Jackie Chan is martial arts master to Jaden Smith in the new Karate Kid.
Aly Morita contacted me the other day about publicizing her call for a boycott of the remake of the Karate Kid, saying it’s another example of Hollywood perpetuating stereotypes about Asian Americans.
It was right after I started seeing commercials for the new movie that made me wonder how Asians (it’s set in China) and Asian Americans would be portrayed, so it was good timing. I gave Aly a call to find out why she wanted a boycott.
The remake has blockbuster written all over it. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are among the producers of the new movie and it stars their son, Jaden, as the young martial arts student. Jackie Chan plays the wise mentor, updating the iconic and Oscar-nominated Mr. Miyagi role played by Aly’s father, Pat, 25 years ago in the original film.
Aly, who wrote about her relationship with her dad in the Inside/Out Issue of Hyphen, told me she’s aware that she’s criticizing a film that stars two actors of color, which is a rarity. And she’s aware that she opens herself up to criticism by passing judgment on something she hasn’t seen.
“All I’m asking is they not pay to see it in a movie theater, wait for the DVD or Netflix,” she said of her Facebook boycott page. “Be conscious of where the money is going.”
That would be Hollywood, which many would agree hasn’t given Asian American actors many good roles, or many roles at all, and hasn’t moved much beyond kung fu imagery created for characters such as Mr. Miyagi.
"Growing up, I always struggled with fact that my father played Mr. Miyagi as my own identity politics started to form,” she said. “I’ve come to my own personal peace with it.”
But she says not much has changed since her dad taught Ralph Macchio to “wax on” and “wax off.”
“It’s been 25 years since the original came out, and we’re still dealing with the same stereotypes,” Aly said. “Where are the other roles for Asian American actors? Why is the karate master the one role that people can respond to?”
The original Karate Kid movies, despite the stereotyping, were a step forward.
“For anyone that grew up during that time period, finally there was a movie starring an Asian American actor,” Aly said. “It had a good 10-year lifespan, and I think for a lot of Asian Americans, even those who had problems with the character of Mr. Miyagi, it was like, ‘Wow, I could star in a film if I was Asian American.’ I think it was very inspiring for a lot of people. We haven’t had that in some time.”
Of course, boycotting the movie doesn't allow you to judge it on its merits. Aly's protest is more about the entertainment industry than it is about the Karate Kid remake. Like she says, we’ve been complaining about Hollywood for years with not much to show for it.
Whether it’s a boycott or blogging about it, she says the only way Hollywood imagery of Asian Americans will change is if people inform themselves about the issue and speak out.
“I don’t know, maybe we should boycott every movie that’s not representative of who we are as people,” she said. “That remains very frustrating because it’s 25 years later.”
So, will you boycott Karate Kid?