Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Homefront: The Face of Xenophobia

Several days ago, I got an audition for an internet ad campaign called "The Journey" where they needed Korean men. At first, I was extremely excited and also because the gig paid $300 a day. But then when I looked closer, I realized that the internet ad campaign was for the upcoming video game Homefront.

Homefront, we meet again. The last time I saw you, I was a North Korean marching soldier for the 2010 e3 convention promoting you several months ago. For those of you who don't know, the story of Homefront takes place in the near future, in a world where N. Korea takes over South Korea then all of Asia, and then proceeds to invade America. It's basically the premise of the "Red Dawn" remake that's coming out next year but loftier (and written by the original Red Dawn scribe John Milius).

Even before its release, this internet ad campaign and the game itself will bring incredibly troubling depictions of East Asians, especially Koreans for the mainstream video gamer consumption. Down below is an audition slide for the Captain role I was called for. The second side after that is another side I found that gives you a good idea what kind of game "Homefront" is:

This surburbia has gone to rot with overgrown lawns, garbage
and decay. A large army truck is in the background and a
ragtag group of AMERICANS are getting on it, carrying ratty
suitcases. KOREAN SOLDIERS oversee the operation.
Its evident that the camera is hidden and recording from an
unseen vantage point.
The camera shifts and zooms in as two KOREAN SOLDIERS are
pulling a dirty HOMEOWNER out of his broken down house.

I’m staying! This is my house. I
paid for it! Get your fucking hands
off me.

The soldiers pull the man into the street and then hold him
as a KOREAN CAPTAIN runs up to the altercation.

What is the problem, soldier?

He refuses to leave his home.

American comrade, you are being
relocated to a better place where
you will have food and shelter.

Fuck you, I ain’t no comrade! This
is my home. This is America. I can
live where I want!
The homeowner spits on the Captain and struggles against the
soldiers holding him.
The Captain wipes the spit from his face, calmly pulls a
pistol from his belt and shoots the American in the head.
The soldiers walk back to the truck as the body bleeds out.

---- Here's the other side -----
The Korean hostage sits against a concrete wall between two
masked American resistance members. He wears a Korean army
uniform that is dirty and torn and has bruises on his face.
His left arm lies broken in a dirty sling. When he speaks he
is emotionless, almost as if he’s reading from a script.

My name is Lee Yang and I am a
solider of the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea. My blood type
is A+. I was captured five days
ago by brave American freedom

What was your personal mission?

I was sent to Montana to make sure
that the Americans who lived here
did as they were told. It was also
my personal duty to help oversee
and supervise the loading of train
cars filled with minerals for
shipment to San Diego.

What do you think now?

I know what Korea is doing is
wrong. I understand that I was a
bad person, a bad soldier. I wish
nothing more now than to help the
Americans by telling them
everything I know about army
movements and what we are doing in
the area. Long live America.

America is fighting back. This
will be the fate of any Koreans who
try to stop us. We will take as
many hostages as we can. Save
yourself. Get out of our country. Long Live America!

I looked at the sides over and over again and then politely turn the audition down. Here's the thing. The Captain role pays $300 per day and in this economy, money is no joke. At this point in my life, I know I'm not a starving artist because I have a job that helps with paying the rent and food so I have the luxury of turning this role down. I know that where I am in how I see myself, I choose how I want to be seen and if it means turning down a role that makes me feel sick to my stomach, I will uphold that integrity. I am aware of that fortune that I have, a fortune that cannot be shared with many actors here in Los Angeles. There will be Korean actors, East Asian actors, who will take these roles even if they know they will be the face of xenophobia simply because they want to have a paycheck and to be able to eat and pay for their electricity bill. I cannot judge them for that because in this cut-throat business, you do what you got to do in order to stay alive and move ahead.

