2016 was a shit year. Let’s all just admit that. From the many deaths of icons from pop culture to the Presidential election, to the normalization of systemic racism and a complete repudiation of the Obama administration, we are just all now counting down the days until Trump becomes President and go along the white knuckle ride to wherever we will go in the next 4 years.
Jeesh, what a way to start an article about the best Asian American moments in pop culture this year, huh? But for whatever year it’s been, it has been a landmark year for Asian Americans in the mainstream. In a way, the Trumpism of America is a last desperate attempt for conservatism to stop this wave of change. It is inevitable, in fact. So, yes Ken Jeong as a sitcom dad is what makes people so scared. They want to lock up Muslims in internment camps, build a wall along the Mexico border, allow the killing of young black men by the police, don’t allow trans people to go to the restroom that they want to, take away the rights of women and gay people and the list goes on.
In a way, TV is a reflection of American society and it’s completely inaccurate. But, in 2016, it got a bit better and we have to push for more representation in the coming year. Therefore, here’s the top Asian American moments of 2016:
ASIANS IN STAR WARS:
Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen and Riz Ahmed shined in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY as part of the ragtag team of Rebels that went on a suicide mission to steal the Death Star plans that helped the Rebel Alliance (and one farm boy) to finally destroy this ultimate weapon.
I first saw Donnie Yen in WING CHUN with Michelle Yeoh. It’s still one of my all-time favorite kung-fu films. So it’s no wonder why, for me, the movie really came to life during Yen’s first, no lightsaber required, ass-whooping fight scene. I also loved Riz Ahmed. He killed it in THE NIGHT OF, and those big doe-eyes make him so naturally compelling. And did I mention Jiang Weng’s “Old Painless” Predator gun? It’s safe to say the Asians stole this Star Wars show.
THE YEAR OF RIZ AHMED:
The guy can do it all. Act the shit out of anything, as well as being a gifted MC and rap artist, Ahmed had a banner year this year. Aside from his work in ROGUE ONE and JASON BOURNE, it is his work in HBO’s THE NIGHT OF which truly caps off an amazing year for the young actor, who has been in the biz for a while playing typecast roles, mostly of faceless terrorists.
Offender Phil wrote a great piece about how THE NIGHT OF is more compelling because of its diverse cast. If it was whitewashed, it just wouldn’t be as good.
DWAYNE JOHNSON IS THE HIGHEST PAID ACTOR IN THE WORLD:
We reported back in August about Forbes annual list of highest paid entertainers and our friend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson topped the list. This is groundbreaking because this is the first non-white individual to top the list. Johnson, who is of mixed African American and Samoan heritage and hailed from Hawaii, is very much the Barack Obama go high-octane entertainment, if Obama decided to take up pro wrestling and lifting everyday instead of becoming the leader of the free world and all.
MASTER OF NONE WINS EMMY:
We all love the Netflix show MASTER OF NONE co-created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. So, when they both won the Emmy for comedy writing, it was a major deal. Yang’s speech was funny and poignant, where he hopes to see Asian parents enroll their kids in acting schools and creative writing workshops instead of piano and violin lessons.
HAYDEN SZETO IS THE ANTI-DUCKIE (Spoilers):
Asian Canadian actor Hayden Szeto shines in a landmark role as “the other guy” in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN starring Oscar nominee Hailey Steinfeld (who is actually haps Filipino). This little seen film about a misunderstood teen going through the toils of high school life after her best friend begins dating her much cooler and hip brother, is nothing new. We’ve seen countless coming-of-age movies from the John Hughes oeuvre alone. But, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is a fantastic film, with a acerbic script, great performances and the role of Erwin Kim, which Szeto plays so well. He’s the other guy, but not a Long Duk Dong, or even Duckie. The dude has friends, is creative and is totally forward in his affections to Steinfeld. He’s the sleeper in the film, crafting a charming, awkward and very crushable role and what’s even better is he gets the girl in the end.
ALI WONG IS EVERYTHING:
Ali Wong’s Netflix comedy special ‘Baby Cobra” is indeed everything. Aside from being the funniest comedy special of the year, it was full of dark, bathroom humor, but it was also deeply personal and like all great comics, weaves a narrative that goes into the psychological depths of her own experiences of becoming a mother.
Wong also does something that is great in her standup — She opens the curtain on how Asian Americans see the world. Here’s Offender Dominic’s take on how she does that:
She does do the standard trick of speaking Ebonically and deploying the “uh huh, gurl/bitches” to accentuate her punchlines. But we all do that. And she also references Wolverine. But most importantly, her set is a good refresher course on Basic Asian Stuff/Knowledge in a time when, to my eye, the B.A.S.K. index is at an all-time low among millennials. I’m not talking about the history of 19th-century China or complex stuff/knowledge like that, I’m talking about knowing that Korean is the language of Korea. Elementary stuff everyone should know for navigating a planet of mainly Asian people.
Things you will learn! The difference between Fancy Asians and Jungle Asians (highly disputable). The way you can tell authentic Vietnamese restaurants from poser Vietnamese restaurants. The feeling Asian-Americans often have that they are posing as yuppie white people. The feels Asian-American women have about being perceived as bad drivers. The realities of dating dynamics between Asians and white people, including a subtle dig at Wes Anderson films. The lifespan of Asians.
RACIST INCIDENTS STILL KEEP COMIN’:
DR STRANGE and GHOST IN THE SHELL. The racist Asian jokes during the Oscars. That Fox News asshole who went to NYC’s Chinatown and made fun of Chinese people. The time when NBC green-lit a comedy pilot about a single dad who orders a Filipino mail-order bride. The list goes on and on.
Although it was a banner year for Asian representation in Hollywood, we’ve got a long way to go. If anything, these dumb-ass situations will continue for years to come, but the difference is it’s making people angry and the studios are listening. Well, some of them. We also have to ask why it keeps happening, even more so with Asian America?
It’s quite simple — Non-Asians don’t know how to deal with Asians or have a jacked up understanding of us. It’s grouping us together as one monolithic group, where Japanese, Chinese, Korean are mixed together and not knowing the nuances and diversity of Asian America. It’s excluding Filipinos and thinking they’re Hispanic. It’s stupid and it’s got to stop.
Therefore, we’ve got to keep at it and move onward, which means we need more Asian American decision makers, talent above and below the line, and content creators to make stories for us. This is paramount and very important, even more so, as we enter the Trump era.
Happy New Year, everyone.