Asian Americans are up in arms over a Last Samurai misstep

By Missy Schwartz
December 19, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

And the winner of this week’s sensitivity-training voucher is…Warner Bros.! Or rather, now-former WB Pictures consultant Cheryl Rave, whose casting call for the Dec. 1 Los Angeles premiere of The Last Samurai sent some Asian Americans into a rage. Posted on a UCLA website, the ad sought ”beautiful Asian women” willing to dress up and ”mingle in character…to create the ambiance of ancient Japan, circa 1870s” for no pay. ”It was demeaning,” says UCLA grad student Sarah Park, 23, one of the first to send Rave an irate response. (At least one professor offered extra credit to students who sent articulate replies.) ”’We’re going to dress you up in costumes that we think represent Japan,”’ recounts Park. ”And since when is 1870 considered ancient?”

By the time word spread to Internet message boards, Rave (who could not be reached for comment) had pulled the ad and e-mailed apologies in which she stressed her status as a freelancer — a title she lost shortly thereafter when WB fired her. ”She did this completely on her own,” says a studio rep. ”This wasn’t something that anybody here endorsed. It was just one of those whoops! kind of things.” But to John Tateishi of the Japanese American Citizens’ League, it’s much more than that. ”It’s offensive because it plays up this exotic, beautiful-Asian-woman mystique. The way Warner Bros. can rectify the damage is take Asian-American actors seriously. Start casting them in substantial roles, rather than as stereotypical characters.” The studio feels it has. Says the rep: ”Warner Bros. Pictures continues to welcome all ethnic and cultural groups as an enrichment to the art and entertainment offered by movies.”

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