2017 was an interesting year for AAPI. From Jason Momoa starring in Justice League to Korean immigrant NFL player Younghoe Koo to Asian-American nazis in Charlottesville, here are some of the standout moments from the year. Cheers to 2018!
Everything Mazie Hirono Did In 2017
Hawai’i’s U.S. Senator, Mazie Hirono, was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in April of this year, had her right kidney removed in May and returned to the Senate the same month. On July 25th, while the rest of the country praised John McCain, diagnosed with brain cancer, as a hero for returning to the Senate to cast his vote to replace Obamacare, Hirono humbly and dutifully travelled from her home state to Washington while still battling cancer to cast her vote not to eliminate healthcare for millions of people. She wasn’t hailed a hero but nonetheless did her job.
In September, she was featured in TIME magazine’s “Firsts” issue, highlighting women who are changing the world. She was the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 2013, as well as the the first female senator from Hawai’i and the first Buddhist senator. Since the 2016 election, which sparked the leadership of a bigot cheetoh, Hirono has not been afraid to publicly criticize 45, calling him a “misogynist” with a “narcissistic need for attention” and calling on him to resign amidst sexual harassment and assault allegations.
Most importantly, she plans to run for re-election in 2018.
Kelly Marie Tran Cast In Star Wars: The Last Jedi
When Kelly Marie Tran showed up to the Star Wars Celebration in April it didn’t exactly shake the internet but when Buzzfeed released “Kelly Marie Tran: The Rise of Rose” in November, the sound of Asian nerds’ glasses shattering could be heard everywhere.
As the first Asian-American actor with a major role in the monumental series, Tran has become an overnight icon in the community. Playing “Rose Tico” in the series, the 28-year-old Vietnamese-American actress is equal parts intelligent and quirky. Throughout December, she has been present on just about every Star Wars panel and event alongside series’ veterans Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac.
It’s something that I think about a lot, I just remember growing up and not seeing anyone that looked like me in movies. It feels like a lot of expectation, and you just wanna do it right.
During worldwide premieres and press tours, she posted about her lack of celebrity glamour how-to, her Vietnamese and American upbringing and her sheer geeky excitement about the colossal world she has stepped into. But perhaps the best thing about Kelly Marie Tran is how important she realizes her position is; representing a strong minority character, starting as lowly mechanic in the series and becoming a full-blown heroine.
Kristina Wong’s How To Pick Up Asian Chicks
Comedian/performance artist Kristina Wong, known for her social statements on race, sometimes subtle, mostly obvious, released How To Pick Up Asian Chicks, this year, a webseries reviewing excerpts from actual books that instruct men on how to perpetuate stereotypes and creepily court Asian women.
I’m Kristina Wong and I LOVE being objectified!
Again, using ACTUAL books like Everyman’s Guide To Asian Sex, How to Get an Asian Girlfriend, and Asian MILF Hunting, Wong and other recognizable members of the Asian media community, read, review and respond to excerpts from these books. Commentators include Asa Akira, Lynn Chen, Jenny Yang, Krista Suh, Michelle Krusiec, and Amy Hill. What ensues is a hilarious yet genuine criticism on the problematic mystique surrounding Asian women.
Janet Mock Addresses Trans Fear
On June 13th, Writer/Trans Activist/Native Hawaiian Activist/TV Host/Podcast Host/Everything, Janet Mock, released her second memoir Surpassing Certainty, embarking on a non-stop press tour. One of her appearances included “the world’s most dangerous morning show”, The Breakfast Club. A radio show, known for its unfiltered humor, brash criticism and controversial guests, Mock hoped to gain the attention of Black and Latinx listeners during her July interview. During the 32-minute poking session, Mock answered questions about her life; growing up in Hawai’i, her formative years during her transition, the status of her vagina and of course, her new memoir; civility and endurance were the keys to this cordial and out of the box appearance.
Co-host Charlamagne the God, Janet Mock, Co-hosts Angela Yee and DJ Envy
A few weeks after her interview, comedian Lil Duval appeared on the same radio show to discuss who knows what and a fire hath started. Co-host Charlamagne the God asked the comedian how he felt about 45’s ban on transgenders serving in the military, to which his response was “don’t ask me about nothing like that”. Igniting the flame further, co-host DJ Envy asked Lil Duval how he would react if a girl he was dating revealed she was transgender…..prepare yourself…..he said that she would deserve to die. The hosts then brought up Janet Mock’s recent appearance and disgustingly Lil Duval repeatedly referred to her as “he”.
