8 Asian-American actors who deserve WAY more onscreen love…

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BRIT + CO (by Dene Chen):

The popularity of Star Trek Beyond has basically guaranteed mainstream fandom for a franchise that was once considered geeky and alternative — now, we can even wear our trekkie status on our nails! What’s also great is that the stars have used their larger platform to speak up about issues that are important to them, like Zoe Saldana’s struggle with an autoimmune disease.

For John Cho, who portrays Sulu, a universally beloved character, this has been a time to talk about diversity — or the lack thereof — in Hollywood. “I just didn’t see anyone on TV who looked like me, and then I saw George Takei being cool and piloting the spaceship on television,” Cho recently said on The View. “And I thought that, wow, there’s a beacon for me.”

While things are a little bit better now on TV concerning diversity (though if the bar was so low before, how can you go anywhere but up?), there are still many in Hollywood who tooootally should be getting more work. Lucy Liu and John Cho are well-known names now — here’s hoping that Hollywood gives the following Asian actors more face-time onscreen.

1. Constance Wu:

Entertainment Weekly & People Upfronts Party 2016 - Arrivals

She is hilarious on Fresh Off the Boat and has been very vocal about the white-washing that happens in Hollywood. Wu is talented and beautiful — this should be a no-brainer.

 

2. Steven Yuen:

AMC At Comic-Con 2016 - Day 2

Yuen is notable not only for playing a main character for The Walking Dead, but for being one of the few onscreen love interests in Hollywood played by an Asian male. This may sound ridiculous, but since Asian men are often desexualized in mainstream American media, Yuen’s portrayal of Glenn as a total badass who is considered hot AF is actually groundbreaking. It shouldn’t be though. But first, we need to see him in more stuff.

3. Jake Choi:

2016 Tribeca Film Festival After Party For Wolves At No.8 - 4/15/16

This Queens native has a versatility that is showcased on his IMDB page — a stint on Broad City, an arc on Younger and a role in Wolves, the basketball drama starring Carla Gugino and Michael Shannon which opened earlier this year. Fingers crossed we see more of him.

4. Rahul Kohli:

Comic-Con International 2016 - "iZombie" Press Line

Are we including South Asians on this list? Yes we are, because representation is important. Also, because Rahul Kohli from iZombie is a handsome human being who needs to be on TV more.

5. Anna Akana:

AOL Build Speaker Series - Anna Akana, "Miss 2059"

You might recognize her by her brief appearance at the end of Ant-Man, but many are more likely to know her from her YouTube fame. Akana is a real self-made star, and her witty and sometimes poignant videos have reached more than 1.5 million subscribers.

6. Priyanka Chopra:

2016 ABC Upfront

This woman is goals when it comes to her red carpet style and her classic updos. But Chopra was already a huge star in India before Quantico gave her fame stateside.

7. Daniel Henney:

Hamilton Watch And LA Confidential Present The 2014 Hamilton Behind The Camera Awards - Inside

Another actor who is more appreciated outside the US, Henney will hopefully get more recognition now that he is a series regular of a Criminal Minds spin-off, Beyond Borders.

8. Sendhil Ramamurthy:

"Covert Affairs" Panel - Comic-Con 2011

Luckily for us, this Heroes alum has been working steadily since the series ended in 2010, chalking up arcs in Covert Affairs and Beauty and the Beast.

 

Hudson Yang of ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ and Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None’ nominated for NAACP Image Awards

NBC:

ABC‘s “Fresh Off the Boat” is loosely inspired by celebrity chef Eddie Huang‘s memoir of the same name and stars Hudson Yang as a young Huang, as well as Randall Park as his father, Louis, and Constance Wu as his mother, Jessica. Wu has been nominated for her role in “Fresh Off the Boat” in both the 2015 Critic’s Choice Television Awards and the Television Critics Association Awards.

On Dec. 1, “Fresh Off the Boat” released an in-character cast video and social media campaign under the hashtag #makeitrightFOTB lobbying for a Golden Globe nomination.

Among the nominees for the 47th annual NAACP Image Awards is “Master of None,” Aziz Ansari‘s Netflix series released earlier this fall. Co-creators Ansari and Alan Yang received a nomination for their writing of “Parents,” the second episode of the series, and Ansari was nominated for Outstanding Director for the same episode.

Kelvin Yu (left) talks with Aziz Ansari (right) in a scene in Netflix’s “Master of None.” 