But in my personal opinion, to be in this internet ad campaign is like having a huge banner sign over your head saying that All Koreans and Asians are not to be trusted and that in the end, you are a dangerous foreign yellow menace. From these audition sides and intention of this game, I am reminded of WWII propaganda where the American government posted flyers of Japanese people as inscrutable dangerous beings and in turn was one of the major reasons why over 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

And that's what this game reeks of. Propaganda to promote American superiority when confronted with fear and paranoia of the Asian foreign menace (whether it be North Korea or Muslims). People may brush this aside and say that I'm being too negative and pessimistic over a game. Relax, they say, it's just a video game. But in this day and age, you cannot underestimate the influence of video games and, more importantly, the power of human stupidity. Media depictions of minorities, especially violent ones, often paved way to hate crimes as people are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality. If the media says so, then it must be true.

In the end, the choice is yours. You do what you believe is right and nobody, let alone a kid blogging about protesting over an internet ad campaign for a video game, can stop you.

But ask yourself:

Is it worth it to be the face of xenophobia?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Love & Progress in the City of Angels

As soon as my fingers landed on this keyboard writing on this entry for my beloved HanSarang Movement, I forgot what it was like to write for myself and talk about anything that I want in this space right here.

Ahhh..It feels like home.

It is now June 25th, 2010, making it four months and twenty four days that I've been here in Los Angeles. It's only been about a third of a year but already it feels like I've been here for a lifetime. Since I landed, every single day has been filled with auditions, callbacks, a few landed gigs, taking a wonderful acting class at Beverly Hills Playhouse, networking with the Asian American community here in the city and meeting some truly wonderful, beautiful people along the way, getting my car window smashed in and broken into, working as an enumerator at the U.S. Census Bureau, hot mess fights with my very emotionally moody roommate who has an Asian men fetish, writing for an Asian American online publication, and so many more adventures and misadventures that I rather end this incredibly long sentence right now than drag it on any further.

All of this in my pursuit to become an actor and social justice activist.

It's been particularly rough taking my chance to be an actor and I can only say that I am extremely blessed to have supporting friends back in Virginia, South Korea, Los Angeles, and from all over who is cheering me on. But most importantly, I am blessed to have an understanding mother and father who supports me emotionally and financially. I've always had a reluctant relationship with them in the past but for them to be so supportive of what I am doing now by myself here in Los Angeles, it means the world to me.

I am not represented by any agency nor do I have a pile of gigs coming up. Then again, this is a story that can be shared with countless, hard-working actors out there right now. The journey to accomplish this has never been an easy journey in the first place and ties directly to the reason why life has never been boring here.

Yet despite the hardships and obstacles, I feel good because I know I have love and support from so many. I feel good because I know my other passion as a social justice activist keeps me strong and no matter what happens, I will do my utmost best to make the best for myself. I feel good because I have a wonderful acting class at Beverly Hills Playhouse with an astounding teacher who I am learning so much from.

So let's take the last sentence off and carry on that thought.

Beverly Hills Playhouse is this acting class that lots of known actors in the past have been taught under in the past and was created by Milton Kaselas. Okay, history lesson done.

During my two months in this class, I have met truly dedicated actors and performers who put their absolute best in their scenes, even with all the baggage and drama they got going on in their lives. I have met a fabulous acting teacher by the name of Art Cohan who told me to look beyond my Asian skin and find characters and roles that I relate to internally, because that's what matters the most. If there's anything I can boil down for this class, it's that it's filled with love and with all this love, it has inspired me to be the best goddamn actor I can be. It has also inspired me to be the best goddamn human being I can be as well. That's how great this class is.

I am most fortunate to have met such people here in the City of Angels and elsewhere, with particular shout outs to Lac Su, Kate Agathon,Emily Wu, Steve Nguyen, Sabina England, Kristina Wong, Beau Sia, and so many more.

Love. That's what it's all about. That's what keeps me going and I just know that I gotta do my best and pay it forward.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Welcome Back

It's been nearly two months since I wrote my last entry and it's been too long. After writing furiously for 8Asians, Projekt Newspeak, and now with my 3rd responsibility as an APEX blogger, I realize that I need to return back to the HanSarang Movement, the place that got me started.

