Recently by Lily Tung Crystal

Despite my best hopes, "The Last Airbender" didn't do that badly its opening weekend. It made $70.5 million from Thursday through Monday, nearly half of what it cost Paramount Pictures to make.

But there is a bright side. The film, which is based on Nickelodeon's animated television series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," may already be waning in popularity. Ticket sales declined through the weekend. And critics universally panned the film, including Roger Ebert, who comments on the film's casting controversy:

[M. Night Shyamalan's] first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they're all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It's a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad.

The studio insists the film has a "multicultural" cast, since it did hire a lot of minority actors for the other roles. But Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire"), the one actor of color who has a leading role plays the villain, and (since I refuse to see the film) I hear the other minority actors primarily play bad guys as well. So once again, the white people are saving the world from everyone else.   

July 6, 2010 9:19 AM | | Comments (33)
I love this mock website mimicking the orientalist curating choices of San Francisco's Asian Art Museum.  Notice the tagline, Where Asian Still Means Oriental.

Flyer front

Writer/video maker Valerie Soe also made an insightful comment about the site on her beyondasiaphilia blog:

Just got tipped to an excellent new intervention critiquing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum's latest orientalist extravaganza, Lords of the Samurai. My anonymous source sent me the link to Lord, it's the Samurai!, a brilliant goof on this year's summer blockbuster which replicates the show's official website with a twist--it offers a detailed, pointed, and well-researched deconstruction of the problematic exhibition. The faux-site points out the less-than-savory aspects of samurai culture that the AAM conveniently glosses over, including the militarism, slavery, pederasty and misogyny inherent in the "code of the warrior."

The ersatz site also recognizes the dangers of the exhibit's glamorization of violence, noting,

"No myth here, and it hasn't changed since the times of the samurai: it's universal and real, how war dehumanizes everyone. Aestheticizing violence, normalizing war. The museum may not want you to see it, but there is blood on those swords."

The faux-site also calls out the AAM's ongoing Asian fetish with its hilarious tagline ("Where Asian Still Means Oriental") and a fun little word-scramble that mixes up past titles from AAM exhibits to form an amalgamation of exotic Asiaphilic fantasies.

The imitation site makes a cogent connection between the Museum's soft-peddling of Japanese nationalism and the U.S. government's interest in remilitarizing Japan, which would aid the U.S. in maintaining the upper hand in Asia. The faux-site also notes that it's not the first time the AAM has backed up a superpower's questionable point of view, as seen in Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World, the 2005 show that gave credence to the PRC's claim that Tibet is really just the back door of China.

All told, this little fakey website is a fine, funny, and extremely effective critique that packs in a copious number of links and information. It's a companion piece to hard-copy flyers that have been distributed in public brochure racks in San Francisco's Japantown. Someone upstairs at the AAM must have twigged to the switch since, as noted in the site, the counterfeit flyers have been systematically removed and replaced with the AAM's own brochures almost as soon as they've been distributed. The fake site's gmail address was also disabled shortly after sending out its first email blast. If the museum's functionaries are so freaked out that they're furiously trying to eradicate it, then I'd have to say that the intervention is working.

Thanks to Jean Cheng, Director of Online Exhibitions of the International Museum of Women, for calling my attention to Soe's note yesterday. 
August 28, 2009 9:00 AM | | Comments (3)
The 6th NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera is now accepting applications for its 10-day session October 17-27, 2009, hosted by Columbia University's Journalism School. 

The institute is open to writers and editors seeking to improve their criticism skills and gain new knowledge and contacts in classical music and opera.  Participants will attend performances, lectures, meetings and workshops led by Columbia faculty, music experts, and other journalists and bloggers.  Most expenses are covered by the Institute.

Deadline is July 23, 2009.  For more info, download the flyer.pdf or go to: 

June 19, 2009 4:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse.  The New York Times reports that some US publications are outsourcing local reporting, including arts stories, to India. 

Intriguing experiment or frightening glimpse into the future?

You decide:

NYT: Our Towns: Made in India, but Published in New Haven
June 4, 2009 2:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Growing up as a young Asian-American actor, I didn't notice until I was in eighth grade and my Catholic junior high produced the musical Oklahoma that race mattered in casting.  Up until then, I didn't think much of race at all and naively assumed that only talent mattered.  Then when I didn't get called back for Laurie, it suddenly dawned on me that directors and audiences might think watching an Asian actress play the Oklahoman ingenue would be downright weird.  Ever since then, when discussing the dearth of Asian roles, I've often joked with my fellow actors, "Look at me.  I will never play a Von Trapp."

The same type of thinking apparently came to Olivia Rosaldo-Pratt, recipient of the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize at UC Berkeley.  As an undergraduate she taught drama classes to at-risk youth and students learning English as a second language.  After using drama to address their anger, frustration and language learning, she realized that drama offered benefits that youth of color were not able to access.  Drama programs, even in the most diverse schools, involve few students of color.  

Pratt then used her prize to present Saturday's day-long conference, THEATER MATTERS: Reinventing Drama Education for the Next Generation.  Bay Area artists, teachers, and community activists, including playwright Philip Kan Gotanda, Rhodessa Jones & The Medea Project, and national slam poetry champion Marc David Pinate, joined students in workshops and group discussions to try to create a new vision of theater for the next generation. "We want to make sure that young people of color in Bay Area schools feel they have a place in drama programs and are empowered by the work they do there.  No one should ever feel alienated the way previous generations have," says Olivia Rosaldo-Pratt.  "We want this conference to cause an explosion of collaboration and new projects."  

