Asian entertainers roundtable: Daniel Dae Kim, Olivia Munn, and more on importance of visibility: 'Step up and stand up'
Daniel Dae Kim, George Takei, Olivia Munn, Dianne Doan, Hari Kondabolu, and Chloe Bennet sat down with EW on Sunday to speak about their experiences as Asian artists and the rise in attacks against Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
EW's Around the Table conversation touched on the ongoing racist attacks, how people can help protect and amplify the voices of Asians, and what representation means during such a fraught time. Since our conversation, many of these stars have also spoken out about Tuesday's Atlanta shootings that left eight people — six of whom were Asian women — dead at the hands of a white gunman."
Reflecting on the rise in anti-Asian violence, Takei said it's nothing new, unfortunately. The Star Trek legend has long been vocal about the U.S. government's treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, including his own family being forced to live in an internment camp.
"This is not a current phenomenon, violence against [Asians] is as old as American history," he says in the video.
Takei notes that just as past leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt punished Asian Americans in moments of crises, so too did recent ones like Donald Trump, with anti-Asian rhetoric.
"In this case, it was that has-been president who constantly used that phrase, 'Chinese flu,' 'Wuhan flu,' or 'kung flu,' that these uneducated people take it out on the most fragile, vulnerable people in the community, the elderly," Takei says. "And they are cowards, and cowards are throughout American history."
For Kondabolu, recent incidents remind him of post-9/11, when "anyone really with dark brown skin" was targeted as a result of a tragedy that they had nothing to do with.
"It's like, okay, now I have to worry about terrorism. And I have to worry about my fellow Americans hurting me," the comedian and The Problem With Apu documentarian recalls. "And that's what it feels like again now. I have to worry about COVID, right? And my East Asian brothers and sisters also have to worry about, in addition to COVID, they have to worry about getting hurt because they're getting blamed for something that makes absolutely no sense to blame them for."
Bennet emphasizes the importance of solidarity between minority communities and how "white supremacy is pinning non-white groups against each other."
"We can't really address the racism that's happening towards Asian Americans without addressing the racism that is happening towards African Americans, our Latinx brothers and sisters," the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actress states.
She says that's why it was imperative for her, as someone with an audience, to speak up and amplify grassroots organizations and "the people who've been doing this work for a really long time."
Similarly, Munn says she was inspired to speak up about attacks against Asians because actors like Kim and Daniel Wu addressed these incidents early on.
"We do need people in our own community to step up and stand up and say, 'Okay, we're going to address this, we're going to do the right things.' And I know, for me, I was able to watch their leadership and follow behind them, when my time was called to stand up and do something," Munn says.
Among the organizations the actors spotlight are Little Tokyo Service Center, Compassion in Oakland, Stop AAPI Hate, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Asian American Advocacy Fund. Kim also shows support for legislation like the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that Rep. Grace Meng and Sen. Mazie Hirono introduced. Kondabolu and Kim were also involved in PBS' Asian Americans docuseries that shed light on the history of Asians in the country.
Bennet says "representation is more important now than ever" because of the times we're in and young people having so much access to media.
"It's having stories told that are authentic, and having the people on screen and equally as important off screen telling those stories, is everything. I think it's why I think we're all here," she says.
Kim calls on people in Hollywood who are in positions of power to do the work that will ripple out and help those who are lower on the totem pole.
"It's about pushing the boundaries in your respective fields, whether it's acting, directing, producing, or all of the above — do whatever you're able to do to push this boundary."
"Keep this as part of your agenda because that's the only way it's going to get further," he adds. "The people who are just starting in this business are not in positions like we are where we can make change and ask for things on a daily basis in the jobs that we have. So it's up to those of us who can to do. And that's how a wave it gets formed."
Watch the full conversation in the video above, to hear what the stars have to say about the lack of support for Asian female actresses, the skewed perception of Bruce Lee through a white lens, the lasting legacy of Star Trek, and much more. A print version of this roundtable will also appear in EW's May issue.
- Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer spark a decades-spanning romance in Fellow Travelers teaser
- Harvey Guillén finds his light: The What We Do in the Shadows star on pride, perseverance, and Puss in Boots
- Watch Harvey Guillén sing Wicked from memory — in Japanese
- The Flash filmmakers say movie was not in danger of shutting down over Ezra Miller controversy: 'That was never real'