“Parents” deals with second-generation main characters Dev, portrayed by Ansari, and Brian, portrayed by Kelvin Yu, thanking their first-generation parents for sacrifices made during their parents’ journeys to the United States. The pair take their parents out to dinner where they learn about their parents’ youth and upbringing.

The 47th annual NAACP Image Awards is scheduled to take place on Feb. 5, 2016.

Haters Gonna Hate: An Interview with Constance Wu of “Fresh Off the Boat”

Haters Gonna Hate: An Interview with Fresh Off the Boat's Constance Wu

The Muse:

Constance Wu is living the dream of every up and coming actor—landing the lead on a hit sitcom on a major network with a rapt audience. But Wu’s role as Jessica Huang, Taiwanese mom of three boys on Fresh Off the Boat, is more than just a sweet gig—it’s historical, as FOTB is only the second Asian American-centric sitcom in 20 years after Margaret Cho‘s All-American Girl in 1994. Add to the pot the outspoken opinions of the show’s creator Chef Eddie Huang, who went from bashing the show to supporting it in a matter of days, Wu’s first big break is breaking color lines and studio systems. But the 26-year-old is taking all of it in stride because haters gonna hate, you know?

For your first sitcom, your comedic timing is great without trying too hard. How do you strike that balance with Randall Park, who plays your husband Louis Huang, and the three boys Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen?

This is only the second comedy I’ve ever done and it didn’t work until I stopped trying to be funny. That’s the trap. Whenever you’re trying to be funny, it becomes cloying and manipulative. My goal with my performance is to be as true as possible.

People think that Jessica’s accent is funny but no one writes jokes about her accent. The humor comes from the writers giving me very funny situations and lines. What makes her so refreshing is that she has an accent and doesn’t know perfect English but she doesn’t think that’s a reason for her not to have a voice and a very loud one at that. That’s what’s interesting and fun about her and playing against Randall and the boys because we’re all just trying to have a good time and tell a specific story.

Speaking of the accent, some felt it was very controversial for you to portray Mrs. Huang with her Taiwanese accent. Why do you think accents in general are so divisive when it reflects actual humans?

Asians have been so rarely represented in mainstream media and historically, especially in the early stages, the accent was used as a humor tool with jokes written about it. But now I would challenge people who say that Jessica’s accent is stereotypical and ask what does that mean? An accent is not a stereotype, it’s just a set of linguistic phonetic changes that happen when your mother tongue has a different set of phonetic constraints than the newer language that you are now speaking. Stereotype enters when that accent is used for the purpose of humor. Of course there are people who are laughing at my character’s accent for very coarse reasons, but we aren’t writing jokes about the accent. It’s an important shift to make.

Recently, a lot of Asians actors want to neutralize their roles on television and say ‘This person is playing a character who happens to be Asian and that has nothing to do with their identity.’

That is a trend that is flying across all minorities, it seems…

My grandfather was an illiterate bamboo farmer and my dad really had to work himself up academically to get a full ride scholarship and a Ph.D in biology in America. He didn’t have a leg up anywhere, he had to work to get that. To even say that that type of journey has nothing to do with my place and opportunities now is dishonorable.

I don’t think that identity is purely determined by race and if a story wants to focus on other things that are important to the narrative, that’s great. But it’s not harmful to say that ethnicity plays an important part in identity and that that part of the story matters. It’s not fodder for humor, it’s just another unique and beautiful element of humanity. Hopefully, we celebrate that. And we’re also a comedy! We want that comedy to be great and warm in our show, which Randall and I both found important.

How’s Fresh Off the Boat been as your first TV experience, between participating in the first Asian American sitcom in 20 years and the tumultuous process creator Eddie Huang had making it?

Eddie and I are new to network television. Before this show I’d done one guest star on Law & Order when I was in college. The network system is established, so being a newbie in this already established constrained situation, we struggled to find our footing. There can be the danger of gratitude becoming complacency which Eddie wasn’t willing to let happen. I think he had to realize which battles he needed to lose in order to win the greater war of representation. Even for myself as an actor, there were certain parts that I was uncomfortable with in terms of lines I was given.

As someone new to television, I wasn’t sure how openly I was allowed to express my opinion. I certainly didn’t want to tread on the toes of people who have more experience than I but I didn’t want to let that inexperience be why my voice and opinion were not valid. Straddling that line was nerve-racking. I didn’t protest too much, instead I found a way within my character work to make it work.

