Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Press Release: Asian American Media Watchdog Group Praises Disney/Pixar’s “Up” for Creating Asian American Protagonist

LOS ANGELES–The Media Action Network for Asian Americans, the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring media depictions of Asian Americans, is praising Disney/Pixar for creating an Asian American boy as a co-star in their summer blockbuster film, “Up.”

Nine-year-old Jordan Nagai, who is Japanese American, beat out 500 other auditioning children to star as Russell, a chubby Wilderness Explorer and wayward stowaway who tags along on septuagenarian Carl Fredricksen’s South American adventure.

"Because Russell is just about the only young character in the entire movie, children will identify with him and see the film through his eyes," Guy Aoki, founding president of MANAA, said. "The fact that he's Asian American will help bring acceptance not only to Asian American boys, but overweight ones at that."

The character’s design was inspired by the physical appearance of Pixar employee Peter Sohn, a Korean American director and story artist whose short film, “Partly Cloudy,” plays in theaters as the opening act for “Up.”

"Children watching this movie will not see race in this story, but accept Russell as a fellow kid, which will make them more broad-minded than many of today's adults in accepting people of color as heroes," Aoki said. Noting that “Up” grossed $68.2 million over the weekend, making it Pixar’s third-highest opening film, Aoki says, “We hope the success of this project will lead studios to cast Asian Americans as the stars of live-action movies, because just as audiences can relate to Russell in "Up," they'll be able to relate to Asian American characters in live-action projects as well.”

Veteran actor Aki Aleong praised Disney/Pixar for rebuking typecasting and creating a unique Asian American character and urged the Asian American community to support the movie.

"Disney/Pixar could have drawn Russell as a white character, but instead, they demonstrated their commitment to diversity," Aleong, a past MANAA President, said. "MANAA sincerely hopes that producers and film studios will follow Disney/Pixar's lead and cast Asian Americans in non-traditional lead roles.”

With a career spanning half a decade, Aleong, 74, has witnessed first-hand the discriminatory practices Asian American actors have faced in Hollywood—and continue to face even today. Recently, MANAA condemned Sony Pictures for using mostly white actors to play real-life Asian Americans in the film “21” and Paramount Pictures for choosing white actors to portray Asian characters in next year’s “The Last Airbender.”

"While other studios continue to deliberately cast whites to play Asian characters, Disney/Pixar has recognized that people of color can be heroes in feature films, too,” said Marissa Lee, spokesperson of racebending.com, a fan site protesting the casting of “The Last Airbender.”

"Disney/Pixar did not define Russell's character by overemphasizing or stereotyping his ethnicity," Lee said. "He was courageous, determined, and kind to the people and animals he met on his adventure. While he is Asian American, what mattered most was the content of his character."

In 1999, MANAA honored Disney for producing the Chinese-based story “Mulan” and again recognized the studio in 2006 for using a Hawaiian setting and creating an Asian Pacific American protagonist, Lilo, for “Lilo And Stitch.” Disney’s next animated feature film, “The Princess And The Frog,” also features a protagonist of color, Tiana, a New Orleans waitress-turned-princess, who is African American.

"We are a country of change, and a colorblind America for all can only be realized when we portray the American scene honestly," Aleong said. “Against the accustomed and unfounded fears of box office failure if a main character is non-white, ‘Up’ is a solid hit and now, history has been made.”

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Message from the President of MANAA

Dear friends,

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is over for another year, but that doesn’t mean the work stops for an organization like ours. Indeed, it feels like we are busier than ever, and that’s why I am writing to let you know about what's happening and to invite you to join the group. The month of May ended with with two very different notes for the API community. On the one hand, it was great to see that “Up” - the new Disney-Pixar movie that happens to co-star an Asian American boy named Russell - opened to strong reviews and #1 at the box office. On the other hand, I was sad to acknowledge the passing away of Ron Takaki, noted Asian American Studies scholar, and one my professors from college (anyone else read “Strangers From A Different Shore” for Intro to Asian Am. Class?).

Then there is another movie, "The Last Airbender,”which in contrast to "Up" is still very much a work in progress. We appreciate the support MANAA has received from fans to keep a spotlight on Airbender’s casting and production, and in the near future, I’ll be posting an update on how that campaign is going.

And just in case you missed it (see the posting below!), we’re co-sponsoring a panel discussion this Thursday night at the UC Irvine University Club. If you are in the Southern California area and can’t make the meetings in LA, please come meet us in person there!

Last but not least, we’re finally on Facebook! Well, we've been there, but we’re just starting to use it more now: http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=14661828412 If you can’t come out to LA or OC, then come say hi to us there! I also invite you to come connect with me at my MANAA/Facebook page. It's still very new, and you can find it using the email address plee@manaa.org.

Best regards,

Phil Lee

President, MANAA

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

OCA-OC and MANAA Announces “You Oughta Be in Pictures!” to Discuss Images of Asian Americans In Media

OCA-OC and MANAA announced that the two organizations will jointly host a forum to discuss the images of Asian Americans in media. OCA-OC is an organization dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian and Pacific Americans in the United States. MANAA advocates for balanced, sensitive, and positive coverage and portrayals of Asian Americans in the media. The public is encouraged to join in a lively panel discussion as actor Francois Chau ("Lost"), actor Tzi Ma ("Rush Hour" and 24), and Guy Aoki (MANAA founding president, and Rafu Shimpo columnist), share their experiences with Hollywood and efforts to change the way mainstream media portrays Asian Americans.

“This discussion will inform the public of how the Asian and Pacific Americans have been portrayed,” said Ellen Lu, President of OCA-OC. “The changes to a more accurate and positive portrayal of all ethnic minority communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander community, will be instrumental in fighting discrimination and prejudice."

"Anyone interested in the changing relationship between our communities and the media should find this evening both fun and thought-provoking,” said Phil Lee, MANAA President.

Who: Guy Aoki, founding president, MANAA
Tzi Ma, actor ("Rush Hour" and "24")
Francois Chau, actor ("Lost")

What: Lively discussion on changes in the way mainstream media portrays Asian Americans.

When: Thursday, June 4, 2009
6 PM Registration and Networking
7 PM Program

Where: UC Irvine University Club
801 East Peltason Drive, Irvine

Cost: MANAA and OCA-OC Members: $5
Non-Members: $10

Etc: Drinks and hors d’oeuvres provided
Parking is complimentary

RSVP: rsvp@oca-oc.org