INTO THE NEXT STAGE: ‘Hawaii Five-O’ Producers: Preferring White and Black Characters Over APIs

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AOKI-GUY-color1By GUY AOKI

Since the new television season began, I’ve resisted writing about “Hawaii Five-O” because there wasn’t much to report. It’s the same old thing.  But the infuriating aspects of what constitutes “the same old thing” really stood out in last Friday’s episode where the black governor (ahahaaa! In Hawaii, where 3% of the population is black? Yeah, right!) reappeared along with the black SWAT team captain played by Chi McBride.

So because the latter keeps butting heads with the headstrong and foolish Steve McGarrett (Alex “Wooden Actor” O’Loughlin), he complains to the former and the three have a meeting. That’s two black authority figures in guest roles that Asian Pacific Islander actors could only dream of playing despite this show being set in the 50th state.

That’s with Grace Park rarely seen because she apparently got pregnant earlier this year and is limited by what she can do. She usually only appears briefly in the beginning of episodes with her and her beau Adam Noshimuri (Ian Anthony Dale) on the run from the yakuza, who want to kill him for accidentally killing his yakuza brother last season.

Instead of filling the Five-O ranks with an API presence, the producers bring in more white and black actors and promote McGarrett’s white girlfriend (Michelle Borth) to an official member of the team. Just as, in previous seasons, they added a white FBI agent, then when she left, a blonde policewoman to the task force (just not officially in the opening credits).

“Same old thing” also means the numbing expectation that if there’s any victim that needs to be rescued, it’ll be a white person. If any local-looking (Asian Pacific Islander) person appears, it’ll be for two seconds before he’s shot to death and before he has a chance to utter a single line. Or Five-O will discover him already dead in his apartment, his only presence a previously seen mug shot on their computer screen.

If local-looking people aren’t villains, they’ll have white last names (and not Asian Pacific ones), meaning the writers and producers weren’t expecting to cast a local in that role. Gotcha.

And if an Asian man does get significant screen time, he’ll be one of the Japanese bad guys, as Brian Tee was recently. Borth beat him until his face was a pulpy mess. Yeah, real nice. Daniel Dae Kim is the only regular with any kind of API presence on this show, and he’s not enough to balance the portrayals of Asian good guys vs. bad guys. I throw my hands up in the air. I throw up on the sofa. This is a racist show. Take a bow, executive producer Peter Lenkov.

Alex O’Loughin and Chi McBride in a scene from “Hawaii Five-0.”

Alex O’Loughin and Chi McBride in a scene from “Hawaii Five-0.”

“Same old thing” also leaks into the plots and promos. Last season, Adam Noshimuri wanted revenge for the murder of his dad (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Then we found out someone faked the elder Noshimuri’s death in order to help him. Then later on, someone killed him (off camera) for real. OK… now, after the yakuza kidnaps Adam, Kono (Park) is out for blood. The team kidnaps a Japanese man and interrogates him. He reveals that he wanted to kill Adam, but out of respect, he faked his death.

Seriously? Two faked deaths within the same family? McGarrett’s own mother faked hers decades ago too.  Do the writers on this show not have long-term memory? This is a joke.

On a previous trailer, as we saw Borth’s character get shot, and with McGarrett at her bedside in the hospital, we were warned, “A hero will fall.” Ahh, turned out her ex-boyfriend’s the one who got shot and killed; Borth was up and at ’em pretty quickly. That didn’t stop CBS from using “A hero will fall” in the promos for the latest episode of “Person of Interest.” Eh, not gonna fall for that one again.

As for the actor who never deserved the job of playing the iconic Steve McGarrett after starring in two consecutive CBS flops, Australian O’Loughlin recently told the press (with my sarcastic comments added in brackets), “I’ve never played one character for this long [all my other shows were canceled before the second season]. And it’s network TV too, so it comes with its own set of challenges from the artist’s perspective [like how to keep the audience’s attention when I was boring as hell to begin with; it keeps getting harder to keep them from falling asleep now that we’re into the fourth season]. But I’m very lucky. My kids will get to go to good schools, we all eat organic food, and I live in Hawaii [spoken like a true tourist].”

