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Announcing the Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship

Medium.com (by Anoop Prasad):

Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus is excited to announce a new fellowship for formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islanders. Too often, the movements against prisons and deportation are out of sync and ignore the intersectional experiences of people in both systems. Advocates often make decisions without inviting formerly incarcerated people into the conversation and without consulting people who are locked up. Through the Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship, we hope to begin changing that. By centering and building leadership among directly impacted people, we hope to support a movement led by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

Over the next several months, the first two Yuri Kochiyama Fellows will be using their experiences to advocate for changes to America’s incarceration and deportation systems. As people who have spent years in prison and immigration detention, their voices and leadership are sorely needed in the movement.

We chose to name the fellowship after Yuri Kochiyama. She was a tireless political activist who dedicated her life to social justice and human rights for almost five decades. Yuri spent two years as a young adult in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Arkansas during World War II. Later in life, she worked with Malcolm X, the Harlem Parents Committee, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and other groups. Throughout her life, she supported people in prison by exchanging letters, advocating for their release, and organizing support committees.

Our first two Fellows will carry on Yuri’s legacy by using their experiences in prison and immigration detention to advocate for those still locked up. Their first advocacy project will be in support of a ballot measure that limits the ability of District Attorneys to charge children as adults. The reforms will keep thousands of children from being sent to prison for decades and from facing deportation for those crimes.

Rajeshree Roy, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama Fellow, was arrested at the age of fifteen for a robbery. Rather than receiving services as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who was homeless, she was tried as an adult and sent to prison for fifteen years. She would later spend a year in immigration detention.

Aelam Khensamphanh, a 2016 Yuri Kochiyama Fellow, fled war in Laos and came to the United States as a refugee when he was eight-years-old. His family was resettled in Modesto, a poor community plagued with violence. Unable to speak English and without language services, he struggled in school as a child. Attempting to fit in, he joined a gang at fifteen. After a shootout with a rival gang, he was sent to prison for life at the age of seventeen. While in prison, Aelam worked with the Squires Program to intervene with at-risk youth. After serving twenty-two years in prison, he spent months in immigration detention before being released earlier this year.

Aelam and Rajeshree will be working to make sure that future generations of children will not go through the same cycle of trauma, incarceration, and deportation that they did.

President Obama signs bill eliminating ‘Oriental’ from Federal Law

U.S. President Barack Obama signed a bill Friday that modernizes the terms used for minorities.

NBC News (by Stephany Bai):

President Barack Obama has signed a bill eliminating all known uses of the term “oriental” from federal law.

The bill, which was sponsored by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), was passed by the House of Representatives unanimously on Feb. 29 and again by the Senate on May 9. It was co-sponsored by 76 members of Congress, including all 51 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said in a statement that she was “proud to have seen this effort through.”

After months of advocacy in both chambers of Congress, derogatory terms in federal law will finally be updated to reflect our country’s diversity,” she said. “Mahalo to President Obama for his quick action.

Oriental” had still existed in Title 42 of the U.S. Code, which was written in the 1970s. It will be replaced with “Asian Americans.”

In a statement, Congresswoman Meng expressed relief that “at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good.”

Many Americans may not be aware that the word ‘Oriental’ is derogatory,” she said. “But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land.

Academy apologizes for Asian jokes at the Oscars

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Yahoo/Variety:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences apologized on Tuesday for the Asian jokes on the Feb. 28 Oscar telecast, after receiving a protest letter signed by 25 AMPAS members, including Ang Lee.

An Academy spokesperson issued the statement, “The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive. We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive.”

ORIGINAL POST: Two dozen members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, including Ang Lee and several other Oscar winners, have asked the AMPAS board for “concrete steps” to ensure that future Oscarcasts will avoid the “tone-deaf approach” to Asians that was exhibited in the Feb. 28 ceremony.

The protest was delivered in advance of Tuesday’s board meeting, where diversity promises to be a key item on the agenda. The missive was sent to the board, AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, CEO Dawn Hudson, and ceremony producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill.