Then last week I emailed our show runner Nahnatchka Khan about a live reading I gave in episode nine or ten. In the first takes, I was trying hard to be clever and improved these funny lines and then on the last take—the scene was with Hudson (Eddie’s character)—for the first time, I actually heard what Hudson said to me, which was ‘You did good mom,’ and I had a genuine response to it. So I emailed Nahnatchka and wrote ‘When I’m doing that series of takes and I’m trying really hard to be clever and funny, and I know that it came off, but if you don’t mind, could we use the last take because I have plenty of times during the series where I’m clever and funny. The last one was the only take in which I actually heard what Hudson was saying to me.’ She emailed me back like, ‘We did use one of your clever takes and we just re-watched it and you’re right. The last take you did was good and it was lovely for a different reason and if that really means something to you, we’ll change it.’

I was stunned because I thought, ‘She’s been doing this forever but this means something to me. So I’m gonna say it with as much respect as possible and if she says ‘No’ at least I tried.’ But she said yes and added ‘Don’t be afraid to ask things like that, I really want to run this with an open door.’ Because Eddie has been so vocal from the beginning—and in the beginning, maybe they didn’t listen to him as much—I think it’s making the system change a bit. People were quick to stigmatize the conflict that Eddie was expressing but that’s just people trying to do better and figuring out how. And of course he’s gonna be sensitive about the show, it’s about his family.

You spoke earlier of stereotypes and a bit of the Tiger Mom trope arises in your portrayal of Jessica Huang when she begins tutoring her three boys after school. Was that something you had to negotiate?

We have real source material in Jessica Huang. I don’t think I should play against a stereotype just to fight the war against stereotypes. Because I’m playing a role that carries the show and a character that has an arc, occasionally elements of Jessica’s personality do fall into a Tiger Mom stereotype. But I’m playing them because they are true to her, not because I am exploiting a stereotype. I’m never doing that. You have to serve the truth of the character and Jessica Huang does what she digs, whether or not it falls into a stereotype.

Chris Rock said that if Tom Hanks does a project, he’s free to fail, but if Denzel Washington does something, he’s representing the entire black race. How are you handling the pressure of being the first Asian American family on network television in 20 years?

I feel that pressure but it’s not something that’s manifesting itself in my work. Sure, there is a burden of representation but the burden shouldn’t be to represent every Asian ever. The burden is to represent an Asian story with as much truth as possible that it touches something in other people and strikes up a curiosity for an experience that is different than your own. Then that gets the ball rolling for others to make individual stories based in truth, intelligence and compassion. My job is not to give you a watered down McDonald’s version of an Asian family so that your next door neighbor thinks, ‘Oh they’re just like me.’ I’m not like freaking out, haters gonna hate, lovers gonna love. People like authenticity and courage, that’s why people like Eddie. Haters will always hate, they’ll see a beautiful flower and be like ‘Ugh, look at that flower!’

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays at 8/7 Central on ABC.

You will see more Asian guys on TV soon!

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Audrey Magazine:

Right now in Hollywood, it’s pilot casting season and (much to our delight) a lot of Asian American male actors are making headlines. Could this be the turn of the tide? Can we finally turn on the TV and regularly see Asian characters? We’ll have to wait and see. Although a number of shows have released information about their pilot, we will all have to wait until May for broadcast network channels to decide which shows to pick up and put on television. Needless to say, we have our fingers crossed for the shows which can bring forward Asian faces.

Apart from Daniel Wu’s Badlands, which has already been ordered directly to series by AMC, it is possible that none of the other pilots mentioned below will be picked up, but the rise in Asian American male actors being casted definitely gives us hope. Furthermore, they are being cast in roles that are substantial supporting roles or even leads. After all, it’s not just visibility that matters, but also the quality of representation.

Hopefully, we will hear about more pilot castings for talented Asian American actors in the upcoming months. For now, it’s heartening to see strides being made.

1. Daniel Wu

Image courtesy of LA TF

First up, there’s Hong Kong star Daniel Wu with his martial arts show Badlands, which cable network AMC has already ordered direct to series. Based very loosely on the Chinese tale Journey to the West, Wu stars as a “ruthless, well-trained warrior named Sunny” who goes on a journey with a young boy to find enlightenment. Wu will also serve as executive producer on Badlands. Only limited information about the series has been released, but we are definitely going to check it out once it airs on AMC.