Curious Timing Department: In my last column, I took Mindy Kaling to task for having her character in “The Mindy Project” only date white men. In this week’s episode, her firm is accused of being racist when a white patient writes in glowing terms about the practice on a white supremacist website. Because Dr. Mindy Lahiri and the doctors refused to allow two outside doctors to post campaign posters of a black congressional candidate in their offices, they hold a rally outside Lahiri’s building, trying to ruin her office’s reputation.

In a staff meeting, Lahiri protests to Chris (Jenna Elfman), a public relations consultant, “I’m Indian!  I can’t be racist!”

Danny, one of her closest friends, turns to her and says, “Oh please, you only hook up with white guys! I’ve hooked up with every race of woman!”

Lahiri: “How dare you! I went to second base with Korean Justin. His hands were so small, made my boobs feel enormous!”

Chris: “Everything you just said was racist!”

Later on, when the black politician joins the rally, another doctor — who insisted he knew him in college — approaches him then turns away, realizing that’s not the same black man.

Lahiri: “OK, that was really racist!”

After Lahiri gets up at the mike to reassure everyone their firm is not racist, she ends it with, “Whitman in 2014!”

Someone from the crowd corrects her: “Whitfield!”

“Whitfield!  Sorry!”

In trying to defend themselves, most of the doctors only make themselves out to be insensitive/racist even more, and it was a pretty funny episode. But seriously, about that “white only” dating policy… it’s gotta change. And besides a guest appearance by Lahiri’s brother in a couple episodes, have we seen any other Asian people on this show?

Katie Chang

Katie Chang

Not Running Away From Your Heritage Department: In the past two columns I’ve discussed the annoying trend of Hapa actors with Asian last names changing them to white names to help their careers (hello, Chloe Wang/Bennett and Sandrine Ho/Holt!). So it’s refreshing that one of the new faces predicted for great things has kept hers. And she barely looks Asian in the first place (she’s only a quarter Korean from her dad’s side).

She’s Katie Chang, who had a big role in the “The Bling Bling” and will be seen in “Anesthesia” with Glenn Close and Kristin Stewart and in another film with Ben Kingsley. The fact that she barely looks Asian isn’t the point; when people see her name, they’ll be reminded that she is. So any acceptance she gets from fans helps the acceptance of the Asian American community.

Since those aforementioned columns were passed around online, I was surprised and annoyed at the responses of some Hapas who tried to make my article into something it was not: Full-blooded Asian Americans dictating who’s a “real Asian American or not.” In the past, many Hapas used to complain about being forced to choose between their Asian side or their white or black side. I’m glad they didn’t try to assert my piece was about that, but it’s still sad.

It speaks to their experiences of not feeling fully accepted by full-blooded Asian Americans. So they tried to insist that’s what I was trying to say so they can use that opportunity to argue with people about their grievances.

We can all agree to disagree on this and any other issue, but please, at least stick to that original issue, OK?

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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  1. I can sympathize with your concerns, but you may be slightly off-target. Hawaii 5-0 has Asian/PI actors in nearly all the other secondary roles, including the Medical Examiner, chief forensic tech, an HPD sergeant, and of course, Taylor Wily as the 400-lb eternal optimist, helicopter pilot and shrimp entrepreneur. I’ve written and spoken about minority images in media, mostly in the 1970s-90s, and seen the pendulum swing both ways. Can’t back it up with numbers, but I suspect that right now there are more South Asian characters in prime time than there are Latinos. Ditto for gay characters. I’m also guessing there are more British/Australian actors playing Americans in current tv and movies than Hispanic performers. Dammed illegal aliens coming over from the UK, etc taking jobs away from real Americans!

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