In August 2001 when I went on “Politically Incorrect” to debate comedienne Sarah Silverman — who’d tried to ambush me on that program the month before for criticizing her “chinks” joke on Conan O’Brien’s talk show — I was pissed at host Bill Maher.
He didn’t invite me on the show to defend myself and got openly hostile to the cause, saying he wanted an apology from activists like me who created such an “Orwellian place” where no one could do or say anything without offending us. (Check out the 12:30 mark of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUQHlhn3KUM)
In the end, I chose not to go after him because I was going to have my hands full enough as it was with the “caged animal” that was Silverman, who was forced to debate me. I just mentioned in passing that nobody had asked me to come on the show so I could speak for myself. All Maher could say was, “Well…” before Silverman interrupted him.
A couple weeks ago I was asked by two documentarians to join a panel of black, Latino, Native American, Muslim, and Jewish representatives to discuss how minorities are portrayed in the media. They were producing four one-hour documentaries for 2016, each with a different subject, hosted by Chelsea Handler. I knew I was once again walking into a tense situation because in 2007 I complained to Paula Madison, then executive VP of diversity for NBC, when Handler appeared on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” and attacked Angelia Jolie’s adopted three-year-old son Pax with tired Asian stereotypes.
After whipping up the crowed into a xenophobic frenzy by chastising the actress for only adopting children from foreign countries and not from the states (“Is she anti-American…?!”), she said of the Vietnamese boy, “He probably doesn’t even realize he’s Asian yet! He certainly doesn’t know he’s going to be a horrible driver… [the crowd laughed] or that he’s going to be amazing at doing nails!” The audience laughed again.
Jolie and Brad Pitt had also adopted Zahara from Ethiopia. But Handler didn’t target her with stereotypes about black people because if she had, people would’ve protested outside E! Entertainment, pressuring them to pull her yet-to-air talk show “Chelsea Lately.”
Madison was furious and had an hour long meeting with Leno, his producer, and the head of late-night programming, telling them if a guest made offensive racial remarks like that again, they didn’t have to air them, but could tape an additional segment to substitute in their place. Handler later apologized to the show for her jokes.
Well, in the course of the one-and-a-half-hour taping last week, the panel raised some interesting points about stereotypes. I even had the opportunity to give the fuller story about the Silverman confrontation on “Politically Incorrect” including how, after it was over, the audience gave me a standing ovation and booed her for refusing to pose for a picture for reporter Sam Chu Lin.
Toward the end, I recounted Chandler’s 2007 jokes — not angrily, but calmly — and that’s when things, predictably, really got animated. She made excuses for it (I won’t ruin it for you; hopefully it’ll be shown in the final edit) and Alex Nogales and Sonny Skyhawk backed me up, saying she crossed the line in attacking a three-year-old child. We still shook hands in the end and took a “chummy”-looking picture.
I’m going to have to wait more than half a year to see how Handler and her producers edit the discussion. They could make her look better and give me less “screen time,” but they’d be foolish to take that entire topic out, as it was the most engaging one any of us addressed. The second most? My encounter with Silverman.
Never-Ending Luau Department: To my surprise, the press interest in “Aloha” continued well past the movie’s opening. In 2 ½ weeks, I got requests for interviews from not one, not two, but three different reporters from The Hollywood Reporter, the last for an article that was going to be published in the weekly edition about ethnic casting in Hollywood (read it here: www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/hollywood-alert-actors-ethnicities-under-801729).
Even the Australian Broadcast Company (ABC) wanted me to do a phone interview for their morning radio show. While Entertainment Weekly carried the controversy in their online edition (and thanks to Chris Lee for crediting MANAA’s media campaign as one of the four reasons the movie tanked; read it here: www.ew.com/article/2015/06/01/four-reasons-aloha-flopped-box-office), it failed to mention it in their actual magazine.
In fact, they totally sidestepped it on their last-page feature, “The Bullseye,” where they judge the week’s past events, only saying, “Having to choose between Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams?! ‘Aloha’ should’ve been called ‘Bradley’s Choice.’” Oh, great, equating that to “Sophie’s Choice,” where Nazis forced a woman to decide which of her children they’d kill? Pathetic.
The magazine has been infamous for not caring about Asian American media issues (and they’ve routinely rejected publishing MANAA’s letters pointing out racial angles they’ve missed in stories). Hell, reporter Nicole Sperling was the one who broke the news about M. Night Shyamalan casting mostly white actors in “The Last Airbender,” yet even after she corresponded with me, the magazine refused to do a story on the resulting controversy. But they’ve clearly been pro-gay, even putting transgender star Laverne Fox on their latest cover and including a list of “Our 50 Favorite Fictional LGBT Characters” to boot.
“Aloha” Review: Since I didn’t have room to review it last time, here are some thoughts about the film: Soon after landing at Hickham Field, Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is eyeing Tracy (Rachel McAdams), his old flame. She comes up to him and says, “Hey! I refuse to talk to you!” Which has got to be one of the dumbest lines of the year. Uh, didn’t you do just break your resolve?!
When Allison Ng (Emma Stone) and Gilcrest enter the rainforest leading to the village of the Hawaiian independence movement and one of them says, “This place has a lot of mana,” I thought, “No, actually, as far as I know, I’m the only member of MANAA in this theater!”
When everyone’s gathered together for a feast, Ng (to show just how “Hawaiian” she is) excitedly tells one of the musicians she wants to hear the Hawaiian classic “Waimanalo Blues” played “Gabby [Pahinui] style.” Why, she’s even seen jamming with them, strumming on acoustic guitar for 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 3 seconds, then 2 more seconds. (Just for that, the actress spent a month learning to play the instrument.)
Later when Ng realizes Gilcrest actually fooled Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele into signing an agreement that would allow missiles to fly over their land, she shouts, “You made me lie to the Hawaiians! I’M Hawaiian!” In the Glendale theater where I watched this with a predominantly white audience, people laughed.
For some reason, Tracy’s son Mitchell feels close to Gilcrest and asks him, “Why would anyone break up with my mom?” In explaining (he just won’t let this go) the relationship between Lono and Pele, Mitchell tells Gilcrest, they had “100 years of revenge sex,” that Pele was his mom, and “you are Lono.”
Wouldn’t Mitchell feel threatened by an old boyfriend moving in on his mom while his dad is away? He actually wants the ex and his mom to have sex?!
Wow. Maybe Cameron Crowe, like Gilcrest, screwed up a relationship and always wished they’d had a second chance even though the woman got married and had children.
When Ng and Gilcrest are getting to know each other in his room, we see a picture of her parents on her laptop for about a second. Wish we’d had the chance to see it longer to determine just how much her father looked half Hawaiian/half Chinese (God knows Ng didn’t look 1/4 Hawaiian/1/4 Chinese).
Some have defended the film saying there are a lot more white people in the military in Hawaii than Asian Pacific Islanders. Well, aren’t there also a lot more black people? Yet the only time I even remember seeing a black person in this movie was at the 1 hour, 24 minute mark, where a black officer says a line.
In some of the debates, I’ve heard the excuse that Hollywood directors need to cast “bankable stars” in order to improve a film’s chances at the box office. Don’t they get that “Aloha” had more “big name” white actors than probably any movie of the year, yet it still only managed to make $9.7 million the first weekend, that it fell 66.5% to $3.2 million the next and 69.3% further to $994,000 last weekend for a total gross of just under $19 million vs. a $37 million budget?
Could it have done any worse if the picture had been filled with nothing but UNKNOWN actors, most of whom were Asian/Pacific Islanders?
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.