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Casting of Romantic Male Roles
Shows Lack of Cultural Respect

(Review of NBC's Lost Empire / LA Times Version)

Written by Jeff Park (Editor in Chief)

Jeff  Park   
Background Information

Mr. Park helped represent the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) during the NAACP Coalition led negotiations with the major television networks, and is a member of the Media Image Coalition's planning committee for the April 28 United Nations conference on racism and xenophobia.

Mr. Park is also a strategist forVarious Consulting Group, which offers consulting services for studios, producers and development departments on issues pertaining to under-represented groups. He can be reached at

NBC'S RECENT MINISERIES "The Lost Empire" provides a touchstone for looking at ways that anti-Asian sentiments are practiced. I say "sentiments" because at this point I am somewhat reluctant to label the movie "racist," at least until a fuller definition of the term is operative.

TYPICALLY, we might think of racism as discriminatory exclusion or discriminatory selection that is institutionally enforced: people of color not matriculating into higher education at proportionate rates to whites, not being promoted to upper-level management, racial profiling, etc. "The Lost Empire" turned this "history of exclusion" on its head, but in a way that is no less offensive to many Asians. The production accomplished this by injecting a white, male romantic lead into a Chinese myth where none before existed.

WHAT'S PARTICULARLY DISTURBING about "The Lost Empire" is that the inclusion of the white man was mandated to screenwriter David Henry Hwang. Further, it was made clear that this character was to serve as the romantic interest of the female Asian lead.

IN A STORY in The Times ("Ancient Mysteries," by Susan King, March 11), director Peter MacDonald said that producer Robert Halmi "wanted the romance between Orton [the white male] and Kwan Ying [the Asian
Media Representations
good and bad examples

Media representations often continues incorrect and false stereotypical images from the past. This can be seen with the recent debacle of the false imprisonment of Wen Ho Lee and in the Jet Li character in Romeo Must Die.

What is ironic is that there has been major films from the past that has featured a US Asian/Asian Pacific American actor in an interracial romance/marriage with a white woman (Crimson Kimono) and where where the US Asian/Asian Pacific American male "won" the white woman from his white male competitor?!?! (i.e. Bridge to the Sun. .

female] to be the most important element in the adventure."That's a far cry from an ancient Chinese myth where whites weren't even present. Indeed, can you imagine the reaction if Asian filmmakers decided to tell the American myth of Paul Bunyan with an Asian actor as the lead?

TRYING TO PIN DOWN motivation for the inclusion of whites in ethnic films is an endeavor best left to another essay. For now, let us simply include "The Lost Empire" with other films in Hollywood's history that have, for their own reasons, placed white males in lead roles in otherwise Asian stories. Films that come to mind are "Come See the Paradise" (1990), which placed a white, romantic male lead squarely in the story of the Japanese American internment, and "Year of the Dragon" (1985), which placed a white, romantic male lead in New York's Chinatown. A more recent example is "Snow Falling on Cedars" (1999), which also dealt with World War II internment. And then there's the hit Broadway play "Miss Saigon." In each case, the white male was the romantic lead to an Asian woman.

PERHAPS MOST DISTURBING is that such white male inclusion comes, for the most part, unabated by any kind of repercussions from Asians. The fact that The Times can so blithely report on the demand for a white lead actor tells us that a major network such as NBC either has not considered the possible repercussions or doesn't fear any from Asians. This after a nationwide protest of the major television networks in 1999 by a coalition that included blacks, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans for failing to include people of color in their new shows.

ASIANS and other groups underrepresented on television, such as racial minorities, gays, lesbians and the physically and mentally challenged, deserve the same level of respect as the mainstream. But they need to make their voices heard. And network and studio executives must listen.

THE FRAMEWORK FOR IMPROVED RELATIONS is in place: Underrepresented groups have advocacy organizations that can be consulted, and the networks, as a result of the NAACP-led protests in 1999, have vice presidents for diversity. Now everyone involved must make two-way communication the norm. One thing is clear: Unless meaningful, ongoing dialogue is established during the script development process, the door to more cultural insults such as "The Lost Empire" will remain open.

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