 

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You Will See More Asian Guys on TV Soon

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 4.23.25 PM

Right now in Hollywood, it’s pilot casting season and (much to our delight) a lot of Asian American male actors are making headlines. Could this be the turn of the tide? Can we finally turn on the TV and regularly see Asian characters? We’ll have to wait and see. Although a number of shows have released information about their pilot, we will all have to wait until May for broadcast network channels to decide which shows to pick up and put on television. Needless to say, we have our fingers crossed for the shows which can bring forward Asian faces.

Apart from Daniel Wu’s Badlands, which has already been ordered directly to series by AMC, it is possible that none of the other pilots mentioned below will be picked up, but the rise in Asian American male actors being casted definitely gives us hope. Furthermore, they are being cast in roles that are substantial supporting roles or even leads. After all, it’s not just visibility that matters, but also the quality of representation.

Hopefully, we will hear about more pilot castings for talented Asian American actors in the upcoming months. For now, it’s heartening to see strides being made.

 


 

1. Daniel Wu

Image courtesy of LA TF

First up, there’s Hong Kong star Daniel Wu with his martial arts show Badlands, which cable network AMC has already ordered direct to series. Based very loosely on the Chinese tale Journey to the West, Wu stars as a “ruthless, well-trained warrior named Sunny” who goes on a journey with a young boy to find enlightenment. Wu will also serve as executive producer on Badlands. Only limited information about the series has been released, but we are definitely going to check it out once it airs on AMC.

 

2. Ken Jeong

Image courtesy of Korea Times

Before Ken Jeong popped out of a trunk in The Hangover series, he was a practicing doctor by day at Kaiser Permanente and an aspiring comedian at night. Now ABC has greenlit his comedy pilot Dr. Ken, which Jeong is set to star, write and executive produce. According to Variety, Jeong will “play a frustrated HMO doctor juggling his career, marriage and parenting, but succeeding at none of them.” If this gets picked up, perhaps ABC could form a one hour Asian American comedy block with Dr. Ken and Fresh off the Boat?

 

3. Brian Tee

Image courtesy of Zimbio

Brian Tee has been in a lot of movies and TV shows such as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, The Wolverine and the upcoming  Jurrasic World movie. Now, he has been cast for the NBC pilot Love is the Four Letter Word, created by a fellow Asian American writer Diana Son. According to Deadline, Love is the Four Letter Wordchronicles the collision of race, sexuality and gender roles when three diverse couples put modern marriage to the test. Tee plays Adam, half of one of the three couples, a big, handsome man who is currently dating Sarah, a fellow attorney who shares his taste for sexual adventure, including three-ways with beautiful women.”

Asian Americans in lead roles in front of and behind the camera? Plus an Asian American male character who shatters the emasculated, subservient Asian male stereotype? We are swooning already.

 

4. Daniel Henney

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Daniel Henney has been cast in a Criminal Minds spinoff. According to Deadline,the proposed spinoff follows FBI agents helping American citizens who find themselves in trouble abroad, with Gary Sinise playing their boss, Jack Garrett. Henney will play charming family man Matt Simmons, an army brat who grew up abroad and really embraces the opportunity to explore different cultures. But first and foremost, he is the kind of guy you would follow into battle, and his split second profiling skills honed on the battlefield make him a crucial part of the team.”

Henney joins an illustrious cast that includes Tyler James Williams and Emmy-award winner Anna Gunn.

 

5. Albert Tsai

Image courtesy of Albert Tsai's Official Twitter Account

For those of you who didn’t see ABC’s shortlived critical darling Trophy Wife, Albert Tsai played the breakout character Bert, who was considered by many to be the best part of a very good show. Although the show was cancelled after one season, Albert Tsai is moving on and has been cast as Ken Jeong’s son in the Dr. Ken pilot. Another Asian American family on an ABC sitcom? Just maybe. Is it too early to start the petition for the Fresh off the Boat/Dr. Ken crossover? Probably not.

 

The importance of diversity, and ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat”

IMDB TV:

Press Tour wouldn’t be Press Tour without a few stunningly thoughtless questions posed to panels of actors and producers.

Most of the terrible questions that get asked as part of the Television Critics Association’s press conferences don’t turn up in articles. We keep them as Press Tour war stories to be hauled out for our own entertainment later on. Plus, we’re all just trying to do our jobs here. Nobody’s perfect. Cover this beat long enough, and attend enough TCA events, and a person is bound to bungle a few questions. Besides, to the millions of folks who aren’t here, a minor gaffe at an industry event simply isn’t interesting.

