Aly Morita contacted me the other day about publicizing her call for a boycott of the remake of theÂ Karate Kid, saying itâ€™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 (itâ€™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 Alyâ€™s father, Pat, 25 years ago in theÂ original film.
Aly, who wrote about herÂ relationship with her dad in the Inside/Out Issue of Hyphen, told me sheâ€™s aware that sheâ€™s criticizing a film that stars two actors of color, which is a rarity. And sheâ€™s aware that she opens herself up to criticism by passing judgment on something she hasnâ€™t seen.
â€œAll Iâ€™m asking is they not pay to see it in a movie theater, wait for the DVD or Netflix,â€ she said of herÂ Facebook boycott page. â€œBe conscious of where the money is going.â€
That would be Hollywood, which many would agree hasnâ€™t given Asian American actors many good roles, or many roles at all, and hasnâ€™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,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ve come to my own personal peace with it.â€
But she says not much has changed since her dad taughtÂ Ralph Macchio to â€œwax onâ€ and â€œwax off.â€
â€œItâ€™s been 25 years since the original came out, and weâ€™re still dealing with the same stereotypes,â€ Aly said. â€œWhere are the other roles for Asian American actors? Why is the karate master the one role that people can respond to?â€
The original Karate Kid movies, despite the stereotyping, were a step forward.
â€œFor anyone that grew up during that time period, finally there was a movie starring an Asian American actor,â€ Aly said. â€œIt 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, â€˜Wow, I could star in a film if I was Asian American.â€™ I think it was very inspiring for a lot of people. We havenâ€™t had that in some time.â€
Of course, boycotting the movie doesn’t allow you toÂ judge it on its merits.Â Aly’s protest is more aboutÂ the entertainment industry than it is about theÂ Karate Kid remake. Like she says, weâ€™ve been complaining about Hollywood for years with not much to show for it.
Whether itâ€™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.
â€œI donâ€™t know, maybe we should boycott every movie thatâ€™s not representative of who we are as people,â€ she said. â€œThat remains very frustrating because itâ€™s 25 years later.â€
So, will you boycottÂ Karate Kid?
This post is also on Hyphen magazine’s blog.