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The letter said, “We are writing as Academy members of Asian descent to express our complete surprise and disappointment with the targeting of Asians at the 88th Oscars telecast and its perpetuation of racist stereotypes. In light of criticism over #OscarsSoWhite, we were hopeful that the telecast would provide the Academy a way forward and the chance to present a spectacular example of inclusion and diversity. Instead, the Oscars show was marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians.

“We’d like to know how such tasteless and offensive skits could have happened and what process you have in place to preclude such unconscious or outright bias and racism toward any group in future Oscars telecasts. We look forward to hearing from you about this matter and about the concrete steps to ensure that all people are portrayed with dignity and respect.

“We are proud that the Oscars reach several hundred million people around the world of whom 60% are Asians and potential moviegoers.”

In addition to Lee, other Oscar winners on the list include Chris Tashima (shorts and feature animation) and four members of the documentary branch: Ruby Yang, Steven Okazaki, Jessica Yu, and Freida Lee Mock. Aside from Mock, two other former governors signed, Don Hall (sound branch) and Arthur Dong (documentaries). Another three signers were Oscar nominees: Christine Choy, Renee Tajima-Pena, and Rithy Panh, again all docu-branch members.

Other signers were Yung Chang, documentary; Maysie Hoy and William Hoy, editors; Marcus Hu and Teddy Zee, executives; Janet Yang, producers; David Magdael and Laura Kim, PR; and six members of the actors branch: Nancy Kwan, Peter Kwong, Jodi Long, France Nuyen, Sandra Oh, and George Takei.

According to the International Energy Agency, Asians represent 4.3 billion, or 60% of the population. However, they are estimated to represent less than 1% of the Academy.

Sources close to the show told Variety that Chris Rock made decisions about his material (including a series of jokes about Asian children), while Sacha Baron Cohen’s crack was apparently ad-libbed. However, at a time of heightened sensitivity with racial matters, many viewers were shocked that old Asian stereotypes were trotted out for a laugh.

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Is this new Star Wars promotional poster from China kinda racist? It certainly seems so

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RocketNews 24:

The promotional poster for the new entry in the Star Wars franchise appears to omit or downplay non-white actors.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will apparently be the first entry in the venerated franchise to see wide release in China. Chinese audiences’ growing clout in Hollywood almost certainly has something to do with that, with the Chinese movie market recorded as the fastest growing in the world in 2014 and expected by some to overtake the U.S. movie-going public in terms of butts in chairs by 2020.

But it appears that, in Disney’s zealous pursuit of Chinese box office money, the company has allowed a potentially serious PR gaffe in the form of Chinese promotional posters for the new Star Wars film that are similar in nearly every way to the promo posters of other regions except for the glaring omission of several non-white characters.

Hong Kong-based columnist Ray Kwong compares the English-language and Chinese promo posters

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Actor John Boyega’s character Finn – a major protagonist in the film who is also black – is shrunk wayyyyy down in size and pushed down near the bottom of the poster. At a glance, the character appears to have been erased entirely in favor of a more sprawling shot of dogfighting spacecraft. Missing entirely are Oscar Isaac, a Guatemalan-American actor portraying resistance fighter Poe Dameron, and Lupita Nyong’o, a black actress who plays a character named Maz Kanata.

At least one Chinese news outlet says Chinese analysts are brushing off the changes, denying that they’re discriminatory and arguing that the edits aimed for maximum appeal to the Chinese audience and just happened to coincidentally eliminate or downplay all non-white characters. This logic, though, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering that, this being the first Star Wars film to see wide release in China, Chinese audiences would presumably have no affinity with the returning characters from the earlier films – who seem to be emphasized and enlarged here.

Inexplicably, Chewbacca the Wookiee – who we presume needs no introduction on this site – has also been eliminated from the Chinese poster, along with some other subtle changes such as turning villain Kylo Ren more towards the viewer.

