After Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen told some racist jokes about Asians at this year’s Oscars, 25 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members of Asian descent sent a letter of protest to the organization. Among those who signed the letter was Star Trek actor George Takei, who recently slammed stereotyping and Rock’s stunt with the three children who posed as accountants.
“On the Oscars, the three kids were accountants: ‘good with numbers,’ ‘hardworking’ … We’re ‘studious.’ We’re ‘inscrutable,’” said Takei on a panel at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival’s C3 conference on Saturday. “The stereotypes that we have been saddled with, some people have told me are ‘bland stereotypes.’ They’re not really destructive or insulting or painful stereotypes.”
Yet, he outlined how even a seemingly harmless stereotype can become “catastrophically damaging.”
“When Pearl Harbor was bombed overnight, just because of our faces, we were looked at with suspicion and fear and outright hatred,” Takei said on the panel, which also included Academy members Janet Yang and Arthur Dong; Los Angeles Times film editor Marc Bernardin; Asian Pacific American Media Coalition co-chair Daniel Mayeda; and Emerlynn Lampitoc, who oversees the hiring of writers and directors for ABC and Disney Channel.
Takei alluded to Earl Warren, the attorney general turned governor of California who advocated for the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Warren — who thought of Japanese people as foreign, inscrutable, and thusly treacherous — once said: "When we are dealing with the Caucasian race, we have methods that will test the loyalty of them ... But when we deal with the Japanese, we are in an entirely different field and we cannot form any opinion that we believe to be sound."
“‘The Japanese are inscrutable.’ They don’t know what we're thinking, so we should be locked up before we do anything,” Takei said during the panel, echoing Warren’s xenophobic sentiments. “The absence of evidence was the evidence. And that fed into the hysteria of the times that reached the presidency of the United States, [who] ordered all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast to be summarily rounded up with no charges … The central pillar of our justice system, due process, simply disappeared.”
During the C3 conference panel, Takei also recalled the morning he and his family were ordered at gunpoint out of their home in California and relocated to Arkansas, where they spent four years behind barbed wire.
“I am keenly sensitive to stereotypes, as bland, as innocuous as they may seem, because all it takes is one catastrophic event for that stereotype to become a deadly weapon used against us,” Takei said. “I have a sense of humor, but those demeaning and dehumanizing stereotypes, I will fight to the end.”