Sixteen Candles: Offensive or over it?

August 16, 2007

SF Chronicle columnist Leah Garcik reported (fifth item) on July 27, a week after the screening, that

Asian American advocate Christina Fa has written to the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation to demand an apology for last weekend's showing of "Sixteen Candles" in Dolores Park. Fa says the role played by Gedde Watanabe is "a horrifyingly racist portrayal" of an "oversexed, geeky, opposite-of-macho Asian man." Showing such a movie "without a clear intent to educate the public about its racist portrayal, smacks of racism itself," says her letter.

Not all Asian Pacific Americans are in agreement about the movie. When it was first released, said Asian Week in 2005, "APAs cried racism, but 20 years later, it's easier to appreciate Watanabe's comic gem of a performance, which is on a par with other classic teen portrayals like John Belushi's slob in 'Animal House' and Sean Penn's stoned-out surfer in 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High.' "

Foundation President Alfonso Felder said the 7,000-person audience was the biggest ever for an outdoor film here. As to Fa's complaints, he says "Sixteen Candles" is entertaining and has broad public appeal. "I think our audiences are smart enough to make their own decisions about when films cross the line in inappropriate ways."

When the movie's organizers apologized that anyone was offended (sidenote: apologizing that anyone was offended is the new black), the Asian American Outraged said, in effect, oh no you didn't.

So the question is: do Asian Americans give a crap? Do we really care about a 23-year-old film caricature? Don't we have larger things to devote our anger to??

Personally, I love Sixteen Candles, but maybe older generations and particularly men are more sensitive to this.

AsianWeek columnist Phil Chung wrote in 2005:

But if you’re Asian, and especially if you’re Asian and male, Sixteen Candles may well be the movie that made your childhood a living hell.

For those not familiar with the film, I give you the three words that traumatized a whole generation of Asian American men: Long Duk Dong.

I'm wondering if the Asian American young men and women of today feel the same way. Weigh in below.


Lisa Wong Macabasco

Former Editor in chief

Lisa Wong Macabasco joined Hyphen in 2006; she has worked as the magazine's features editor, managing editor, and editor in chief. She has written for Mother Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, AsianWeek, Audrey, Filipinas and ColorLines’ RaceWire. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and co-founded the National Asian American Student Conference. She was formerly an editor at AsianWeek newspaper and an editor in the marketing department of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.



thought this was a timely addition from secret asian man:secret asian man 8.16.2007
this character was grating to asian american men for sure at the time, but it's the 21st century now -- let's get over it. people seem to conveniently forget that long duk dong actually hooked up with a girl in that same movie (and a white girl at that). the best way to change people's stereotypes about who we are is to get to know people in real relationships and not be afraid of who we are. let's take some responsibility for that and not get incensed over some outdated movie portrayal. i'm sure most of the viewing audience in SF doesn't believe that portrayal is accurate or even funny anymore. people will eventually forget it anyway if we let it go and allow time to do its thing.and why focus on the negative when there's so much positive going on? did hyphen even report that today (8/16/07) is "Yul Kwon Day" in the city of Concord? more info:'s focus on these positive media icons and let the negative go. public perceptions are changing, but i doubt it's because of protests like this. protests can be helpful at reminding people when something really crosses a line, but they can also be annoying. don't like the way we're portrayed in the movies? befriend a casting agent, director, or screenwriter -- or better yet, become one yourself!we asian american men have a lot going for us. if we focus on that, sooner or later everyone else will realize it too.
Adrian Tomine interviewed Gedde Watanabe and did a great comic about it. It's interesting to hear Watanabe's take on the role.
We take ourselves WAY too seriously these days. Everyone needs to lighten up and have a sense of humor. These days, we can't breathe without asking permission from some self-righteous special interest group. And obviously, being that Watanabe was Asian, it obviously didn't bother him to play the part, so it shouldn't bother anyone else.
Note: The above link does NOT take you an interview.
That argument (that just because Wantanabe wasn't bothered that others shouldn't be bothered) makes no damn sense. Does he speak for ALL ASIAN people everywhere? He speaks only for himself.
The Long-Duk-Dong character was offensive for sure, and it definitely pisses me off every time I see it.That said, pretending it never happened doesn't make it less offensive. Showing that movie again doesn't make it more offensive.So show the fucking movie. Just warn the white-boys sitting next to me that if they laugh too much, I'm gonna kick their asses.