This was not the first time that I’ve been misgendered, dismissed, told that I am an abomination, that I need medical help and God, et cetera, et cetera. Boo boo: You are not original. Everything you’ve spewed has been said to me and my sisters before — hundreds of times. But there are deeper consequences to this casual ignorance.
Instead of lashing out on social media, she took to the form of expression she knows best; writing. In her column for Allure, Janet addressed the male hosts of The Breakfast Club and Lil Duval directly with the response article, Dear Men of “The Breakfast Club”: Trans Women Aren’t a Prop, Ploy, or Sexual Predators. Calling out trans fear, praising fellow activists, and delving into racial issues. After an incredible show of support, the male hosts of The Breakfast Club skittishly flubbed over excuses as to why the interview took a turn.
Janet Mock – 1, Men of the Breakfast Club – 0
Crazy Rich Asians Begins Filming
What is the last American major motion picture with an all-asian cast that you can think of? Perhaps The Joy Luck Club or Memoirs of A Geisha? Well, in April, the cast of Crazy Rich Asians was announced and Asian media broke the hell down. Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel of the same name, the story revolves around three aristocratic Chinese families, their love of gossip and backstabbing and the pending nuptials of the heir to their fortune.
Praised for its non-whitewashing, the film features an all-Asian cast including Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Ken Jeong, among other big names in the Asian entertainment industry. In November, Wu and Golding were featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, only about the 12th time it’s happened in the magazine’s history.
The book and the film both provide audiences the opportunity to see themselves in mainstream media, represented by fully dimensional characters, propelling them to the forefront. It’s slated for release on August 17, 2018.
The Rise of Asian American Women In Indie Music
Japanese Breakfast, Mitski, Jay Som
In 2016, I witnessed something I never thought I would; a full show featuring Asian American female musicians. The immense pride I felt while watching Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast and Mitski perform is a feeling I will remember for years to come. Rarely did I encounter anything besides a skinny, ironic t-shirt-wearing white boy, with a not-trying-hard but also trying-hard haircut and permanent too-cool face. It was beyond extraordinary to see another representation of Asian women in music; rather than bubbly pop stars, we were now gifted with honest and multi-dimensional artists.
Japanese Breakfast (Michelle Zauner) and Jay Som (Melina Duterte) released their first studio albums in 2016 and followed up in 2017 with their sophomores, garnering critical acclaim for their work and playing to sold out venues all over the U.S. Mitski (Mitski Miyawaki) released her fourth studio album in 2016 and praise for Puberty 2 has not subsided since. It was named on various best albums lists by TIME, Stereogum, Pitchfork, NPR and Rolling Stone, among many others.
Artists like Yoko Ono, Karen O, Emily’s Sassy Line and Thao Nguyen, have paved the way for future artists and defy Asian women stereotypes. Where once we were expected to be meek, submissive and ordinary, we now have representations of acceptability to release our inner freaks.
Viet Thanh Nguyen; Bringing the Immigrant Experience To the Mainstream
During the Vietnam War, which was considered extremely literary, thousands of works were produced, both fiction and non-fiction. However, none have found as much success as Viet Thanh Nguyen‘s 2015 debut novel, The Sympathizer, bringing the events of 40 years ago to today’s audiences. The novel was a best-seller and was the recipient of 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
“In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories.” -Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Refugees
Nguyen’s widely anticipated follow-up was released this year; The Refugees, is a collection of short stories, featuring the experiences of Vietnamese families after the war. His sophomore work was just as powerful as his freshman; appearing on bestseller lists everywhere. Nguyen’s press tour included talk shows, podcasts and print interviews, in which he was able to speak without boundaries about the immigrant and refugee experience, during a year where it was most necessary.
The Birth of Resistance Auntie
On January, 20, 2017, during Trump’s first speech as President, a photo of an older Asian woman flipping off 45 went viral and the internet dubbed her “Resistance Auntie”. Generating thousand of retweets in just a few hours, social media connoisseurs rapidly identified with her. Resistance Auntie was immortalized in a painting by Shing Yin Khor which also went viral as well as made into prints and t-shirts, promoting solidarity against the U.S.’s newest disappointment.
Resistance Auntie’s real name is Anita Yavich, who happens to be an accomplished New York costume designer and also holds an M.F.A from the Yale School of Drama and is a Professor of Theatre Arts.
She is us. We are her.