But every now and again, someone sputters out a verbal air biscuit that leaves the room reeling while also speaking to a larger conversation about a show. This is precisely what happened Wednesday morning during the panel for “Fresh Off the Boat,” ABC’s midseason sitcom based on the bestselling memoir by celebrity chef Eddie Huang.  Starring Randall Park and Constance Wu,Fresh Off the Boat” is the only sitcom on television that stars Asian actors and captures one view of what it’s like to grow up Asian in America.

And what, some may ask, makes that experience unique among minorities? For the “Fresh Off the Boat” cast and producers, nearly all of whom were born in the U.S., it means getting a question like this in a forum where people really should know better: “I love the Asian culture. And I was just talking about the chopsticks, and I just love all that. Will I get to see that, or will it be more Americanized?”*

Yes. That happened.

This may be the most ignorant question spoken in this room in a long time,  but it also demonstrates why television desperately needs “Fresh Off the Boat” and more shows like it. Comedies and dramas that deftly employ universal themes and humor that resonate with the wider audience, featuring minority-led casts that don’t ignore said cast’s ethnicity, are still uncommon.  In fact, ABC is the home to more series featuring non-white leads than any other broadcast network. Think “black-ish,” “Scandal,” “Cristela,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”

Amazingly, in 2015, ABC’s insistence on diversity is met with a sense of awe, and an implication that what the Alphabet network is doing is a bold experiment.

In the case of “Fresh Off the Boat,” maybe it is. Networks have a long history of waxing and waning on the diversity front, though the occasional industry-wide pushes for diversity every few seasons tends to benefit African American and, to a far lesser extent, Latino actors. “Cristela” and “black-ish” may not be monster hits, but they still have mass appeal, and are not required to divorce the culture of their characters from the story. Credit the success of Norman Lear‘s comedies in the ’70s, “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son”, and just as significantly, “The Cosby Show” in the ’80s, for that.

Can you remember the last time a series gave us a view of life from an Asian American perspective? There was 1994′s “All-American Girl,” the short-lived and quickly whitewashed sitcom vehicle for Margaret Cho that nearly killed her. (It also aired on ABC.)  The show only focused on Cho’s character and her family briefly before revamping into a weak “Friends” clone, then disappearing altogether. For years after its demise, shows cast an Asian friend now and again, but it took until 2005 before audiences got a deeply complex, powerful Asian character in “Grey’s Anatomy‘s” Cristina Yang. So yes — there have been strides.

Then again, see: “2 Broke Girls.” As long as characters like Han Lee are still on TV, well, one can understand why somebody would think that it’s perfectly reasonable to ask a cast of Asian actors if their eating utensils will play a prominent role in a comedy about so much more than their cultural experience.

The thing is it’s important to have, for me, [is] a qualified support for the show, to make sure the show stays authentic, the show stays responsible to the book and the Asian community and people of color in America in general,” Huang explained to the TV reporters in the room. “I believe the show is doing that, and I believe the show is very strategic and smart in how it’s opening things up.”

In its first episode, “Fresh Off the Boat” dives into the absurdity that can be found when one moves from a large, multi-ethnic city (Washington D.C.) to a homogenous Florida neighborhood; the universal appeal of hip-hop to outsiders and its caché within the dominant culture; and the odd, clique-ish behavior that exists within suburbia. The same episode also shows what happens when its young central character,  Eddie Huang (played by Hudson Yang), gets slapped by a racial slur.

Through it all, the rap music-obssessed Eddie has the same concerns as any kid his age would have. He’s trying to fit in at his new school but he doesn’t eat the right food, or wear the right shoes. He just out there trying to survive. No wonder he idolizes Nas and Biggie Smalls — their music extols the virtues of hustling to get rich and getting over, ideals that many consider to be the at the heart of the American dream.

In America, I’m a foreigner because of my Korean heritage,” Cho once said. “In Asia, because I was born in America, I’m a foreigner. I’m always a foreigner.
Nowadays Cho is a personality known for her comedy and for her outspoken support of gender equality and LGBT rights. She’s currently a co-host of a TLC’s weekly series “All About Sex,” where she serves as the show’s expert on alternative sexuality.  With time, and more television series that expose viewers to artists like Cho and stories like the ones told in “Fresh Off the Boat” — American stories with a different flavor — the day will come when Asian culture is fully recognized as an aspect of American culture. On that day, nobody’s going to care about the chopsticks.