It's good to be back home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Better World?

If there is one thing I first learned about being an activist is that there is no glorious finish line to cross, there is no final war or enemy to vanquish... there is no happy ending.

There will always be cruelty, ignorance, prejudice, hatred, and violence in this world, and the purpose of the activist is to constantly be updated about such events. They must know such things so that they can speak out about it, to fight against it, and to let it be known so that action can be taken.

It is equally burdening for activists when people from their own community will attack them for their efforts and declare that they are only a problem, not the solution. While it can be noble and courageous to be outspoken, it only makes the activist a more vulnerable target for others to spit on and mock.

The life of an activist is a lonely one and it's so tempting to just forget about it all, to just fuck the people you're trying to help since they don't give a shit anyways, and enjoy a life of ignorance and bliss and eat Cinnabons all day.

I guess I'm being bit of a Debbie Downer, huh? I might as well the full story but as you read this, please keep in mind that I mean no disrespect to the individual who I am talking about and that despite whatever happened, I will always respect him, his work, and his passion to help out the APA community.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Future of Ethnic Studies

The field of ethnic studies have grown tremendously during the past 40 years, ever since it first came into existence during the 1960's. Despite the many arguments for and against ethnic studies, it has opened up the horizons of what it means to be an American, to be a person of color...to be a human being living in a world that is constantly changing around us.

A friend brought up his opinion where the name "Ethnic Studies" is a bit silly. As soon as he said that, it triggered a feeling that I had for a long time and that is that I feel the exact same way. Sure it may be an easy way to describe the many fields dedicated to various ethnicities but the name that brings their common element altogether, in my frank opinion, sounds a bit exotic and outdated.

I say this because we are in a time where we have a black President and by 2050, everybody will be a minority in the United States. When this time comes, do we still keep the name of "Ethnic Studies"? "Minority Studies" won't really work either when 2050 comes since we will all be minorities. What happens when we are living in a world where everybody is of mixed heritage and it goes beyond having ties with just one or two or three ethnicities? How about eight? There is a saying that when that time comes, we have no choice but to just call ourselves "humans".

I think I would like that future...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Freedom to Express Racial Identity & Mental Health Issues

Some parts of this post have been recycled from the entry: "YouTube/Google Restricts Racial Identity Expressions" but new material have been added as well as a new perspective to where I am right now. My personal crusade against YouTube is over because after much consideration, I realize I don't need to waste my time on it. Unlike organizations with the weight of thousands of members, I am just an individual with a little poem and with just that as my luggage, I have the freedom to tell my story to whoever will listen. So with that said, here is the revision and conclusion of "YouTube/Google Restricts Racial Identity Expressions".

The First Amendment is a right that we as Americans hold dearly with pride. But at the same time, this right comes with its own limitations and hypocrisies. You can't falsely yell "FIRE" in a public facility nor can you publicly declare that you want to assassinate the President. These things will immediately get you in serious trouble. However, the KKK can rally in a neighborhood even if nobody wants them there, and anti-abortionists can wave around bloody fetus dolls. While these voices are frowned upon, nevertheless, they have the right to express what they need to say. Yet there have been times when highly controversial opinions have been silenced because they dared to say something different, especially when it comes to matters that make people uncomfortable.

Two weeks ago, I uploaded a spoken word piece on YouTube that pertained to my former self-hatred as a Korean-American, my unfathomable connection with the VA tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, and as a result, me finding love and acceptance with my racial identity. The poem was titled: "To Seung-Hui Cho". The poem was not about condoning or glorifying Seung-Hui but rather how his life and mental health issues inexplicably found a connection with my own troubled youth. I put a warning in the description box that the poem would be very controversial and that it required the viewers to listen with an open mind and heart. This is the poem in its written form: