When my eldest niece Erin (above right) was little, her third-grade Montessori teacher invited students who celebrate Chinese New Year to come up to the front of the class. Three or four kids, including then-eight-year-old Erin, complied.
But the teacher told Erin, who doesn't look even part Asian, to sit back down because she's not Chinese. "I'm a quarter Chinese," young Erin protested, adding that her dad, my brother, is half Chinese. The teacher said, "No, Erin," and told her again to sit down.
The next day, my brother Simon, who is, yep, half Chinese like me and looks half Chinese, went to pick Erin up from school. "Who are you?" asked the teacher; until then she'd only met Erin's mother, who is white.
"I'm Erin's dad," he said.
"Ohhhh," said the teacher. And she apologized. (I hope that if a situation like that ever arose or arises in any of her classes again, she had or will have the sensitivity to ask the right questions instead of making assumptions and shutting kids down, whether in front of their peers or not.)
This little story about my now-17-year-old niece (who happens to be studying musical and dramatic arts in NYC now) is brought to you by the following amazing moment in Sandra Oh's monologue at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards:
Ghost in the Shell is a 1989 Japanese manga series and 1995 anime movie with, of course, Japanese characters and cast. The 2017 Hollywood version starred Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist, and sparked controversy and mockery over the American film industry's stubbornly enduring whitewashing practices. (Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yanioshi in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's anyone? Apparently The New York Times reviewed his character and performance as "broadly exotic." 😑)
Aloha is a 2015 set-in-Hawaii Hollywood movie that featured Emma Stone (I just love her) as a part-Hawaiian woman; it was also heavily criticized for whitewashing. In response to the backlash, director Cameron Crowe apologized and told media that the character, Allison Ng, was based on a real person, a red-head and “a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one.”
About her from-the-audience apology in response to Sandra Oh's comment, "It wasn't like I planned it, but I did say it," Emma Stone told the L.A. Times afterward. (Seriously, I couldn't love Emma more. Here's what she said about her Aloha role in 2015.)
As for Sandra Oh, I'm a big fan of hers too. Korean, born and raised in Canada, the first actress of Asian descent to win multiple Golden Globes, as well as the first Asian to be nominated for a Best Actress in a Drama Emmy Award, she's a wonderful actor; you must see Killing Eve then suss out her earlier work. Fact: in US productions she's played supporting and friend roles for so long that she didn't realize she'd been offered the lead in Killing Eve, for which she won a Golden Globe. Years ago I ran across a candid interview with her about her craft that I wish I could find online now – will look for it and link back to it here. She's so thoughtful and aware and eloquent. Update: the interview I saw was part of a documentary called Women Who Act; it's available on iTunes and worth watching.
My nieces – all four of them, including this one and this one – can relate in part (see what I did there?) to that Aloha character Allison Ng, if not necessarily to Emma Stone. Funnily enough, my Mum's pre-marriage name was Ng. And once, someone trying to figure out my background thought I was Hawaiian! 😆
Say, am I the only one who thinks Erin looks a bit like Emma Stone? Maybe just a little around the eyes? *grin*
And have you already heard about this Sandra Oh/Emma Stone Golden Globes moment? Do you have thoughts?