MEMOIR:

FALL 2004:

A Satisfying Newbury Lunch
When It Felt Like Home

SPRING 2003:

The Big Boys
The Fine Art of Urination and Defecation Al Fresco
The Golden City
Inside Looking Out
Roxbury
The Soup Game

FALL 2002:

All the Hearts
Footsteps

SUMMER 2002:

Being Family

SPRING 2002:

An Alternative to the Common Use of Forks
Memoir Lead
Two Weeks in New Mexico
Untitled
Zeroes

FALL 2001:

The Anti-Valentine's Girls
Play

SPRING 2001:

Amour de Soi
The Day Music Let Me Go
The Force
Lucky Me, I'm Gifted
My Green Canyon
A Painful Passion
Point of Departure
Sail the Sea
Smile and Nod

FILM REVIEWS:

FALL 2004:

Lola Takes Us For the Sprint of Our Lives

FALL 2002:

Arlington Road: A Thriller with Thought
A Big Fat Fairytale Wedding
Border Patrol: The War Against Drugs Continues
Not the Stereotypical Shoot 'em Up Gangster Flick
Punch Drunk Love

SPRING 2002:

The Complexity of Artificial Intelligence
Monster's Ball
Monster's Redemption
Royalty Runs in the Family

FALL 2001:

A Hard Day's Night: A Rock 'n' Roll Joyride That Never Runs Out of Steam
Too Many Potholes in Riding in Cars with Boys

SPRING 2001:

Requiem's Melody Lingers
New-and-Improved Horror

FEATURES & PROFILES:

FALL 2002:

In The End, Everything is Crystal Clear
A Match for Success
They Will Follow Him
A Very Bostonian Hotel
What's an A?

READINGS:

The CO201 program hosts special Coffee House Readings periodically throughout each semester. These stories have each been selected by 201 professors for reading.

SPRING 2002:

Death and Board Games
Luxembourg
Resurrection of a Ghost
The Tool Man

FALL 2001:

Bits of Daylight
Leona's House
This is Spinal Tap: No Need for Painkillers
The Toad and the Giant

SPRING 2001:

The Movies
Solving the Equation: The Trials and Triumphs of International Adoption
Yaglafant

ESSAYS:

FALL 2002:

Her Face is Red
Smoking a Cigarette
Stories and Lies
Sumit Ganguly: He, She & It

PROPOSALS:

Proposals are group projects in which 201 students propose and create an ad for a non-profit organization or cause.

SPRING 2002:

Christian Solidarity International

CONTEST WINNERS:

SPRING: 2007

Riches to Rags... to Riches
Man of the House
A 'Special Education' Defined

SPRING: 2006

#71952
For Never Was There a Story of More Woe, than This of Mr. Thomas A. Marcello
Pei-yeh Tsai finds harmony in opposites at the keyboard

SPRING 2005:

Colorado Peaks and Iraqi Deserts: A Paramedic's Story
The Consequences of Drunk Driving
America, Open Your Eyes

SPRING 2004:

A Fine Balance: The Life of an Islamic Teenager
A Genetic Link to Identity: Dr. Bruce Jackson and The Roots Project
Rebel With a Cause

COFFEE HOUSE READINGS:

FALL 2004:

The Amah’s Revenge
Circle in the Sand
It’s How I Walk
School Bus

SPRING 2002:

Death and Board Games
Luxembourg
Resurrection of a Ghost
The Tool Man

FALL 2001:

Bits of Daylight
Leona's House
Nonfiction Story
This is Spinal Tap: No Need for Painkillers
The Toad and the Giant

SPRING 2001:

The Movies
Solving the Equation: The Trials and Triumphs of International Adoption
Yaglafant

AMERICA, OPEN YOUR EYES:
The Lifelong Struggle of the Asian-American Actor to Be Viewed As American

BY KENTARO YOSHIDA

At first glance, Gerri Igarashi’s Brooklyn apartment seems the perfect candidate for the “normal American home” tab. There’s a pile of dishes in the sink, a bouquet on the dining room table, a homey couch in the living room and a mess of papers on the desk. There are also two rooms for Igarashi’s two children, which is pretty close to the 2.5 kids-per-American-family average. But then, there are the pictures that decorate the apartment walls.

They’re photos of the family members with a slight twist. Framed prints of the Igarashi kids in Toys R’ Us, Pampers, Jello and many other advertisements adorn the living room. Painting the rest of the home are playbills, theater posters and even a cereal box, which all feature Gerri or her husband in some way. (Any regular 3x5 developed-at-the-drugstore family snapshots are conspicuously missing.) Gerri Igarashi’s family is different. They’re an acting family. “An Asian-American acting family,” Gerri adds, with emphasis on the “American.”