Was 2014 a banner year for Asian on network television?

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NBC News:

On paper, it looked like a rough year for Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television: The Mindy Project was on the verge of cancellation. NBC axed Community, and confirmed the end of Parks and Recreation for 2015. Sandra Oh officially left Grey’s Anatomy. Glee edged closer and closer to the end of its run while slowly pushing its Asian characters out of the credits.

According to an annual report on television diversity released by GLAAD, the number of Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television had been on the rise.

In the 2013-2014 season, 6% of broadcast series regular characters were Asian-Pacific Islander, but in the upcoming year, only 4% of characters will be Asian–the only ethnic group to see a decrease in diversity from the previous year.

Image: Ken Jeong, Danny Pudi
Ken Jeong, left, and Danny Pudi attend the “Community” panel on Day 5 of Comic-Con International.

Aside from the need for more representation despite the real progress we’ve made, I was disappointed that we lost some really great Asian-American representation this past year,Philip Chung, co-founder and blogger at YOMYOMF, said, listing Oh and Community’s Danny Pudi and Ken Jeong as examples.

But while the number of Asian characters appears to be shrinking next season, the quality of roles, Chung points out, has noticeably changed. Asian-Pacific Islanders in 2014 were cast in more prominent roles than the previous year, giving actors like John Cho, Ming-Na Wen, and Nasim Pedrad (who previously made headlines as Saturday Night Live’s first west Asian cast member) opportunities to step beyond smaller supporting and guest appearances on TV.

Image: John Cho
John Cho’s casting in a romantic, male lead on ABC’s “Selfie” was revolutionary. But the show was cancelled after just seven episodes.

The leaps forward in casting choices have not come without their setbacks. After months of anticipation among critics and bloggers about the casting of John Cho, an Asian male, to play the lead in a romantic sitcom, his show Selfie was canceled after just seven episodes.

It’s rare to see an Asian-American male as a lead in a comedy, especially one that has romantic possibilities,” said 8Asians editor Joz Wang, who called Selfie’s cancellation the biggest disappointment for Asian Americans on TV in 2014. “While the show didn’t catch on as quickly as the network would have wanted, many Asian Americans watched the show specifically for John Cho.”

“Getting [a show] about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”

Even though Cho never received top billing in Selfie, many felt ABC’s choice to cast him as the show’s male romantic lead was long overdue. His elevation to “leading man material” appeared to be the first step in seeing more Asian-Pacific Islanders as true television stars, not just supporting characters.

To date, few Asian actors have ever been cast in lead roles on a network level. The first to break through was Pat Morita, in the 1976 show “Mr. T and Tina” (it was considered a flop, and went off the air after five episodes).

PAT MORITA
Pat Morita led the way for Asian Americans on television. Four decades later, how much has changed?

Today, Lucy Liu plays a prominent character in Elementary, though not the lead, as does Kal Penn in the upcoming CBS drama Battle Creek. Even Hawaii Five-O, which Wang noted has been “great because it’s set in Hawaii and there are many opportunities for Asian-American actors,” stars two Caucasian leads. “All the Asian Americans still play second fiddle in terms of billing,” said Wang.

The last network show to cast an Asian male with top billing was CBS’ Martial Law starring Sammo Hung in 1998. Hung, who spoke little English, had just a few lines in each episode, and was reportedly paid half of what his co-star Arsenio Hall made.

Image: Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson on the CBS drama “Elementary.”

Currently, the total number of Asian actors to receive top billing on a network primetime series is one: Mindy Kaling. Since the 2012 premiere of The Mindy Project, Kaling has received praise for being the first woman of color to write and star in her own show since Wanda Sykes in 2003.

But Kaling has come under fire for what some see as her failure to leverage her influence for push for more diversity on network television.

In a letter to Fox, Media Action Network for Asian Americans President Guy Aoki said the show lacked diversity–particularly when it came to romantic interests. “We are concerned that in the course of two seasons, [Kaling’s] character, Dr. Lahiri, has had a ‘white-only’ dating policy involving about a dozen men,” Aoki wrote. “And except for this season’s addition of African American Xosha Roquemore the cast continues to be all white…She’s creating the impression that by surrounding her character with mostly white people and dating only white men that Lahiri’s become more accepted by the white population.”

Kaling defended the show at a SXSW panel early in the year, saying, “I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.”

