Asian Actors

05 Feb

Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, was the only Asian I knew in my childhood to actually play for an American audience his own nationality. In fact, up to about 2001 I could name all of the Asian actors in Hollywood and on TV with just my two hands.

Jackie Chan, Jet Li all played their own nationalities but often it was only martial arts movies devoid of any real culture about what it meant to be Chinese. I did not see them say “ge ge” or see them act or talk in a way that made me think, “This is Chinese culture, I just have to roll with it.”

It was especially sad to me that there were no identifiable Korean actors, let alone female ones. I felt a disconnect from my own culture. I had no choice, but to admire black or white actors. I lost touch with my physical identity at those times, and sometimes had a hard time accepting what I saw in myself.

Asian actors would play all different ethnicities, with the scripts making no differentiation. It was as if to say that all Asians are alike. There is no difference. Make them talk slow, fight martial arts, make tea and laugh behind a sleeve with slurred r’s and where’s the difference?

I admit how much this has changed. LOST featured two Koreans speaking Korean who actually were Korean, and it managed to show the culture. Bobby Lee often makes fun of his Korean heritage in sketches like Average Asian and Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirably and Sometimes Secretive.

An Japanese play Japanese though often eclipsed by people like Tom Cruise’s character who can save all of Japan despite being a Caucasian in what would have been a hostile-to-whites environment.

Despite all of this ethnic shuffling and reassigning, I didn’t set out to define myself by the actors I see on TV. I don’t want to confine myself by what others are or how they think. That doesn’t tell who I am, but I still can see the advocates of Asian actors’ side. It’s not for us to look up to those who act and have role models insomuch as it is for those who are not Asian, to not harbor the stereotypes shown on TV.

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