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Steve Park's Mission Statement PDF Print E-mail

By Steve Park
©1997 Steve Park

In the spirit of Jerry Maguire, I submit this mission statement to the Hollywood community.

Struggling for Dignity

I am a Korean-American actor. You can see my work in one of the most highly acclaimed movies of 1996 and in one of the most talked about scenes of that year. I play the distraught Japanese-American ex-schoolmate of Marge Gunderson-- Mike Yanagita-- in the Academy Award-winning movie Fargo. Working with the Coen brothers and Frances McDormand was one of the high points of my career. Not so much because they are brilliant artists, but because they are decent, down-to-earth people who treated me and the rest of the cast and crew with respect and admiration.

Being an Asian-American actor, I continue to struggle to find roles for myself that are not insulting and stereotypical. My career started with Do The Right Thing, I was a series regular on In Living Color, and I just finished working as a guest star on one of the highest rated shows on television ["Friends"], which brings me to my next point. Working with the people involved with this show was an extremely painful experience for me. A disturbing lack in generosity of spirit and basic human courtesy, in addition to a racial incident on the set, has forced me to speak out.  .

These people, by virtue of their status, money and power, are among the most privileged people walking the face of the earth, yet they behaved as if they were bankrupt in spirit and incapable of expressing simple human kindness. Not only did various key people on the set not have the courtesy to introduce themselves as we began to work together, they created an environment of fear and insecurity. One PA (production assistant) spoke of having worked on the show for almost a full year without one cast member ever having said hello to him in that entire time. And on top of this, the 1st AD (assistant director), in a short tirade, called an Asian-American actor to the set over a walkie-talkie with the words, "I don't have time for this! Where's Hoshi, Toshi or whatever the f--k his name is. Get the oriental guy!" He did not even have the respect to learn the name of the actor, a veteran of 40 years.

I was the only one who took notice, while all others proceeded as if it was business as usual. Given the atmosphere on the set, it did not feel safe to say anything. After all, on the average Hollywood set, finding a person of color is much like trying to find Waldo. It is a white, exclusionary culture. If this was an isolated incident, I would not have felt compelled to write this mission statement. Unfortunately, I find this attitude and behavior commonplace in Hollywood. I know many people who have experienced this kind of indignity on a movie or television show set, and you can be sure this kind of thing is going on in the corporate culture as well. There are many who would argue that the status and power people achieve here is part of the attraction and glamour of Hollywood, and others who climb this ladder of success and are dealt these indignities are just "paying their dues."

I believe those who hold this opinion are part of the problem. Asian-Americans are under attack in this country right now. Americans of Asian descent who contributed to the Democratic National Committee are being investigated and harassed, having to prove, beyond what is reasonable and just, that they are actually citizens of this country. It is no accident that political contributors from places like Europe, Australia or Canada have never suffered from such scrutiny. A recent issue of the National Review displays on its cover the Clintons and Al Gore in yellowface with buck teeth and slanted eyes. You can be sure the National Review would never have dared to paint the Clintons in blackface on their cover. The fact that they had the grotesque audacity to do this in America in 1997 is nothing less than a call to action, not only for Asian-Americans but for all Americans.

When the rights of one group of Americans are threatened, America itself is threatened, and we shame the ideals of America. Too many Americans have the mentality of someone who just stepped foot on Ellis Island breathing in the promise of freedom, only to turn around to the person behind him and yell, "Go back to where you came from, you damn foreigner!" In movies and television, Asian characters, mostly men, are subjected to indignity and/or violence or are tokenized, while Asian women are exploited as objects of sexual desire. You rarely see Asian characters in leading roles that contain any significant power or influence. The award-winning documentary, Who Killed Vincent Chin, tells the story of a young Chinese-American man in Detroit who was brutally murdered by two white men who mistook him for Japanese, and thereby held him responsible for their unemployment in the automobile industry. These two men were acquitted and never spent a day in jail.

Hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise in this country, and negative portrayals of Asians in the media only encourage this trend. There are many who believe Asian-Americans have nothing to complain about and that we are the "model minority." But the model minority myth is just that-- a myth. As immigrants, we are often not welcomed. We are treated as outsiders regardless of how many generations we have been in this country. We are viewed as "people of color" and face the oppression of racism. We make up more than one-half the world's population, yet in spite of our numbers and contributions to the world, our images and perspectives are seldom seen. Our histories and our cultures are obscured, overlooked, buried or tokenized in a world dominated by Western classism. Our voices are seldom heard, our stories are left untold, and our realities are seldom represented by those who control the means and resources to name and shape a picture of reality. In spite of our diversity, in spite of our unique histories and cultures, we are often represented as a single homogeneous group. Asians are the nearly silent, nearly invisible, majority of the world.

Wake Up America!

We live in one of the most racially divided cities in the world, still recovering from the aftershocks of a racial riot/uprising and the OJ Simpson trial, which made it clear to all in America that white people and black people live in entirely different worlds. This does not even speak to the many issues involving all the other people of color in this country who struggle with racism, but are left out of the dialogue by people who see the issues only in black and white. Other cities may choose to ignore these problems. Los Angeles cannot afford to. The state of affairs in this city, as well as the attitudes and ignorance of many in Hollywood, are what will lead us to our next crisis unless we talk openly and honestly about what we can do together to solve these issues. It is my passionate, heartfelt belief that the level of despair being felt in Los Angeles, as well as around the world, makes this state of affairs in Hollywood completely and unequivocally unacceptable.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama said in a statement on March 10, 1997: "In the closing years of the 20th century, a new way of thinking has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting. If we maintain obsolete values and beliefs, a fragmented consciousness and self-centered spirit, we will continue to hold on to outdated goals and behaviors, our century could be called the century of war and bloodshed. The challenge before us, therefore, is to make the next century a century of dialogue and nonviolent conflict resolution." There are courageous people all over the world fighting and risking their lives for liberation and justice. If Nelson Mandela can find the strength to survive 27 years in prison and emerge as the leader of his nation, if His Holiness the Dalai Lama can continue to pursue a path of nonviolent struggle against the genocide of one of the most spiritual and beautiful cultures on this planet-- then we in Hollywood can surely muster up a fraction of that courage and take a stand and speak out against anyone who does not support the principles of integrity, justice and compassion. We, more than any other people anywhere in the world, have the ability and resources to be generous of spirit, open of heart and express to the rest of the world, through the various mediums of communication at our disposal, the very best of the human spirit.

We have within our power the ability to express on a global scale the divinity that exists within every human being regardless of race, nationality, religion, class or whatever other characteristic we use to separate ourselves from each other. In other words, we can facilitate the ability of every human being to see himself or herself in every other human being. Imagine that! White people and black people recognizing themselves in each other. Jews and Arabs, Irish and British, Chinese and Tibetans, Korean-Americans and African-Americans, the haves and the have-nots, imagine the oppressors seeing themselves in the oppressed and vice versa. But we cannot communicate this unless we are willing and able to live it as well. It is time for a revolution. A revolution of the heart. Don't wait for some leader to help guide the way. Instead, find one in the mirror. Become a leader in your life and in your world and stand up for what is right in every small moment of your life. After all, the only thing that really exists is the moment.

Know that in each and every moment, you have the ability to alleviate the suffering of another human being and thereby remove one drop from an ocean of suffering and sadness in the world. "Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Do you remember these words? Do you know who said them? Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. I first heard these words in the fourth grade in upstate New York, and I memorized the entire speech so I could deliver it to my classmates, all of whom were white, as part of a public speaking exercise. This memory has just now come upon me and I am astounded by this memory. As a young Korean-American boy, I barely knew what I was saying. I was only concerned that I spoke clearly, memorized all the words, and that I continued to move my head left and right so everyone could see my face. As I remember these words now, as a Korean-American man, that all men (and women!) are created equal, I realize these words are coming back to me now in order that I may save my own life.

Movies are America's greatest export. It is the one industry that America has always been the best at in the world. Communication is our greatest resource. Wake up Hollywood! Wake up America! The world is in a horrible crisis-- the time has come for us to muster up our courage and open our hearts against the cruelty of our time and live out of and communicate the most important message of all: Love. In the process, we will save ourselves from ourselves.

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