Despite any criticism and low ratings, Kaling herself saw a year filled with successes in her own career, from being named a Glamour Woman of the Year to the announcement of her second book, Why Not Me?, which will be released next year. In November, Fox also added six episodes of The Mindy Project, stretching the season from 15 episodes to 21, and fueling speculation that the show will be renewed for a fourth season.

Kaling won’t carry the mantle for Asian network primetime leads alone much longer. She will soon be joined by Korean-American actor Randall Park, who will star in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat–the first network show to feature an all-Asian American cast since Margaret Cho‘s 1994 series All-American Girl, which was canceled after one season. Following a slate of recurring roles on television (including The Mindy Project), Park will receive top billing when the series premieres in 2015.

Getting a television series on the air is an incredible feat,” Park wrote in a post for KoreAm Journal online in June. “Getting one with no bankable name stars in today’s television climate is damn near impossible. Getting one about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”

Image: Randall Park
Randall Park plays the father figure in the new ABC comedy “Fresh Off the Boat.”

The series, based on the memoir of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, has received its share of praise and criticism since ABC added it to its mid-season lineup. Park is one of the targets of the early backlash because his character is Taiwanese (not Korean like Park is) and speaks with an accent (which Park does not naturally have).

But in the same KoreAm post, Park acknowledged he raised that same issue himself, but was repeatedly assured he was the right actor for the role.

Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”

In an ideal world, I would never have to play a character with an accent,” he wrote. “But this is a character based on a real person. So it’s something that I have to honor and try to perfect as the series moves forward.”

Early viewers of the pilot have been defensive of the series, hoping to save it from suffering the same fate as All-American Girl and Selfie. “I thought it was very funny and despite some of the early backlash from people who haven’t yet seen the show,” YOMYOMF’s Chung said. “Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”

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Diversity In Space: Tracking the first Asian pilot in the Star Wars movies

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Lieutenant Telsij of Return of the Jedi is one of just a handful of Asian characters in the Star Wars film series.

NPR:

There’s … too many of them,” a Y-wing pilot says as Imperial ships overwhelm the Rebel fleet in the climactic space battle in Return of the Jedi.

This scene is important because we’ve just learned that the Rebels have been lured to the forest moon Endor by the Emperor — it’s a trap! It’s also important for another reason: This is the first line spoken by an Asian character in the original Star Wars movies.

Later comes the final line spoken by an Asian character in those films: “I’m hit!” Then, a shower of sparks, and the cockpit bursts into flame faster than you can say “Jek Porkins.” Total time onscreen: approximately 4 seconds. (Brief, but enough to yield a Halloween costume idea, at least.)

So who is this Asian Rebel pilot? As it turns out, that’s kind of complicated.

First off, the role is uncredited, and while there are assorted Rebel pilots listed in the cast, none fits the description. For Star Wars knowledge this obscure, one must consult Leland Chee of Lucasfilm.

My title is manager of the Holocron,” Chee explains, “and the Holocron is a database of all Star Wars facts.

Chee says the Holocron holds over 66,000 entries: “characters, planets, droids — everything from the movies, from what we now consider ‘legends’ material, which is all the books that came out before this year, comics, games, trading cards, stuff we’ve done online, stuff we’ve done for role-playing games, stuff for toys — that’s what I’m tasked with compiling.”

The Asian pilot we’re looking for was made into a toy in 1999. Well, sort of.

That figure is a mess,” Chee says. “It’s wrong on so many levels. They made him red, which is the color of the B-wing pilots. They gave him a Y-wing helmet, but they gave him the name of an A-wing pilot.

This is exactly the sort of mistake Chee and his comrades on the Lucasfilm Story Group are now responsible for preventing. Peering deeper into the Holocron — the FileMaker database is actually “not that complex,” Chee says — he’s able to search it while talking on the phone with a reporter. That yields a better answer: Lieutenant Telsij.

The name Lieutenant Telsij first appears in a card game set released by Decipher in the year 2000. Like many minor characters, Telsij didn’t get his name until after the fact. In this case, about 17 years after the fact.

A lot of that information, like naming of background characters, especially from the films, came from that Decipher collectible card game,” Chee explains. “Most of their card sets were pre-Episode I, so it was mostly classic trilogy material, and they were naming every single background character. They were also pulling from the Star Wars Holiday Special as well, because they had image reference for that. But yeah, if someone wasn’t named, they would name them.”

