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PRODUCER WITH A TRAIL-BLAZER MENTALITY
 Interview with Producer Ken Mok
You don’t have to be a White Male to be do a successful television show!

 

Daring Portrayals of Asian Male & White Female Relationships   

There has been relatively few daring attempts in dealing with interracial romantic relationships with Asian/Asian Pacific American males in films throughout history. Listed below are some prominent and rare examples.

In the early 1900's, isolated films such as Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat brought to the screen the feelings of forbidden love between a White woman and an Asian man.

In the 1950's, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Crimson Kimono (in which, James Shigeta won the gorgeous White female - Victoria Shaw - from his White male co-star) featured an Asian Male and a White Female in starring romantic roles in major films!

In South Pacific, the song "You Have to be Carefully Taught" highlighted in the film one of the main reason why people fear interracial romantic situations.

In Bridge to the Sun, James Shigeta was married to the pretty Carroll Baker in a daring story during WWII!

In the 1990's, Disney's Johnny Tsunami was one of the last example of romantic featured roles featuring an Asian/Asian American male and a White female.

Is the Asian/Asian Pacific American male and a non-Asian (White, Black & Hispanic) female romantic relationships taboo in American films?

DIVERSITY
What is your analysis of the state of Asian Pacific Americans in the entertainment industry?

In front of the camera, the grade is a “D.” There are very few Asian Pacific American actors on television and that is something that has got to change. There has to be a change in the "mind shift" of executives at networks and studios to really try to get more Asian Americans in front of the cameras. I believe that is starting to slowly improve. I think that one is seeing more Asians appearing in commercials and in television programs, but we’ve got a long long way to go.

What is your analysis of the state of Asian Pacific Americans in the entertainment industry “behind the camera?”
I do think that it is starting to happen, but there is still very few of us.

At NBC, I was the first Asian American male to be a network executive within my position. Now there are more Asian americans in similar positions at other networks, such as Quan Phung at FOX’s Comedy Development, but there obviously needs more. When you start having more Asian American executives, you’ll see more changes.

In the film industry, it is happening at a quicker pace. You see a lot of directors such as Justin Lin, John Woo and others who are directing movies. You are also see more actors in the movies such as Jet Li, Chou Yan Fat, Jackie Chan and others.

I do think that this is an exciting century for Asian Americans because their culture is starting to take root in Western Society, especially in America. This is evident by Asian culture starting to be a stronger influence within the general public. I’m very excited about the prospects of Asian Americans in this industry.

Can the music industry help open the doors for Asian Pacific Americans in the television/film industry?
I have seen groups with Asian American musicians and/or singers such as Linkin Park and Smashing Pumpkins, but I haven’t seen an Asian American performer. I would love to see an Asian American pop singer who has a smash hit. I’ve heard of a hot and upcoming rapper name Jin who is making some noise.

I think that music and performing (in music) is the next frontier for Asian/Asian Americans to get into. It would be a real breakthrough to have an Asian male or female make it as a solo performer, as oppose to being part of a group. I think that this is the next major breakthrough to happen.

Do you think that the Asian American winners of recent television talent shows (i.e. Dat Phan from NBC’s Last Comic Standing and Harlemm Lee from NBC’s “Fame) have a chance to succeed?
It remains to be seen how these two artists fare and if the networks will put their money where their mouth is. Dat Phan presently has a split development deal with NBC that might turn into his own sitcom or placing him in an upcoming sitcom. I would be very interested in seeing how they use him in the program because it would be a shame to use him in a stereotypical way - that would be very annoying.

However, one of the networks, maybe ABC, has picked up a sitcom starring Henry Cho (Editor’s Note: He just completed the Vince Gill/Amy Grant’s 2003 tour). I believe that they will be doing the pilot with him – which is great.

HENRY CHO - FULL-BLOODED KOREAN COMIC WITH A DEEP EAST TENNESSEE DRAWL
 
 
Henry Cho w/Amy & Vince

Henry Cho is a full blooded Korean with a deep East Tennessee drawl. He was was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and went into stand-up comedy in 1986 with the goal of getting into films. He moved to southern California in 1989 to pursue his career, but always with the intent of returning to his roots in Tennessee. In 1994, after he moved to a farm in Tennessee, Cho got the call from NBC to host NBC's "Friday Night Videos" which he did by commuting to L.A. weekly for two years.