Discrimination is rampant in many parts of East Asia, including Japan, and there are many accounts of people of African descent experiencing harsher discrimination than white and Asian foreigners in these countries. In light of this, it seems that – even if the changes to the poster were made purely in the name of economic gains rather than outright prejudice – the idea of the Chinese marketing arm for Disney making these unfortunate changes by sheer, innocent coincidence would be astronomically far-fetched.

Regardless of the exact process that enabled these changes to see the light of day, it seems inevitable that Disney, notorious for carefully curating its reputation worldwide, will pull the posters in favor of something less polarizing.

Asian-American media watchdog Kulture aims to abolish Asian stereotypes in entertainment

PR Newswire:

Asian-Americans have been unfairly maligned by Hollywood over the years and the trend shows no sign of abating. Kulture monitors the entertainment media for offensive representations of Asian-Americans and documents stereotypes and denigration of Asians in movies and television. The site is easy to navigate, categorizing offenses by media outlet, by type of offense, such as “Reinforces Stereotypes,” and by media type, such as TV commercials. Visitors to the site can also submit their own witnessed offenses through the “Report an Offense” feature.

Kulture is the only website that maintains a database of media offenses against Asian-Americans. They pull the curtain back onHollywood’s subtle racism and feature write ups that explore the offensive themes and tropes that are used to belittle Asian men and sexualize Asian women. In addition to providing the information on the offense, Kulture also analyzes the situation and provides explanation as to why it is considered offensive. Popular shows featured on the site include: “2 Broke Girls,” “Royal Pains,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “The Mindy Project.”

The offenses range from “Depicting Asians as Perpetual Immigrants” to “Asians as a Subordinate.” Every media offense, once added to the ‘Kulture Offense Database,’ stays forever. It serves as a repository and reference for the Asian-American community to know which TV shows, which directors, and which companies stereotype and demean Asian cultures.

According to Kulture, the Asian-American community doesn’t yet have full awareness of how depictions in the entertainment media disadvantage them in real life. As an example, Hollywood representations of Asians as timid translate into real-world stereotypes whereby whites refuse to see Asians as leaders.  Asians are often unable to fundamentally change attitudes towards them, which are stubbornly reinforced by Hollywood. In other cases, Asians have a general awareness, but there is no common understanding as to why exactly certain Hollywood depictions are offensive; this forms a shaky basis from which to advocate change. Kulture addresses this by unpacking TV and movie scenes in detail and explaining the offensive nature of them.

Asian-Americans account for approximately 5.6% of the United States population, roughly 18.2 million people. According to student surveys conducted by the University of Michigan, Asian-Americans, when asked, could not name more than a few Asian actors, and the ones they could name were often portrayed in negative terms. Women are often sexualized while men are cast as villains or uncultured characters.

Many Asians know TV shows represent them in a bad light. But they may think they’re alone in that view,” says Kulture’s founder Tim Gupta. “Kulture spotlights how Hollywood mocks and excludes Asian men while fetishizing Asian women. Kulture helps Asians and those concerned about media racism stay abreast of how Asians are depicted, and we will eventually serve as a platform for them to take action against Hollywood offenders.”

To view the list of media offenses, visit www.kulturemedia.org.

Margaret Cho slams SNL for inviting Donald Trump to host

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OUT.com: 

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is set to host Saturday Night Live next month, a move that has left many people outraged. Comedian Margaret Cho joined the foray, slamming producers for inviting a “known racist” to participate while failing for decades to promote true racial equality.

Taking aim, Cho said:

Why has there never been an Asian-American host, cast member or musical guest on ‘SNL’ in 41 years? Forty-one years. Yet they want Donald Trump, a known racist, a known sexist, who disgustingly wants to have sex with his daughter. Who does he think he is, Woody Allen?”

“People come at me and say, ‘Oh, Fred Armisen is a quarter Japanese, Rob Schneider is half Filipino.’ Yeah, that makes three-quarters of an Asian-American, not even in one person, in 41 years.

Cho went on to suggest herself as a musical guest and Ken Jeong and George Takei as potential hosts.