There are many reasons for us to love TAMLYN TOMITA, not because many of us grew up watching her on Karate Kid and Joy Luck Club, but more so because her career has been consistent and she has acted in some of the big films and TV shows as well as many independent films. Currently she is in The Good Doctor and is a reason why I watch the show because I think she is awesome. Tomita has also been outspoken and really has gone into depth to talk about whitewashing and negative racial stereotypes. She got real in an interview with media outlet “CULTURED VULTURES” about her role on The Good Doctor but as well as touch on some of her views and observations about the industry. I will share that in a little bit. But before I do, I had the opportunity to interview Tomita at the Opening of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival which just ended last weekend. I asked her a question in the similar vein about her opinions on how much change we have seen in the visibility and representation of Asians on Western/Hollywood film and TV.
This is what she told me:
Absolutely we need more, but it is improving and it will always get better. There is an Asian sating that goes: 7 steps forward, 8 steps back, but we need to see this issue of diversity as being 8 steps forward and 7 steps back. Only a progressive and forward thinking movement can make representation and visibility happen. For me being in the acting game for a long time, we can see significant improvements from when I was acting in Joy Luck Club all the way till now – like my role in The Good Doctor, you have Asian Americans, Latino Americans and African Americans cast as major characters in the show. This is where we show that we can represent major ethnicities, and not just be fully white.
Music to my ears, and here are a few excerpts of what she said during the CULTURED VULTURES interview:
You have made great strides in making your place in Hollywood as an Asian-American actress. What has that journey been like for you and how has that factored into the types of roles you play?
Being very cognizant of having a face like mine in America in 1985, I knew that because growing up, it’s very different for kids right now. And it’s constantly changing and progressing and evolving in a good manner. It does feel like we take ten steps forward and nine steps back sometimes, but that’s human nature and people are resistant to change. I remember that were not that many roles, and I didn’t want to be on TV shows where I had to play a maid with an accent, or a hooker who is the bad guy, or as a woman playing a sex toy. We called it ‘gooks, gangsters, and geishas’ back then and we had a group of actors who bonded around together and started speaking out against those kinds of roles, and we demanded a little more opportunity and access to roles that didn’t have to make a statement or prejudicial portrayal of ethnic Americans.
If I played a role that played an antagonist, I had to make sure that were was an Asian American playing a good guy, so that there would be a balance somewhere in the show. I think I’ve always encouraged other actors to do the same but that is their prerogative and artistic choice. But to make sure they go beyond stereotypical or racist portrayal, and that’s where we find ourselves today, fighting the fight. But the fight has gotten easier with the advent of social media and the intelligent voices we’re hearing because of it. We are able to learn a little bit more democratically and I think we’re seeing with white washing and racist roles that we have voices that speak against it and that is where we find ourselves today. We are celebrating shows like on ABC and NBC and in films with faces who are not white, blond, and blue-eyed. It is a collective exercise to make sure there is equal portrayal.
Last year, you spoke out against the film Ni’ihau (ny-aii-haa) in regards to the casting and the whitewashing of Asian roles. What did you learn from the experience and what action(s) do you believe can be taken to fight whitewashing?
I find it exciting and it really is crystallized in the #NeverAgain movement of the kids of Parkland, how intelligent they are and how they are changing the world and the fact they are so adept in speaking and speaking out on social media – those are two different gifts. The collective voices that we hear pertaining to any issue, but particularly whitewashing is alive and on fire in social media. When there is a project or something comes up you see a lot of voices speaking out with valid, articulate reasons as to why it is wrong. This is the 21st century fight in social activism, and I’m happy to be a small part of it. I’m not adept at social media, but when I do get a chance I love to share my experiences.
Images via Cultured Vultures