[There's a news story that's been doing the rounds and that's been pissing me off to no end. But before I write a post about it, I think you need a little background to get where I'm coming from. So, I am publishing here a monologue titled "21 Reasons Why This Movie Already Sucks," one of the core stories that I performed in Jukebox Stories: The Case of the Creamy Foam, which ran at Impact Theatre in Berkeley in the spring of 2008 and which was named as one of the top ten plays of the year by the East Bay Express.]
What is the greatest piece of Asian-American literature of all time?
Is it The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston? No.
Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee? Nooo.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan? Heeeeel no.
The greatest piece of Asian-American literature of all time is Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. Bringing Down the House tells the true story of six M.I.T. math students who devise a blackjack card-counting system that wins them millions of dollars in Las Vegas. And the reason why this book is the greatest piece of Asian-American literature of all time is because Asians love gambling.
If you don’t believe me, just go to an Indian casino and look at the clientele. It’s like a Filipino fish market in there.
I mean, look at my dad, okay? Here’s a man who suffered two major heart attacks and a stroke, is partially paralyzed, has trouble walking, cannot speak, and is going senile, but despite all that he still manages to get on a bus almost every day in Southern California and go to the race track. Yes. My father can’t really function all that well, but, goddamn, he knows how to place a bet.
And guess how the first year of my college education was financed. Not through accumulated savings that my parents had built over time, no. My mother hit the jackpot on a nickel slot machine at the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Vegas.
You see, that is a sickness. There is an evil gambling gene that all Asians have trapped inside their smooth and tender bodies.
But the gambling thing isn’t the only element that makes this the greatest piece of Asian-American literature of all time. The protagonist of the book is Asian American, and, in fact, many of the characters in the book are Asian American. But of course you already knew that the moment I said “M.I.T. math students.” Of course they were Asian!
So when it was announced a couple years ago that Bringing Down the House was going to be made into a movie re-titled 21 by a major production company and distributed by a major studio, I was thrilled. As an act of celebration, I went out and bought a new rice cooker.
This was now going to be the greatest piece of Asian-American cinema of all time. Finally, Asian-Americans—particularly Asian-American men—were going to be given a fair shot in a mainstream motion picture. And this was important because despite a few breakthroughs like John Cho, many Asian-American actors were still relegated to playing the Chinese waiter or the Japanese tourist or the Asian gangster or the computer nerd or the dirty refugee or the token ethnic person in the background.
But in this new movie, the characters could be portrayed just like they were portrayed in the book. They were real, three-dimensional Asian Americans. And, sure, they were all stereotypically good at math, but they were also the heroes of the book and they were given depth.
For example, the main character in the book is Kevin Lewis, and it was later revealed to the public that his real name is actually Jeffrey Ma. And Jeffrey is described as a bright, good-looking, charismatic M.I.T. whiz kid, a Chinese American who was in a fraternity and played water polo and defied stereotypes. And now, with this new movie, in one fell swoop, Hollywood could finally atone for its casting sins of the past.
But then…a dastardly thing happened on the way to the movie set.
And that’s why, even though 21 hasn’t been released yet, I present to you now, ladies and gentlemen…
21 Reasons Why This Movie Already Sucks.
They cast Jim Sturgess in the lead role. For those of you who don’t know, Jim Sturgess—the star of the Beatles musical, Across the Universe—happens to be Caucasian.
Not only that but:
Jim Sturgess is so white professional photographers could use him to take light meter readings.
Now: just to be clear:
Caucasian Jim Sturgess was cast as the character based on Chinese Jeffrey Ma.
But here’s what bothers me most:
I was hoping that they were gonna give him buckteeth, tape his eyes back, and have him do a funny accent, because at least the audience would notice that there was something fishy going on.
But they’re not gonna do that because:
It’s worse. In the movie, the character has been completely changed into a white guy with absolutely no trace of his original Asian-American identity.
Most of America will never know the act of complete cinematic whitewashing that has taken place.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like Jim Sturgess. But:
This is not the kind of movie he should be in. He actually should’ve been cast as Ray Charles in Ray or as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland or as Frank Lucas, you know, the Denzel Washington character in American Gangster.
The Denzel Washington character in The Great Debaters or Remember the Titans or The Hurricane or Malcolm X or any other Denzel Washington movie based on real people.
Apparently, in 2008, judging by the movie 21, it’s perfectly okay to cast Caucasians as ethnic minorities.
In order to hide the fact that you’re doing that, you just erase a character’s ethnicity altogether as if ethnicity does not matter.
And, yes, I know:
Some of you might think I’m race-baiting, but in a world where I still hear people hurl racial slurs at me from their car, I am convinced that ethnicity does matter.
Not only that but:
I wouldn’t be so upset if race weren’t a significant factor in the book, but it is. Bringing Down the House offers a very real glimpse into Asian-American culture.
And, in fact:
The book details how other people’s perceptions of these M.I.T. students’ ethnic identities factored in to their blackjack scheme.
And, you know:
People say that I should be happy because the producers, out of an apparent act of charity, did cast two Asian Americans in smaller roles: the Korean dude from Disturbia and some random token hot Asian chick.
But I ask you: Why the hell should I be happy? That’s like somebody jerking you off halfway and then leaving.
What’s so wrong with that?
Did you know that it has been scientifically proven that you can die from blue balls?
And let’s not forget:
This whole situation gives me nightmarish flashbacks to my own past experiences in Hollywood.
Remember the time that an executive at a movie studio that shall remain nameless—but rhymes with “Fair Amount”—actually told me to my face he wanted me to change the Asian-American lead character in a screenplay I wrote into a white guy?
Remember the time when a certain talent agent only wanted to take a look at my script about a little Asian-American boy only if I would consider rewriting the part so that Dakota Fanning could star in it?
Remember how I found out that Hollywood didn’t just shun Asian Americans, but all minorities?
There was that time a film development head wanted me to alter my two lead gay characters so that they would be two straight people who got married at the end and lived happily ever after.
How about that time I was developing a script called Chocolate Buddha at a film studio? The story was about a black guy who hides out in a Buddhist monastery. And I was shocked to learn that, despite the fact that African Americans have made great strides in Hollywood, executives could still look me in the eye and tell me it would be much better if the star of the movie were Caucasian, essentially changing my film into White Chocolate Buddha.
Ben Mezrich, the author of Bringing Down the House, won’t return my e-mails.
I just wanted him to verify a few facts for me, but, apparently, I guess he thinks I’m gonna do some kind of scathing expose about his movie. C’mon! Grow up.
So those, ladies and gentlemen, are:
21 Reasons Why This Movie Already Sucks.
21 opens March 28th at a theater near you.