Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Filipino food gaining fans on opposite coasts

Jeepney & Maharlika, Manhattan, New York City

I'VE EATEN at Jeepney; haven't gone to Maharlika yet. 

Jeepney is worth a stop if you're in New York. If you ever wondered why so many Filipino dishes are kinda luke-warm, that's because they were originally meant to be eaten by kamay (hand). You don't want heat blisters from eating, right? Jeepney has a pub-like ambiance and features a kamayan meal on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Its gotten so popular you have to make reservations. Check out their website for more details on those finger-licking meals. Those t-shirts are so cool!

NOTE: Bring wet wipes.

Besides, any restaurant recommended by the Smithsonian Museum website is a place that deserves our attention. 
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this post said it was the Guggenheim Museum. My apologies.
If Jeepney is your casual dining experience, just a block away is its sister restaurant,  Maharlika, which serves "modern" Filipino fare in your rich auntie's dining room. (Read "upscale.") I know, Filipino food CAN be upscale. You have to use utensils; no one will blink an eye if you ask for the big spoon, too.

Together, the restaurants have teamed up to sponsor the popular Balut-Eating Contest during the 1st Ave. Street Fair. Winners have come as far away as ... uh, exotic Queens.

Both restaurants are the brainchildren of California transplant Nicole Ponseca. Favorable reviews by local media have given it New York stamp of approval and the much sought-after gotta-try, foodie status.

Is a San Francisco branch in the future? "It would be so good to come back home," says Ponseca, who attended the University of San Francisco.

Newcomers to Filipino cuisine sometimes complain that there isn't enough vegetable dishes. Are you kidding me?

Patio Filipino, San Bruno, California

BACK WEST, in the San Francisco Bay Area where there are more Filipinos than New York, Filipino cuisine is having to struggle against intense comparisons with other exotic Asian cuisines. First it was Chinese food, then Japanese, then Vietnamese, followed by Thai, Indian and Malaysian. Even esoteric Ethiopean, Burmese and Cambodian restaurants get more attention. When will Filipino food get the respect it deserves?

Nevetheless, in my never-ending quest for good eats, no matter the nationality, I think I found the best Filipino restaurant in the Bay Area. Patio Filipino is better than your nanay's cooking. Read my Yelp review here. It also got good reviews from the public television's award-winning foodie hit, Check, Please. Check it out below.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Killing of transgender Filipina becomes an international incident

Selfies of Jennifer Laude.
THERE'S a lo-o-ng, but very interesting article on the Vice website about how the slaying of a transgender Filipina became an international incident affecting relations between the Philippines and the United States. The article, written by another transgender woman, Meredith Talusan, allows us a peek into a world most of us are never exposed to and the problems transgender community faces in the Philippines and the U.S.
"On October 11 of last year, the US Marines stationed aboard the USS Peleliu got their first night of liberty after their Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship docked in Subic Bay, on the Philippine island of Luzon, for joint military exercises. Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, a 19-year-old former professional boxer from New Bedford, Massachusetts, eagerly disembarked with his battle buddies Bennett Dahl, Daniel Pulido, and Jairn Rose. They headed for the Harbor Point mall in nearby Olongapo, part of the former American Subic Bay naval base, which closed, in 1992, after a massive volcanic eruption that coincided with a wave of Philippine nationalist sentiment. The group ate a late lunch and shopped at the mall before heading for the narrow streets and looser rules of Magsaysay Drive, half a mile outside the former base.
"At Ambyanz Night Life, the men found what some of them had been looking for that night. The club was a frequent hangout for sex workers known as Pocahontases—a riff on pok-pok, a Tagalog term for slut, which also alludes to the former colonizers who often patronize them. The most dogged of these women—those who quickly latch on to the arms of the men pouring off the ships—are usually transgender, but the foreign soldiers rarely learn that. 'Filipinos are more used to us, so they can sometimes tell,' one trans Pocahontas told me. 'Sometimes they try to expose us to the foreign men. So we run.'"
Among the Pocahontases was Jennifer Laude. She didn't know that this was the last day of her life. Continue reading here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pacquiao vs. Mayweather: Boxing's Superbowl

Floyd Mayweather, left, will fight Manny Pacquiao, right, on May 2 in Las Vegas for the welterweight title.
CIRCLE May 2 on your calendar. The fight of the century is on. 

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have finally agreed to terms and the match all boxing fans have been clamoring for for the last 5 years is finally set.