With a hint of a smile, Gerri points to the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box and says, “I wasn’t too bad back then, was I?” It’s hard to disagree, especially since she’s able to make corn flakes look attractive. On the Kellogg’s box, she’s sporting a charming smile along with an elegant Japanese kimono, while delicately modeling a bowl of Corn Flakes. Gerri’s eyes shine in the picture, and her sleek black hair accents them well; together they paint a portrait of a strong and graceful woman.

“I did the Corn Flakes box right at the beginning of my career,” she says, nostalgia in her tone. “I had dreams then, and many believed I had the talent to go with it,” she continues, shaking her head. “But I was naïve, and I didn’t anticipate the hidden forces that would severely limit my career.” Her last sentence has been bled of its passion long ago, and she bears a look of resignation.

She’s not the only one with this type of story – thousands of Asian-American actors share the same sentiment. The “forces” Gerri speaks of are the lack of roles available for Asian-American actors in television, film, and Broadway theater. Asian/Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and the disabled are the least represented on screen, according to the Screen Acting Guild. Asian actors’ small 2.5% share of total roles cast (and a miniscule 0.4% share on day-time television) has decreased from 2003, while the number of roles for Latin and African-Americans in SAG has reached record highs.

“Once when I expressed my desire to play Guinevere in Camelot, I was told that perhaps I could, in ‘theatre for the blind,’” says Christina Toy Johnson, one of the few well-established, non-traditional Asian-American actors. (Her resume includes co-starring and featured roles in Broadway, film, and television.) “Another time I lost a job, after being recommended by the director to the producer, because the producer wanted ‘a regular girl.’”

When Asian-American actors do book a role, they often could have named the part long before their agent called. Keenan Shimizu, an Asian-American who has made acting his career for thirty years, says, “Foreigners, villainous martial artists, professionals [doctors, scientists, etc.] or fatherly sages. That’s what Asian-American men get called for, and anything outside that is rare.”

For Asian-American women, the roles are similarly restricted. Stifling a sigh, Gerri reels off a list well known to her, “Let’s see, there’s the “dragon lady" femme fatale roles, the "China doll" submissive types, the dry cleaner/manicurist, or the newscaster. It’s also amazing that there’s still this misconception that all Asian actors can do Asian accents and martial arts.”

Considering that Asians began to settle in America roughly a century ago, these misconceptions are, indeed, puzzling. Equally perplexing is that no Asian-American has won an Academy Award for acting, and only two (Pat Morita and Ken Watanabe) have received a nomination. What about Asian-American actors in Broadway theater? The facts here also paint a gloomy picture, as there hasn’t been more than one non-typecast Asian-American female portrayed on a Broadway play since 1992. In some ways, Broadway can be more backwards than television because they will cast non-Asian actors to play Asian characters (i.e. The King and I and South Pacific).

On a positive note for Asian actors, this practice has decreased since Miss Saigon cast English actor Jonathan Pryce as an Asian character in 1990, causing a huge outcry from the Asian community. (Pryce wore heavy prosthetic eyelids for the role, until people complained that it was racially offensive.)

Following the Yellow Brick Road

Gerri finishes fixing her make-up and puts her blush into her purse. She drums her fingers softly on the table, then uncrosses and re-crosses her legs. She’s finished her paper, and now has run out of things to do. Gerri is in the holding area on the Interpreter, a big-budget film starring Nicole Kidman with a opening date set in early 2005. The actors that play the “general public” in the movie stay in the holding area.

“I do about twenty of these a year, but it’s just to keep the food on the table,” Gerri says with a restless look in her eyes. “This isn’t really acting.” As the day progresses, her comments prove self-evident. The actors are herded in and out of set, and their foremost job is to remain unnoticed.

“I didn’t train all those years for this. I just wanted a real chance to show my skills, and if I had been given more of an opportunity who knows what would’ve...” Gerri’s voice trails off, and she takes a deep breath.

Alan Muraoka, who has been acting and directing professionally for over two decades, seems to finish Gerri’s thought. “I graduated from a very distinguished acting program at UCLA and then won the Musical Theater Scholarship that Carol Burnett endows,” says Muraoka proudly. “During that time, I scored many diverse roles.”
“But when I graduated, everything changed. Often, even though we had the same agent and were the same age, my Caucasian acting friends from UCLA would be called to audition for non-race specific roles while I would not.”

When Muraoka did receive a chance at a prominent non-race specific role, he made the most of it. In 1997, he went to an audition for a major reoccurring character on Sesame Street. Although the producers were not originally looking for an Asian-American actor, Muraoka impressed them enough to be considered. After numerous call-backs, Muraoka was informed that he had booked the role of “Mr. Hooper,” which he still owns today.

