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DAVID HENRY HWANG INTERVIEW
It's OK to be Wrong and/or It's OK to be Hwang
Presentations of idiosyncratic history pageants with a sense of humor and musicality
A Creative Soul, Successful Playwright, Screenwriter and Librettist with All the Work He can Handle

 

DIVERSITY
Within this section of our dialogue regarding diversity with David, we'll talk about the current status of seeing multiethnic (w/Asian Pacific American) actors in the media and the place that ethnic theater has in today's society.

ETHNIC THEATER
US ASIANS: What do feel needs to happen next to continue the process of where the expression "ethnic theater" won't have any meaning?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I believe we are moving towards the day, and that the proliferation of works dealing with stories from a variety of cultural backgrounds will continue, thus eventually making the term "ethnic theater" irrelevant.

US ASIANS: With American culture acknowledging that it is more "multicultural" - has the ideal of what's ethnic become irrelevant?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I'm not sure what you mean by an "ideal" of what's ethnic. If I take your question in the most literal sense, I believe the notion that there is some "ideal" way to portray an ethnicity is irrelevant, and probably always has been.

US ASIANS: What is your assessment of the current status of mono-ethnic theaters such as the Asian theaters, the black theaters and the Hispanic theaters? Why haven't more of these mono-ethnic theaters formed coalitions pooling their resources together for the "greater good?"

 
BLIND-CASTING IN
TODAY'S HYPHENATED SOCIETY
  US ASIANS: What will it take for the general public and Hollywood to accept "blind-casting" choices such as Jonathan Pryce playing an Asian character, James Earl Jones can playing Italian characters and B. D. Wong can playing a Jewish character?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: In general, I feel this is starting to happen in the theatre. Denzel Washington can play Julius Caesar, James Earl Jones can star in "On Golden Pond," Brian Stokes Mitchell can star in "Taming of the Shrew" & "Man of La Mancha," and Jose Llana can play a character named "Chip Tolentino." We are still miles away from this happening in the movies, however, where verisimilitude is taken much more literally.

US ASIANS: In the final analysis of living in the U.S.'s "hyphenated society" at this time, has being Asian (where you are telegraphing your identity through your physical characteristics) provided you the ability to explore and create without boundaries?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Basically, yes. My main handicap at this point is that my all-Asian works, after their initial NY productions, tend to be produced less often than other successful Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, because regional theatres feel they're too hard to cast. Normally, a play which has been well-enough received on Broadway to receive a Tony Nomination will be popular with regional theatres, but this has not proven the case with "Golden Child," for example.

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Just as white audiences need to become more receptive to stories from different cultures, "ethnic" audiences need to expand their purviews beyond their own communities and the white "mainstream." I believe it hasn't been particularly fruitful for single-ethnic theatres to pool their resources, because their audiences have proven largely unresponsive to works about minorities other than their own.

US ASIANS: Recognizing your past reflection that the advancement of cultural diversity in the theater is based on the white establishment's willingness to give up control, do you see any noticeable tangible changes or do you subscribe to August Wilson's need to have an "ethnic theater" - theater from and for a specific ethnic community?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: To this day, there are very few examples of "mainstream" theatres led by an artistic director of color. George C. Wolfe at the Public was a notable exception. So the baby-boomer generation of not-for-profit theatrical leaders has not had much success at diversifying its top ranks. On the other hand, almost all artistic institutions have come to recognize the need to diversify their audiences. Though the desire exists, the means to achieve this end have been fairly anemic, perhaps because the top ranks of leadership remain largely white and male.

US ASIANS: Does the mono-ethnic theater still effective address an artistic apartheid situation, in which a minority effectively controls the cultural expression of all the other groups within an ever-increasing plurality society?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: An analogy can be made between mono-ethnic theatres and cutting-edge avant garde theatres. Both serve a specialized audience, but occasionally their works "cross over" to a mainstream audience. Mono-ethnic theatres are necessary to be the vanguard of new forms and content; most will never reach a larger audience, but their ideas and innovations will influence the mainstream in some other form.

Some Working APA Actors
 
 
Lalaine
Carrie Ann Inaba
 
Lizzie Mcguire Dancing w/Stars  
 
US ASIANS: Have you seen more people of color in administrative positions and decision-making positions?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: There has been progress in mid-level administration, but, as noted before, the very top tier remains overwhelmingly white and male.

US ASIANS: What do you think needs to happened before an Asian Pacific American writer has the artistic freedom to do Asian and non-Asian subjects, roles and/or issues freely and without prejudice?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I feel we do currently, in a strict sense, have artistic freedom, but it's a question of whether these works are mounted and promoted by institutions and producers that can market and promote them to reach their widest possible audience.

CURRENT STATUS OF DIVERSITY
US ASIANS: What are your opinions on the current and general state of diversity within the television, theater and film industry in the United States?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Two steps forward, one step back. I think I've gone into specific examples for specific genres in previous questions.

US ASIANS: What do you feel is the current status of APA (Asian Pacific American) theaters providing opportunities for upcoming talented writers to share tales of their search for authenticity within their lifestyle/communities, along with their financial support (buying tickets) of these artists? Where do you feel that APA (Asian Pacific American) writers will receive the greatest benefits - having their productions produced within an Asian/Asian Pacific American theater group or within an American theater group?