Stay tuned to this blog to find out what new projects are in the works. 
May 24, 2009 3:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Update 10:39pm PDT: tells Publishers Weekly the de-ranking of gay and lesbian books on its site was a "glitch."  Is this PR backpeddling, or a perfect storm of technological error and inept customer service, or could it be that, as a Facebook friend humorously surmised, "a homophobic programmer just got fired"?

Amazon received a flurry of online protests and became the subject of today's biggest Twitter trending topics #amazonfail and #glitchmyass after writer Mark Probst blogged that Amazon had indiscriminately stopped ranking gay and lesbian books because of their "adult" content.  (See below.)


1:32pm PDT: is apparently removing gay and lesbian books from bestseller lists, some searches, and sales rankings:

Amazon also swept former NAJP fellow Minal Hajratwala's book Leaving India into its "gay-and-lesbian-and-therefore-adult-and-inappropiate" net.  Hajratwala is gay and alludes to her sexual orientation in her writing, but her book primarily chronicles the Indian diaspora and includes no explicit sexual material.  She recently logged on to Amazon only to discover that her book had disappeared from searches both for her name and the title of her book:

As if it weren't enough that Amazon has taken over how we buy books, now it's censoring what we buy as well. 

That leaves this infuriated writer and reader only one choice: Buy independent...and sign the petition.

(Entry updated thanks to Minal Hajratwala's comment.)

April 12, 2009 1:32 PM | | Comments (2)
Former NAJP fellow Minal Hajratwala's book Leaving India: My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents will be released today.  Seven years in the making, this work of narrative nonfiction explores India's diaspora through the story of Hajratwala's own Indian family and its century of migration to nine countries.  It also reflects upon questions of immigration - what it means to leave one's home and choose another, both for those who do the leaving, and for their descendants.

The book has already received strong early reviews, including most recently from author Abraham Verghese in the San Francisco Chronicle and from author/filmmaker Sadia Shepard in the Washington Post. 

Catch the author on PRI's "The World" today and at readings and on radio programs in New York, DC, and California throughout the spring. 
March 18, 2009 12:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Bluff or real threat?

Hearst Corp says it will close the San Francisco Chronicle if it can't get enough buyouts of its 1,500 employees.

If that happens, it would leave San Francisco with no paid daily newspaper and make it the largest US city to lose its main paper.
February 25, 2009 8:16 PM | | Comments (0)
On this eve of one of the most significant US presidential inaugurations in history, music producer Quincy Jones is asking President-elect Barack Obama to appoint a Secretary of the Arts.  While many other countries have Ministers of Art, the United States has never created the position.  In fact, according to, Jones says that the U.S. and Germany are the only countries who do not have a culture minister. 

Jones has started a petition, which has so far garnered over 150,000 signatures.  You can sign it here.


Jones may want to check out some new talent to help promote his cause, like six-year-old Lil Yani.  His new rap video, "Obama Made Me Proud," is becoming a hit on YouTube.  With lyrics written by his great-grandmother, the San Pablo boy salutes the president-elect, saying "There were tears/ Love and pride/ I could see them/ In my Granny's eyes/ As she looked at me/ Looked at me to say/ Boy you could grow up/ To be president some day."

To update my last blog entry "The Hits Just Keep On Coming," San Francisco's Magic Theatre will stay open, having held a successful donation drive that raised over $455,000.  That's some uplifting news in this pessimistic time for the arts. 

Let's hope for more.  Perhaps all those artists performing at his inauguration will inspire Obama to act upon Jones' recommendation.  When can we expect the new Department of the Arts, Mr. President? 
January 19, 2009 6:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Theatre in the Bay Area took another hit this week, as the renowned Magic Theatre announced it is on the verge of closing.

This follows the closure of American Musical Theatre of San Jose earlier this month.  Shakespeare Santa Cruz also threatened to close in December, but managed to stay open after a successful drive to raise $300,000.

The Magic says it needs to raise $350,000 by January 9 to continue its 43rd season.  The staff there is now working without pay, and managing director David Jobin has left.  Artistic director Loretta Greco told the San Francisco Chronicle that the company has a $600,000 accumulated debt, some of which "we didn't realize we had." 

In its 42 years, the Magic has nurtured the work of four Pulitzer Prize winners, including Sam Shepard and Nilo Cruz, as well as local actors and marquis stars like Sean Penn and Ed Harris.  If the second largest theatre in San Francisco were to shutter its doors, it would be devastating for the arts community and the 200 artists it employs annually.   

That includes yours truly, whose next acting contract is at the Magic.  Luckily, it looks like this west coast premiere of Tough Titty will occur.  Written by the late actor/playwright Oni Faida Lampley, Tough Titty is a smart, funny inspiring play that chronicles a woman's battle with breast cancer.  

Now we can only hope that the Magic will be able to continue presenting the rest of its season and the groundbreaking new work for which it's become known. 

It's a desperate time for the arts, as manifested in the Facebook group "One Percent for the Arts Campaign!"  The group is asking people to sign a petition to ask Congress to assign a mere 1% of the federal stimulus package to the arts.  The group's tagline is "because artists and writers are also part of the economy," a fact people seem to have forgotten. 

One can only hope they start remembering.  Here's to 2009!

To help save the Magic Theatre, donate here.
December 31, 2008 12:00 AM | | Comments (1)


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