Aziz Ansari’s co-writer dropped some major statistical knowledge about diversity at the Emmys.
This year’s Primetime Emmy Awards produced a significantly diverse set of winners including Rami Malek for Lead Drama Actor in Mr. Robot and Jill Solloway for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for Amazon’s Transparent. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang also made history with their first Emmy win for Comedy Writing for Master of None, the Netflix series about Indian-American comedian Dev (Ansari) as he navigates personal and professional life decisions while living in New York City. While Ansari was unfortunately cut off (tsk tsk, Emmy producers), Yang made an interesting call-to-action in his speech. Vox has the video, but the most compelling statement is as follows:
“There are 17 million Asian-Americans in this country, and there are 17 million Italian-Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Sopranos… we got Long Duk Dong. We have a long way to go.”
In comparing the hypermasculine portrayals of Italian-Americans in film to the notoriously racist and stereotypical portrayal of Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) in the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles, Yang is proving a real point: What the f*ck, Hollywood? Or, perhaps, in Long Duk Dong’s words: What’s happening, hot stuff?
With his overemphasized accent and mysterious yet creepishly strange behavior, the notorious LDD has become an unfortunate symbol of Asian male emasculation and nerdiness as popularized by American movies and television. Before him there was the yellowface portrayal of Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu, and the Dragon Lady stereotype made famous by the legendary Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong. More recently, we’ve seen a trend toward total erasure of Asians through films such as Aloha (#TBT to Alison Ng), Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange. Don’t even get me started on the Matt Damon and The Great Wall of China movie.
Despite the poor casting choices in these movies, there is real potential for a trend toward truly diverse representation in movies especially as we move forward into an increasingly global movie marketplace. But American content creators and filmmakers need to be more inclusive and realistic about the people that live in this country today and serve as consumers of their movies and television shows. According to a study by the University of Southern California Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, only 5.3% of characters in the top films of 2014 were Asian. We can do better than that.
It’s been 32 years since Long Duk Dong first appeared on-screen, but Yang’s call for greater diversity and Asian representation is as relevant as ever. While Bruce Lee remains a historic Hollywood martial arts icon, we haven’t exactly seen movies with a masculine Asian male hero with mad swag and sex appeal since Enter the Dragon (1973). In fact, an upcoming Bruce Lee movie situates the martial arts icon as a sidekick in a white man’s story.
There have been improvements in casting and producing Asian stories lately, though mostly in comedy television, as we’ve seen in Master of None, Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken. Justin Lin’s flashy Fast and the Furious franchise isn’t exactly Oscar bait, but the movies serve as proof that diverse casting works and is profitable.
In his closing remarks, Yang made a joking (though likely half-serious) plea to Asian-American parents to give their kids cameras instead of violins. The man’s got a point. The best way to get more Asian-American stories made into movies and TV shows is to have more people like Yang and Ansari producing them. Journalist-activist Jose Antonio Vargas at EmergingUS states that the United States is moving toward a more Asian, more Latino, more mixed race, and basically more diverse population than ever before. Diverse stories already exist heavily in online video, and they are inevitable in film and television, so why fight it?
TL;DR: It’s time to start adding that fancy SLR camera to your Christmas wishlist, kids. Or better yet, make a movie with your smartphone.