 
DARING FILMS W/ASIAN MALES
 
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.
Click the "yellow links" for more info

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Despite the fact that Broadway is largely irrelevant for the production of new plays, a playwright paradoxically needs to be produced on Broadway to achieve a national profile. Similarly, an APA (Asian Pacific American) playwright needs to be produced by a mainstream theatre to achieve a major profile within the American theatre. This does not mean, however, the his or her most important work needs to be done there.

US ASIANS: What do you feel is the plight, progress and promise of artists of Asian descent in the American entertainment industry?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think we're already beginning to see a growing prominence by Asians in the American entertainment industry. Ironically, though, the majority of individuals involved are from the root cultures, rather than from America. For mainstream audiences, APAs (Asian Pacific Americans) for a brief time served as "stand-ins" to satisfy the audience's interest in curiosity about Asia. As the audience gains access to "real" Asians, however, APAs (Asian Pacific Americans) will increasingly compete with their root-culture cousins.

US ASIANS: Do you feel that today's Asian (and other ethnic minority) playwrights are still restricted of the stereotyping based on the color of the actors that you had encountered before your success with M. Butterfly?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Yes, and, as I said before, I am still restricted to some degree also. "M. Butterfly" is widely produced, not only because it was a hit on Broadway, but because the lead is a white male, and only two of the principal characters are Asian.

US ASIANS: With artists such as Lea Salonga still having problems getting substantial roles in television for reasons that include "not Asian-looking enough, You must look really Chinese/Japanese/Korean, if I wasn't so mixed already - mga Pinoy, may halong ganito, may halong ganyan; 'Where do we put her?'" What do you feel is some of the main factors behind this situation and how prevailing is the "Yellow Ceiling" is in Hollywood? (For additional info on the "yellow ceiling" - click HERE)

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Well, now that audiences expect Asian characters to be played by Asian actors, we're living through a period where actors must look like Asians are "supposed to look." I think that, as more Asians appear on television and screen, the audience will gradually get used to the wide variety of "looks" within our gene pool. But then, we also will have to deal with the expectations of non-American Asian audiences, as exemplified by the current "Memoirs of a Geisha" controversy.

Says Hwang, "Ultimately I am sort of a civil libertarian and believe people should be able to cast who they want. But I also feel people who don't like it should be able to complain as loudly as they want, and that's the best way to balance everyone's civil liberties."

US ASIANS: With children's television programming and television ads providing an accurate picture of a multiracial world within their perspective programming, why you do feel that television for adults has not followed a similar path?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Children's programming is supposed to have an "educational" component, which leads to programmers advocating multiculturalism as a desired value. In fact, some of the recent assault on PBS by conservatives has been motivated by these sorts of intentions. Adult programming does not serve any educational function, so they don't feel obligated to present a multicultural cast of chracters. However, slowly but surely, self-interest, in the form of wanting to reach a wider audience, is diversifying the casts of television shows. Interestingly, reality television seems to be more multiracial than scripted programming -- "American Idol" controversies aside -- which I think reflects the unease white writers and directors feel about creating characters of color.


Read more about David's views on diversity by clicking HERE.

Discover David's Viewpoints on the Wide Spectrum of Subjects by Clicking on the Below-Listed Links
AUTHENTICITY
CULTURE
CREATIVE PROCESS
DIVERSITY
MUSIC & MUSICALS

Applications
Authenticity vs. Stereotypes
Definition
Frank Chin Battles
Stereotypes - David's Views

THEATER
1000 Airplanes on the Roof
Chinese Railroad Workers
Dance and the Railroad
Family & Christianity
Family Devotion
FOB
Golden Child & Christianity
Origins of Interest
Rich Relations
Sound of a Voice
Steve Allen's Meeting of Minds
Trying to Find Chinatown

 

 

Critical Thinking
Cultural Symbol
Debating Issues
Ethnic Isolationism
Its Issues
Representations

PERSONAL INFO
2nd Marriage & Its Joys
David on Ismail Merchant
Henry Hwang (Father)
Kathryn Hwang (Wife)
Overview
Parents & Relatives
Parting Words
Personal Facts

SUPPORT
Financial
Needed from APA Artists
From Our Communities

 

Choices
Collaborators

Days of Education & Learning
Dealing with Expectations
Failure's Particular Lessons
Inappropriate Characters
Influences & Inspirations
"Lost Empire" Experience
Pressures with Success
Role Models
Working with Lucia Hwong
Working with Philip Glass
Working with Unsuk Chin

NEW & PAST PROJECTS
Chinese Mafia-type Films
Desired Projects
Hello Suckers
Inspiration of China
Status of Past Projects
Tarzan
Texas Guinan
The Fly
Yellow Face

 

APA Theater Organizations
Blind-Casting
Calvin Jung
Current Status
Daring Films w/Asian Males
Definition of an APA
Ethnic Theater
Life as a Librettist (Ainadamar)
Life as a Role Model
Ms. Saigon Protest
Perceptions
Proteges & Artists
Recognizing APA Artists
State of Asian Women Writers
Welly Yang Learning History

LIFE AS A SCREENWRITER
Across the Nightingale Floor
Experience with Hollywood
Golden Gate & M.Butterfly
Interculturalism & Objective Truth
NBC's Lost Empire
Neal Labute's "Possession"

 

Its Importance
M.Butterfly
Today's APA Communities
Working with Prince

FLOWER DRUM SONG
Anna May Wong
Arabella Hong-Young
Background Research
C.Y. Lee
Creative Choices
Its Importance
Original Version
Remembering Our History

REVIEWS
Yellow Face

       
       
       

 

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