The Philippines' President Aquino will probably declare a national holiday. All business in Manila, Hawaii, Carson and Daly City will come to a standstill. Don't get too sick that you need to sign into a hospital that day because the Filipino nurses that normally staff the evening shift will be watching it on their tablets and smart phones. In San Francisco, it is lucky that the fight will occur on a Saturday or they'd have to shut down City Hall.

If you're Filipino, don't plan any baptisms, weddings, reunions or any fundraising dances on May 2. You probably won't get many people to attend, unless you set up a 56-inch flat screen in the garage.

When Pac-man came on the scene and won crowns in 8 different weight divisions, he was being hailed as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. That chaffed at Mayweather, who up to that point, had be called the best. May weather has a good claim. He's never lost a fight in 47 bouts.

"Boxing fans and sports fans around the world will witness greatness on May 2," Mayweather said. "I am the best ever, TBE, and this fight will be another opportunity to showcase my skills and do what I do best, which is win. Manny is going to try to do what 47 before him failed to do, but he won't be successful. He will be number 48."

Number 48 will be the best test of his skills to date. Despite his gaudy record, Mayweather has been roundly criticized for fighting lesser no-name opponents or fighters who where clearly on the decline in order to reach his goal of 50 fiights without a loss. Along the way, he's been in jail, then out of jail, back into jail, then out again. He's accused Manny of doping and insisted on blood tests prior to the fight. Then he demanded a 60-40 split of the purse. He wanted an exclusive on Showtime even though Pacquiao has a deal with HBO. He didn't want to negotiate with Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter.

Pacquiao, meanwhile, has been taking on all-comers. Real contenders. He's won the admiration of movie stars and fight fans throughout the world. He was elected to the Philippines' Congress and his records have reached platinum in sales. Since 2009 when he was in his best physical condition, he's lost two fights. He finally gave in to all the demands and Mayweather gave up the demand for a blood test.

"I am very happy that Floyd Mayweather and I can give the fans the fight they have wanted for so many years," Pacquiao said. "They have waited long enough and they deserve it. It is an honor to be part of this historic event. I dedicate this fight to all the fans who willed this fight to happen and, as always, to bring glory to the Philippines and my fellow Filipinos around the world."

The purse will be the largest ever for a boxing match. The tickets for the fight sold out in 15 minutes. Mayweather is expected to earn $120 million for the contest scheduled for 12 rounds; Pacquiao will get $80 million no matter the outcome.

Both fighters are past their fighting prime so the match everyone wanted to see has lost some of its luster, but it will still be a helluva fight to finally determine who the best pound-for-pound fighter really is when they meet at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for the joint welterweight crown.

But will the contest really happen? Mayweather has done this before and something has always come up to cancel or postpone a fight. He'd get arrested, he doesn't like the promoter, or he doesn't like the purse.

He's already started complaining. He's upset that news of the fight leaked out before Mayweather announced it because one of the terms he insisted on was that he be the one to announce the match.

I would not be surprised that something happens to derail the much anticipated match between the two pugilists.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why the Oscars' acting nominees are all white

Hollywood is shooting itself in the foot

A LOT of effluent has been stirred up about the lack of racial diversity in the acting categories of the Motion Pictures Academy Awards this year. Sunday, the motion picture industry will hold their annual celebration of themselves but this year, the tinsel and glitter surrounding the Oscars has been sullied and stained.

Why should it matter to us? Unfortunately - like it or not, wrongly or rightly - most people form their opinions and world views through the movies, television and the Internet.

All of the 20 acting nominations went to all white actors. A lot has been written about the composition of the Academy members and to no surprise, the overwhelming majority are older, white men who tend to vote for what they are most comfortable with, you know, people with whom they can relate - other white people. I'm not defending this attitude of privileged familiarity, but I do understand it. More details here. Huffington Post had a good article explaining just how exclusive the Academy is.

Of course, it doesn't help the diversity issue when they have relatively few actors of color to choose from. Not that there aren't any actors of color, there are more than you'd think. There just aren't that many roles in which minority actors can show off their acting prowess.

That sorry situation falls in the laps of the directors and producers who decide who - or "type" - to seek when filling the roles. It doesn't occur to them to go beyond the stereotypes that minority actors find themselves auditioning for. Color-blind casting is much talked about but in reality, rarely used.

A recent example of color-blind casting was the choice of John Cho on the short-lived TV series Selfie. The producers were not really looking for an Asian male to play the romantic lead, but Cho's audition made his selection a no-brainer. Adding Cho to the cast added a whole new dimension to the comedy even though "race" was never made a central issue on the series.

