The [MIT] Tech: Movie ’21’ Discriminatory Casting Unjustified

8Asians has written about ’21,” the movie adaptation of the book, “Bringing Down the House,” which chronicles the real life story of the primarily Asian-American male MIT Blackjack Team, and the controversy. Well, in Tuesday’s MIT student newspaper, The Tech, Alvin Lin (MIT 2004) had his editorial opinion piece published “‘21′ Discriminatory Casting Unjustified:”

“… according to the non-fiction book, the team’s Asian ethnicities were central to the plot and their ability to gamble huge amounts of money without notice. Here is an excerpt from the book: “The MIT team thrived by choosing [Big Players] who fit the casino mold of the young, foolish, and wealthy. Primarily nonwhite, either Asian or Middle Eastern, these were the kids the casinos were accustomed to seeing bet a thousand bucks a hand… For those who have seen the film, the end result was a production that whitewashed most of the real life characters, with Aaron Yoo playing a kleptomaniac as a token Asian secondary character. Think of other examples of films inspired from true stories. Would you feel okay about ‘Coach Carter’ or ‘Pursuit of Happiness’, starring Al Pacino? How about ‘Passion of the Christ’ starring an East Asian, or a blond, blue-eyed actor? I think when entertainment is supposed to be based on real life, that there is an obligation to stay true to the situation’s demographics and the real life protagonists. For example, a movie about the NBA with no Black actors, or a hospital show with no Asian American male doctors in it, would seem unrealistic. There is also precedent to this argument. For example, decades ago Broadway initially used White actresses to play the Asian female protagonist in ‘Miss Saigon,’ until they were eventually forced by the Actor’s Equity Union to use Asian actresses.”

I had been “spammed” on Facebook asking to join the “Boycott 21” group on Facebook. At first, I thought these types of groups and commentaries were a little off base, I mean, it’s just entertainment, right? And from what I read – like on Rotten Tomatoes (32% fresh), the movie didn’t exactly get that all great reviews.

In general, before becoming an Angry Asian Man, I like to think and analyze things before I get “angry.” The more I thought about ’21,” and the more I read about the reasoning, I definitely understand the frustration and anger as to what Hollywood did to the real life story of the MIT Blackjack Team.

And it’s not like I haven’t written about Hollywood’s racist past, especially with white/Caucasians actors “yellow face” acting, as well as my recent blog posting on Long Duk Dong: Last of the Hollywood stereotypes?. Asian-Americans should be angry and educate the ignorant about ’21’s” white washing.

For some reason, when writing this blog posting – I was reminded that when the Central Pacific Railroad joined the Union Pacific Railroad in 1869 at Promontory Point – to create the first transcontinental railroad, not one Chinese laborer was included in the famous photo, although up to 12,000 Chinese worked for Central Pacific (making up to 90% of the workforce).

Read Alvin Lin’s editorial, and let me know what you think. I also came across one of the actual MIT Blackjack Team member’s blog dedicated to his thoughts on ’21’ – John Chang (MIT’85) (anonymized as Mickey Rosa in the book, Bringing Down the House.)

When it comes right down to it – whether or not it’s the photo at Promontory Point or the movie ’21,’ there has been a great American tradition of historical and cultural genocide to eliminate Asian-Americans, from the 1860’s to the present, from the American consciousness. Let’s start changing this – start speaking out!

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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