|Darren Criss with his parents.|
WHEN I FIRST READ the Vulture interview with Darren Criss, I was deeply disappointed - heartbroken, really.
Chriss, who is currentlly starring in American Crime Story's "The Assassination of Giannini Versace," gave some controversial responses that drew the ire of some Asian Americans.
During the interview, writer E. Alex Jung asked the Filipino/American actor if being part Filipino was a factor in getting a part, Criss answered: "I always say one of my favorite things about myself is that I’m half-Filipino but I don’t look like it."
Taken by itself, that quote drew a lot of critical reaction and my first reaction was along the same line. "What? He's proud that he doesn't look Filipino?""You other’d us while placing yourself in such close proximity with the whiteness you so proudly wear. Why would you do that?" said Natalie Blardony, a Filipino/American writer in Medium.
Other quotes from the interview seemed to reinforce this point of view:
"I just look like a Caucasian guy, which is nice."
” I have the luxury of being half-white and looking more Caucasian,..."And there is this reponse to the question, "Do you identify as Asian-American?"
"No. I think that’d be unfair. I think that’d sound like I’m reaching for the minority card on a college application. I think that would be unfair. Yeah, my mom’s Asian-American. She’s from the Philippines and came here and then married a white guy, and here I am. But maybe it’s because of the way I look. Maybe if I looked a little more pan-Asian and I was put in that box then I would be like, “Yeah, I identify as Asian-American,” but maybe because the obstacles that may come up haven’t that I don’t think about it. But that’s a really interesting question. I’ve never thought about that. For better or for worse, I guess not. But I guess I am. What do you think? Am I? On paper I guess I kind of am."
Criss felt his quote was punctuated incorrectly. He felt compelled to issue a clarification which turns the meaning of that statement 180 degrees.
And, as word of the criticism about his comments in Vulture became more widely known, Criss' fans flocked to his defense. But even his defenders said they had to lick their initial wounds.
"He’s a tried-and-true Broadway actor, man. Just because he’s not on billboards and glamour magazines doesn’t mean he’s not a working actor.” He’s like, “Well, I don’t get why I still haven’t heard of him.” I’m like, “He’s a Filipino man, dude.” There’s only so many opportunities that people can lock themselves into accepting when they’re casting shit, unless he’s playing the Thai terrorist on CSI or something. And what I hope happens is this will be a great stepping stone for him, for people to go, “Ah, he’s a good actor,” and then just cast where race isn’t a thing.
Perhaps, Criss is one of those individuals who identifies more strongly as a Filipino/American than an Asian/American. He strikes me as a very bright person, albeit perhaps not so politically conscious. I've read other articles about him and watched him on talk shows and he's always said -- without prompting -- that he's half-Filipino. He has never described himself as half-Asian.
For someone who has been immersed in Asian Americana for so long, my initial reaction might have been overly sensitive since I expect all people with an Asian heritage to identify themselves similarly.
Although Criss can pass for white, calling that a "luxury," may be a poor word choice since, as he admits, no one has asked him about identifying as an "Asian/American" before the Vulture interview.
I invite Mr. Criss to become more aware of the culture wars going on nowadays and educate himself in the issues that affect his darker brothers and sisters. Awareness of the lack of acting roles for Filipinos is a start, but he needs to know that industry-wide struggle applies for all people of color. It is not a question of talent, but the lack of opportunities.
Criss, who's performance in American Crime Story has been universally lauded and hopefully will result in some peer recognition come awards time, now finds himself in a unique position. With his newly found platform, Criss can help keep those doors open for entertainers who might be a few shades darker.