While in L.A., he became a regular guest/comedian on such shows as "The Tonight Show" and "The Arsenio Hall Show." His other TV credits include guest roles on various sitcoms such as CBS' "Designing Women," "Lenny," "The New WKRP in Cincinnati" and a starring role in FOX's TV movie, "Revenge of The Nerd II: The Next Generation." Cho's many other comedy credits include NBC's "Bob Hope's Young Comedians Special," MTV's "1/2 Hour Comedy Hour" and VH-1's "Stand-up Spotlight." He starred opposite Tom Arnold and David Allen Grier in Universal's "McHale's Navy" and Farrelly brothers' movie "Say It Isn't So" with Sally Field, Heather Graham and Chris Klein

He states that "I'd love to do a sit-com, had a couple chances a few years ago but couldn't agree on the content. I'm not doing a stereotype Asian guy, period.

Do you feel that you are one (among others) role model for the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities within the entertainment industry?
I think so and I’m very proud of being a
role model. Asian Americans, when they discover that I am a successful executive and television producer, are very surprised. If that can influence other Asian Americans to get into the business and to produce, I will be very happy. I think that it does because it shows to Asian Americans that they can make an inroad into the entertainment industry and be a producer of successful shows. We need more Asian Americans to come into the industry to make their stand and their mark in show business because there is room for a lot of people.

 
Dat Phan
 
Dat Tien Phan was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1975. He and his mother emigrated to the United States and suffered through financial hardships for most of his childhood. He grew up in San Diego, California and attended West Hills High School in Santee, California.

After the September 11th attack, in which the World Trade Centers were destroyed in New York City, Dat truely realized that life was short and began to seriously focus on his stand-up career.

Dat Phan moved to Los Angeles, and for a time, lived out of his car. One tragic night, Dat was robbed at gunpoint while working at the Hollywood Improv. Dat had nothing to lose as he auditioned for the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing, with few dollars in his pocket and surviving off of very little food such as bread and water and top ramen.

Dat found himself one of the final 5 contestants on the reality show and on August 5th, 2003, Dat became NBC's Last Comic Standing, beating out great comedians such as Ralphie May, Rich Vos, Cory Kahaney, and Tess Draket.

 

Which Asian/Asian Pacific American communities have honored you in the past?
No organizations from the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities have honored me in the past. There is a group (CAPE) that I have been sporadically been involved with, but I haven’t been involved with substantially. CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) is an organization that have ties to all Asian Americans in the entertainment industry. There is a good number of Asian Americans who are really making inroads behind the scene in the television industry, just like I have.

Hopefully, I will keep on growing in the television business, making hit television shows, grow in this business and continue to be a good presence/role example for other Asian Americans. I am very proud of that and I continue to try to make sure, in the shows that I do, have a diverse cast.

 
 
Tyra Banks

In talking to the press regarding “Top Model,” Tyra Banks and myself are the only minority “Executive Producer Team” in the television industry. This situation is a rarity, but hopefully we are setting an example for other minorities to get in there to establish themselves. It also says to the entertainment industry – “Hey look, you don’t have to be a White Male to be do a successful television show!”

Do you feel that it is time for Hollywood to recognize/celebrate prominent talents with the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities?
Unfortunately, I don’t think that the Asian Pacific Americans communities are at that stage. I would love to see that day come where Asian Pacific Americans have enough impact, clout and influence to have their own awards show. Hopefully this will happen within the next ten years. I know that CAPE has its own annual show, but it is not on the same size as the Vibe Awards or the NAACP Awards. I hope within the next ten years we will have an award show of some significance.

Do you feel that Asian American network executives get eaten up by the process/politics within the entertainment industry?
There are other Asian American network executives in the industry that are doing well, but I haven’t kept in contact with the other networks because I am very focused on my own productions.

In light of the unique positions that Asian American network executives are at, what are your thoughts on the situation that surrounded Fox’s broadcasting their summer replacement show “Banzai” – especially since the executives in charge and protesters are both Asian Americans?
Being an Asian Pacific American executive, it is a difficult role because one has to work within the entertainment industry. I respect Wenda Fong and Qung Phung tremendously because they have been in the forefront of promoting Asian Americans within the entertainment industry. Wenda is very active in the world of CAPE. (Editor’s Note: At the time of this article, she is currently the president of CAPE) I applaud their efforts in addressing the Charlie Chan situation. They did a good job.

 

 

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