designer. The episode also featured Sonny and Cher's music, which was a neat cross-marketing gimmick.
Third, a lot of the episodes are slight to the point of being anemic. The story lines are sometimes clunky and the writing often forced. And little of the acting, even from Vaughn and McCallum, is Brandoesque. It's more like Shatneresque.
But then, the artifice is actually part of the charm of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
You read it correctly: MTV is looking for a host for a new Japanese Game Show to be produced here in the U.S. They're casting around for a hip young Asian American dude. here are the details, copied from an email I was sent by an MTV casting producer for series development:
"MTV is searching for a host for a fun,...
One of the dangerous things about finally having cable TV, is tuning in to HGTV. For one thing, the network gives Erin way too many ideas for projects for us to tackle around the house. For another, it reveals my lack of ability to do most of the do-it-yourself projects that show up on the network's programs.
What we noticed tonight, after several hours, was how diverse the network is with its shows' hosts -- especially the number of Asian Americans.
First we watched Hong Kong-born Vern Yip in "Deserving Design," sort of a scaled-down version of the ABC hit show "Extreme Makeover Home Edition," in which Yip, a doctor-to-be turned architect and designer, does makeovers of parts of a home for someone who deserves it. In this show, he helped a woman with cancer redo her kitchen and bedroom.
Bill Imada, founder and CEO of IW Group, a PR/Marketing firm, is part of a group blog at Advertising Age called "The Big Tent" that's worth following. In this recent post, Bill writes about (and includes embedded videos of) TV commercials that include Asians and Asian Americans without using demeaning stereotypes.
Here are the ads that Bill writes about:
The post is in reaction to the stupid animated commercials for SalesGenie.com that debuted during the Super Bowl, which are still airing despite complaints from APA groups.
Whenever I see an Asian on TV, either in a program or on a commercial, who's the brunt of some comedic joke, my first reaction is to clench my stomach in anticipation of some personal embarrassment, as if the Asian on screen could easily be me.
But here's a TV commercial that makes fun of an Asian guy, that manages to be funny and doesn't bother me (although the first time I saw it I did clench up, expecting that slap in the face), and respectful of the Asian dude's dancing ability -- that is, until, he screws up.
The commercial, for Southwest Airlines, makes me chuckle every damned time, and I've seen the thing a lot. What makes me feel good about the video is that the African Americans in the scene start out skeptical of the Asian guy's ability to impress the woman (that's Ellen Cleghorne from SNL, isn't it?, but then everyone in the club, includig the DJ, give the guy his props and start urging him on. That's when he knocks over the turntables.. and the tagline for Southwest comes in: "Want to get away?"
Michaela Conlin as Angela Montenegro and Emily Deschanel as Dr. Temperance Brennan in "Bones."
The best thing about DVDs is the opportunity to fall in love with television shows a season or two, or even more, after they've already been on the air. Erin and I are currently hooked on "Bones," a Fox series starring David Boreanaz, who paid his dues in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the spinoff show "Angel." In "Bones," he plays an FBI agent, Seeley Booth, who works with Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), a forensic anthropologist/murder mystery novelist from the "Jeffersonian Institution" (a loosely fictionalized version of the Smithsonian Institution) to identify victims and causes of death from bones -- rotting, slimey, decayed corpses.
The kneejerk reaction is to expect that "Bones" is a warmed-over version of "The X-Files" with that series' professional camaraderie and sexual tension between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, FBI agents who track down cases of paranormal phenomena. But as much as I loved the first seven seasons of "X-Files," "Bones" is a first-class show of its own. It doesn't hurt, either, that the series features my new favorite Asian American character on TV: Angela Montenegro, played by half-Chinese actor Michaela Conlin.
Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.
Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.
Analytics cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.
Preference cookies enable a website to remember information that changes the way the website behaves or looks, like your preferred language or the region that you are in.
Unclassified cookies are cookies that we are in the process of classifying, together with the providers of individual cookies.
Cookies are small text files that can be used by websites to make a user's experience more efficient. The law states that we can store cookies on your device if they are strictly necessary for the operation of this site. For all other types of cookies we need your permission. This site uses different types of cookies. Some cookies are placed by third party services that appear on our pages.