Christina Toy Johnson also has had success when given the opportunity to audition for non-race specific roles. When she booked the role of Detective Lisa West in 1998, becoming a series regular on One Life to Live, she also became the only regularly recurring Asian-American actor on a soap opera at the time.

Unfortunately, minor breakthroughs are not enough to push the Asian-American entertainer into the mainstream. Asian-American actors need to achieve landmark successes, ones that will make America take notice. And as we speak, Asian-American actors have good reasons to believe this will materialize soon.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, released this summer with moderate box-office success, was the first mainstream Hollywood movie to star two Asian-American men. “While it wasn’t a blockbuster, I wouldn’t underestimate its significance,” says Johnson. “First of all, it wasn’t a flop – it actually penetrated far enough into the mainstream that a person off the street has heard of it. Secondly, when you see the movie, you can tell the two main actors are people who are also, incidentally, Asian.”

Ken Watanabe’s nomination for the 2003 Oscar’s Best Supporting Actor for his role as Katsumoto in The Last Samurai is another reason for Asian-American thespians to be hopeful. “The Last Samurai definitely qualifies as a smash hit [box-office totals came to over 100 million], and millions of people saw Watanabe give an exceptional performance,” says Gerri. “More importantly, while he wasn’t the lead actor, Watanabe had a multi-dimensional role. Plus, he got the opportunity to really act.”

And these breakthroughs don’t look like isolated events. Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious, Die Another Day) is booked to play a romantic lead opposite a famous singer in the film The Fifth Commandment. Ken Watanabe has two major films on his plate: Memoirs of a Geisha and Batman Begins. Perhaps more momentous is the pending launch of the sitcom Hold the Rice (holdtherice.com), which boasts Cece Tsouas as the lead. Tsouas’ character is about as un-stereotypically Asian as you can get – she is a blonde car mechanic.

Still, Shimizu cautions against excessive optimism. “We had something like this in 1994, when Double Happiness and The Joy Luck Club became hits. Suddenly, the buzz was that everything was going to change for us [Asian-American actors]. Then, in 1998, Margaret Cho’s sitcom bombed and that “Asian wave” that everyone was anticipating never materialized.”

“There have been many times where I really thought we were progressing, and that we were so close to a tremendous breakthrough,” Gerri also confesses. “But in the end, it’s like we’ve been walking down this yellow brick road, and, like Dorothy and her companions, at the end we find that we put our hopes into an illusion.”

Fighting Back, Sans the Karate Chop

Since Asian-American actors don’t have power over what roles are created, there isn’t much they can do to incite diversity. While they can decline roles that are offensively stereotypical, there will always be some hungry actor with “yellow skin” ready to take that paycheck. Also, rejecting a job spells death for an actor’s career, unless the actor is a well-established star. So, what recourse is left?

“There is no recourse for the Asian-American actor,” responds Muraoka. “That’s why we have to get behind the camera, where we can actually create roles and influence the casting process. We have even less Asian-Americans there [behind the scenes], and that’s the real source of the problem.” Statistics from the Writers Guild strongly back Muraoka’s claim. From 1998 to 2003, only 5% of the writers for television and film have been Asian.

“How can we expect writers who don’t identify with us to create meaningful roles for us?” Gerri asks. “Since the Caucasian writer doesn’t know us, when he writes us into a script he uses what he does know: stereotypes.”

Becoming writers isn’t the only way Asians can influence the acting business; there’s also directing and managing. Muraoka has directed over ten productions and plans to do many more. “When I direct, I have a say in how we cast. I believe I actually will make more of an impact for Asian-American actors as a director than as an actor.”

Ken Park, who manages actors in New York City, is also pushing hard for change from the other side. “This is why I get up in the morning: to fight for better roles for Asian-American actors today. My mission is to push Asian talent into the mainstream,” he says emphatically. Park concentrates on getting his Asian-American actors chances to audition for non-typecast roles, and he is valued in the Asian-American acting community. “Ken Park has been wonderful for us, and we desperately need more like him,” says Gerri.

* * *

After finishing a lengthy day of extra work on the Interpreter, Gerri is at home touching up her make-up again. There’s a shimmer in her eyes that was absent at the Interpreter, and it’s almost as bright as the one she has on the Corn Flakes box. Once that’s complete, she rushes to her room to change clothes. It’s almost 6:00 p.m., and she’s in a hurry. Where is she headed? Could it be to an audition for a lead role or a rehearsal for a Broadway play or major film? “Screenplay writing class,” she exclaims with a smile.