On June 7th, I had the privilege of checking out a press screening of Warner Brothers’ Green Lantern which opens in theaters on June 17th. Within this film are two Pacific Islander actors who play significant roles in this blockbuster film: Taika Waititi and Temuera Morrison, an actor who has never appeared in any American films and the other actor you may recall playing Jango Fett in Star Wars, Episode II. Both of these actors did a grand job with the roles given to them.
What is Green Lantern’s significance to an Asian American blog, besides our Green Lantern prize giveaway? The film features Waititi’s character Thomas Kalmaku and his former history of being called “Pie Face,” a racial slur used against Inuits and Asians. More details, after the jump.
During the press junket conference, I asked the director Martin Campbell how he came across the Maori actor Taika Waititi to play Thomas Kalmaku, who plays Hal Jordan’s best friend and one of the few who knows Hal’s Green Lantern identity. Even though the director is from New Zealand, the casting find was done purely through the casting director Pam Dixon which, in my personal opinion, is pretty awesome considering that Taika is well known in New Zealand and internationally but virtually unknown in the United States. One of the coolest things about Taika is that not only is he an actor, he is also a writer and director. Recently, he wrote and directed Boy, New Zealand’s highest grossing local film of all time.
In the Green Lantern film, Taika’s character of Thomas Kalmaku was a computer geek but he came off more as a genuine person than a caricature or stereotype . Interestingly enough, in the comic book lore, there was a time when his character was referred as “Pieface;” the current explanation for that nickname is because he likes to eat pies.
The real reason for his “Pieface” nickname is that the term was (and still is) a racial slur for Asian people, especially Inuits, referring to their relatively flat and round facial features, like the bottom of a pie. It’s true that Tom is not technically Asian but Inuit, but in the 1960’s, comic books didn’t make those kinds of distinctions. Anyone with Asian features was a “pieface.” It is also to be noted that “Pieface” has a secondary connotation, which is “Eskimo Pie,” an old treat whose name is just as controversial due to the word “Eskimo” being an incorrect term to describe Inuit people.
In recent issues, Hal Jordan came to defend Thomas when another pilot called him a “pie face,” which caused a lot of comic book fans to scratch their heads because in previous issues, Hal had no issue whatsoever using the term. For the sake of sanity, it’s best not to go into comic books’ tendency to rewrite its own history. While I have noticed that people groan about things being too P.C. these days when it comes to films and entertainment, it is important to note that those who complain do so because these racial issues simply do not affect them.
I am glad that the Green Lantern adaptation does not mention this slur or bring it up in any way. Instead, the film allows the actor to breathe some great life into his character and while Taika may not be the forefront of attention in press conferences and red carpets, I am excited to see what this talented actor will do next.