The Lieutenant Telsij card even contains a bit of back story; he flew under the call sign Gray Two, and was “one of only four attackers who survived the raid on the Imperial Academy at Carida.”

Incidentally, Chee says he tracks pronunciation in the Holocron, “but it’s only as needed.” In the case of Telsij, “I don’t think we’ve ever used him in anything that required a pronunciation for his name,” he says. But, he adds, “If someone asked me, I would say ‘TEL-sidge.’ ”

So who played Telsij in the movie? Chee asked J.W. Rinzler, author of The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, to send him the call sheets for the Y-wing cockpit shots. Those include three names: Eiji Kusuhara, Timothy Sinclair and Erroll Shaker.

Kusuhara, who also appeared in Eyes Wide Shut, among other performances, died in 2010. But he’s the most likely candidate. Hilary Westlake, a stage director who was a close friend and wrote Kusuhara’s obituary for the Guardian, says Kusuhara never mentioned this role to her. But after viewing the clip, she says, “Albeit brief, I would say it is most certainly Eiji.”

So that’s that, right? No. “There are two different Y-wing pilots,” Chee says, “each with their own unique helmet, possibly voiced by the same voice actor.”

That second pilot — the one who cries out, “I’m hit!” — is Ekelarc Yong. His name comes from an action figure released by Hasbro. He has a bat on his helmet and flew under the call sign Gray Three.

We didn’t even know this character existed until we did that action figure,” Chee says with a laugh. “I didn’t know until recently that they were actually two different guys.”

Maybe they weren’t intended to be two different guys. Maybe the Ekelarc Yong character is the result of a continuity error.

There’s a lot of strange things that go on with those pilots,” Chee says. By way of example, he adds: “One of the pilots in the film is actually a woman, but she’s given a man’s voice. A-wing pilots are supposed to look a certain way — they’re the green ones; they’ve got a certain helmet — but then you go to the briefing room scene and some people are carrying the wrong helmets.”

So it’s at least conceivable that the same actor, possibly Kusuhara, could have accidentally donned a different helmet in subsequent takes. Watching the film, it’s difficult to tell whether there are two different actors — the pilot is grimacing in the second clip, and the explosion begins almost immediately, obscuring his face. Neither Chee nor Rinzler was able to find the name of the voice actor who seemingly provides the voice for both. So we’ll probably never know. But two helmets means two action figures, and that means two pilots.

Elsewhere in the Star Wars universe, there are more Asian characters than there might appear to be at first glance, though Telsij and Yong are the only ones who speak. Some have names, some don’t.

Some of the Jabba’s palace characters do,” Chee says. “They look Asian to me; let me put it that way.” Among those lurking in the shadows are Ardon “Vapor” Crell, Rayc Ryjerd and a mustachioed fellow named Jan Solbidder. And in Cloud City, one of Lando Calrissian’s guards is Corman Jeihn, possibly named by Hasbro — or, Chee says, “I think I may have named him.”

Then there’s the Jedi known as Selig Kenjenn.

Since there was such a dearth of reference for ‘Asian Jedi,’ ” Chee says, “there was an action figure pack that Hasbro did that featured an Asian male Jedi — who, surprisingly, looks like me.”

Chee says he provided photo reference for the character, who was “offscreen at the battle of Geonosis,” and that the idea for the action figure might have come from an illustration that accompanied a Wired story about Chee, which depicted him as a Jedi.

That guy’s definitely Asian,” Chee says of Selig Kenjenn. “And that one, I definitely named myself.”

So does the name carry some special significance?

Ummmmm, not that I’m going to say,” Chee demurs. “ ‘Selig’ comes from one of my other fandoms, I’ll say that.

Whatever the case, the relative dearth of Asian characters remains. Beyond the classic trilogy, there’s the Chinese-born actor Bai Ling as Senator Bana Breemu, but her scenes were cut from Episode II. And there’s a Jedi woman named Bultar Swan.

Then there’s probably a bunch of background guys that don’t have names,” Chee adds. “Hopefully we’ll see some more in Episode VII.”

Hopefully, indeed. Christina Chong has reportedly filmed her scenes already, so can the Holocron Keeper say anything about her role in the forthcoming J.J. Abrams-directed sequel?

Actually, I can’t,” Chee says. “I don’t have any information on that.”

Not yet, anyway.

Steve Haruch is a writer, and a contributing editor at the Nashville Scene. You can follow him on Twitter @steveharuch.

 

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