Hong Chau: Sizing Up
Before Downsizing was released in theaters on December 22, one of its stars, Hong Chau, was already nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for supporting actress. Playing a Vietnamese political activist in the film, Chau has garnered the most attention for her standout role, from a film that is considered by critics, at best, a dismal.
Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Chau’s parents fled Vietnam in 1979, while her mother was pregnant with her. The family ended up in New Orleans after being taken in by a sponsor family. Chau’s experience gave a genuine perspective to her portrayal of Ngoc Lan Tan, and helps to humanize the refugee story and has been extremely vocal of not only increased opportunity for POC in the industry but also the authenticity that should go hand in hand.
Chau started acting in order to overcome her introverted nature, and can be seen in various projects including Inherent Vice and Big Little Lies.
Here Comes Ruby Ibarra
Filipina Rapper Ruby Ibarra began posting videos on YouTube in 2010 and has been featured on Beatrock Music’s family of artists since then. Circa91, her first full-length album, features the San Lorenzo, CA based rapper spitting in English, Tagalog, and her family’s Waray dialect. In a year where it was most needed, Ibarra’s album focuses on marginalization, success, and culture.
My only advice is to please keep writing, please keep sharing your story and art. Hip hop needs you. The community needs you. The stage is more than big enough for everyone!!!
Raised in Tacloban, Philippines, her first foray into music began with the late Filipino rapper, Francis Magalona. Her family immigrated to San Lorenzo in 1991. when she was a young child, where she was introduced to artists like Tupac and Lauryn Hill, direct inspirations in her storytelling music. Navigating her way through a male-dominated industry, and being one of the few Asian American rappers, Ruby Ibarra is proving the continued relevance of the immigrant experience and how identity can take on numerous forms.
Hawaii Five-O and the Departure of Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park
In June of this year, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, stars of the reboot of Hawaii Five-O, left the show after its seventh season. The actors, who play Chin Ho Kelly (Kim) and Kono Kalakaua (Park), could not reach a monetary agreement with CBS executives. Reportedly, they were being paid 10-15% less than their mediocre white counterparts, Alex O’ Loughlin and Scott Caan, and were striving for equal pay.
As an Asian-American actor, I know first-hand how difficult it is to find opportunities at all, let alone play a well-developed, three-dimensional character like Chin Ho. I will miss him sincerely. … [T]hough transitions can be difficult, I encourage us all to look beyond the disappointment of this moment to the bigger picture. The path to equality is rarely easy.
As arguably the most AAPI show on television, the series would lose two of its most popular and diverse actors; their departure sparked even bigger discussions on inequality in Hollywood and pay gaps based on race. Although they will be missed on the show, both actors have acquired respect for standing up for themselves and other performers of color.
Awkwafina Cannot Be Stopped
Nora Lum aka Awkwafina is an actress, comedian, rapper, activist, television personality, webseries host, etc., etc., etc. Since the 2014 release of her EP, Yellow Ranger, she has become one of the most successful Asian American entertainers and was dubbed one of the “New Hollywood” icons by KoreAM (Kore Asian Media) and awarded the “Female Breakout” title at their Unforgettable Gala.
Born in New York City to a Chinese father and a Korean mother, Awkwafina’s comedic and sarcastic style boasted her into the spotlight and this year she began filming Ocean’s 8 alongside Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Rihanna. She can also be seen in Dude, Future Man, and the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians.
The Problem With Apu
During comedian Hari Kondabolu’s childhood, he watched the cartoon series The Simpsons, instantly connecting with the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the convenience store owner that Homer regularly squabbles with. Being the only representation of his family’s culture regularly airing on television, it became a major influence on his comedy and his cultural savvy. As he grew older, he realized the negative impact Apu has on South Asians and their identity.
The Simpsons stereotypes…all racist. The problem is we didn’t have any other representation. -Utkarsh Ambudkar
In November, the documentary film, The Problem with Apu, premiered on truTV, which revolved around the harmful effects of the legendary character. Kondabolu explores his complex relationship with Apu, and interviews several other South Asian entertainers on how he has impacted their lives. Although Kondabolu has received criticism for smearing a beloved long-running series, what is more important is his brash take on representational inequality in media and how it manifests in everyday life.
Thank you, Elisa, for reminding us all to be proud of our roots.
You are a shining bright star in our family. A great observer of people as well as our culture.
It is my hope that you find a place in which to make a living with your talent.
Love, Aunty Jackie