Taking on problematic depictions in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Ocean's Eleven, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and more.

EW Game Changers is a new series profiling the people and projects making an impact in diversity, equity, and inclusion in entertainment.

Jeremiah Abraham, founder of Tremendous Communications, makes it his mission to elevate AAPI narratives in film and TV, helping studios and networks navigate around stereotypes and potential tropes when depicting Asian characters. Whether that means leading cultural sensitivity workshops for PR teams, identifying red flags in screenings, ensuring that the AAPI community is included in PR & marketing efforts, or providing script notes, Abraham — whose projects include Crazy Rich Asians, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and the upcoming Nope and Easter Sunday wants to ensure that films are "not only culturally sensitive, but also inclusive to the diaspora of Asian Americans and not just a monolith."

We asked Abraham about some questionable film portrayals of Asians from the past, and what advice he'd give to filmmakers and studios if he were working on these projects today.

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 5: The movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's", directed by Blake Edwards and based on the novel by Truman Capote. Seen here, Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, an upstairs neighbor. Initial theatrical release October 5, 1961. Screen capture. Paramount Pictures. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Credit: CBS/Getty

Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's

"This [was made during] a time that America needed to be more sensitive with Japanese Americans, especially with what they did to them during World War II. Why fan the flame even more and say, 'We're not even going to cast a Japanese person. And we're also going to make him have buck teeth and act in such a flamboyant way.' Juxtaposing that with the overall narrative of the film was really unnecessary. I would ask: Why that specific character, why that specific culture and person, and not somebody of a different ethnicity or background? [The filmmakers] were not thinking about how to make it right with this community. They still felt a certain way about them."

once upon a time in hollywood Mike Moh as Bruce Lee
Credit: Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures

Mike Moh in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

"Bruce Lee is such an iconic figure. He was a pioneer. He inspired a lot of people. He brought martial arts to America in a more mainstream way. So why are you stripping him of all these skills and using him, essentially, as a tool to make Brad Pitt's character [Cliff Booth] look even better? And he wasn't even based on a real person. So you're telling this real person to step aside to make this fictionalized white person look good. It was very dismissive of Bruce's legacy and I think that they could have at least given Cliff a little bit more of a challenge instead of their fight being over in a span of a couple seconds."

OCEAN'S ELEVEN, Shaobo Qin, 2001, © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection
Credit: Everett

Shaobo Qin in Ocean's Eleven

"All the other characters actually had really great storylines. All the other characters had lines except for this one, who could have been the most interesting. I would've wanted to learn more about him and his family and where he came from versus him just being activated in a certain point because they needed somebody to literally fit in a box. This is a similar situation to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood where you're using an Asian person to uplift a white narrative, using them as a tool to push the main character. No fault of George Clooney."

The Hangover (2009) KEN JEONG (middle)
Credit: Frank Masi/Warner Bros.

Ken Jeong in The Hangover

"He was a strong, confident criminal. And then because he's threatening these white characters,  [he's emasculated in] a way where you literally strip him of his power; you literally strip him of his clothing. I would've advised them to possibly realign the character at the end. Because this might not be the best thing in light of all that is happening in the Asian American community right now. I don't see why we need to use him as, again, a tool to make these white characters feel better about themselves. I hope that if The Hangover were remade today that we could be a little bit more diverse in the lead cast. I've always wanted to see an all-Asian cast of The Hangover."

AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER, Diane Mizota, Mike Myers, Carrie Ann Inaba, 2002 (c) New Line Cinema. Courtesy Everett Collection.
Credit: Everett

Diane Mizota and Carrie Ann Inaba in Austin Powers in Goldmember

"This is an example of how [Asian women] are sexually tokenized. I mean, it's not just the way that the characters act, but you are literally naming them Fook Mi and Fook Yu. Austin Powers is a womanizer, and that's how he was portrayed. And maybe that's how it was in the seventies. But I think maybe starting with the names, you don't need to crack that joke. If you're sexually tokenizing them in a summer blockbuster that spans multiple sequels, then you're essentially giving people permission to treat Asians and Asian women like that in real life."

LICORICE PIZZA | Official Trailer | MGM Studios Megumi Anjo and John Michael Higgins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofnXPwUPENo CR: MGM
Credit: MGM

Megumi Anjo in Licorice Pizza

"I would straight up ask the filmmakers, why even include this? It doesn't uplift the overall narrative or the main characters. The husband-wife relationship is completely unnecessary. The Japanese character actually had some strong things to say, and they just dismissed it. Why even have the character of the husband? Can we just have the character of the Japanese business owner? In a later scene, he has a different Japanese wife. He's essentially saying that [his wives] are easily replaceable. I always tell studios when I think they're going to get backlash from certain things. And they did."

Related content:

Comments have been disabled on this post