The other side of the coin is, all things being even talent-wise, producers will choose the white applicant because in their own mind, white actors are more marketable. Never mind the data that shows the growing number of American moviegoers, tube watchers and social networkers whose skin color is not white (or pink, or light beige, ... whatever.);  never mind that in a few years, people of color will be majority in the United States; never mind that in the international market, the largest audiences are in Asia;  That is the particular lens they view the world; it just is.

"Why was Selma the only film that was even in the running with people of color for the award?" asks Ava DuVernay, director of the critically acclaimed Selma  which was nominated only in two categories, Best Picture and Best Song. "You know what I mean? I mean, why are there not—not just black, brown people? You know what I mean? Asian people, indigenous people, representations that are more than just one voice, just one face, just one gaze?"

That brings us to the other hurdle facing the industry. There's not a strong interest in investing in source material from which they could develop strong story lines featuring black, brown, yellow and red actors

It's not only important for writers to diversify their own characters and tell stories around minority themes and issues; producers need to widen their search for source materials beyond Marvel comic books (OK, Marvel is doing more to diversify it's own characters than the movie industry is; but that's the subject of another post.)

Despite the power and influence of successful minority producers like Tyler Perry, Dean Devlin and Oprah, Hollywood's culture has hardly moved an inch towards inclusion.

I can empathize with those actors of color who study their craft for years but are reduced to playing stereotypes.

I once auditioned for a role on a popular TV series. I read the lines given to me and the casting director was so enthusiastic and encouraging over my reading (which-  I figured out later - was the normal Hollywood B.S. way of speaking.) Then he said, "Now try it with an accent." What accent? I think to myself: A Filipino accent? Chinese? Japanese? Vietnamese? French? British? "You know," he said, "an Oriental accent."

Needless to say, I didn't get a call-back. That's why I became a journalist.

Ava DuVernay
Sorry for straying away from the topic; back to the bigger question of why there are no actors of color nominated for this year's Oscars. DuVernay, got down to the meat of   the motion picture industry's problem.

“The obstacle, it is systemic. It’s systemic," she said in an interview in Democracy Now. "It’s a system that’s been set up in a certain way. Times have changed, ideas have matured, and the system might not have caught up with that or stayed up with that, ... “Perhaps all of the hoopla this year will trigger some action.”


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

RIP Leslie Gore: Feminist, activist, singer, song writer

I GREW UP in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I know, I know - that's a lot of growing up. I like to believe that I'm still growing.

Singer/writer Leslie Gore died Monday (Feb. 16), She was 68. 

Her death spurred memories of her hits but first, I couldn't help but remember a new version of her 1964 hit."You Don't Own Me." She first came out with the song in 1964 and at the time, with the limited perspective of a high-schooler, I didn't think of it as an ode to progressive feminism. However, when Gore approved this version (below) in 2012, the song took on an entirely new and powerful meaning.

"Oh, I don't tell you what to say; I don't tell you what to do;
 So just let me be myself; That's all I ask of you."
— Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me"
Turns out that she has always been an activist. 
Gore died of lung cancer at New York University Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, according to her partner of 33 years, Lois Sasson.

Brooklyn-born and New Jersey-raised, Gore was discovered by Quincy Jones as a teenager and signed to Mercury Records. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in English/American literature.

Gore's other hits include "It's My Party" (which launched her career in 1963 and it was Quincy Jones first platinum hit as a producer), "She's A Fool," ''Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," ''That's the Way Boys Are" and "Maybe I Know." She co-wrote with her brother, Michael, the Academy Award-nominated "Out Here On My Own" from the film "Fame."

She officially came out to the public when she hosted several episodes of the PBS series, "In The Life," which dealt with gay and lesbian issues. Her partner of 33 years, Lois Sasson, told the Associated Press, "She was a wonderful human being — caring, giving, a great feminist, great woman, great human being, great humanitarian."

She also said that in spite of the music business being "totally homophobic," she never felt she had to pretend she was straight.

"I just kind of lived my life naturally and did what I wanted to do," she said. "I didn't avoid anything, I didn't put it in anybody's face."

Most of us may not have hit records on our resume but In our own little ways, as we try to impact the corner of the world we live in, we can all be activists.

RIP, Leslie, you had a greater impact on lives than you can imagine. And since its our party, too, we'll cry if we want to.

Monday, February 16, 2015

FBI Director discusses race and law enforcement

"We are at a crossroads."

WOW! That was quite a speech by FBI director James R. Comey about race, bias and police at Georgetown University on Lincoln's birthday. 
READERS: I've included the video (above) of the whole speech and its worth 23 minutes of your time to hear it. There is also a transcript of the entire speech if you're like me and like to read, ponder, read and ponder some more.
I applaud the director for this thoughts, words and courage. It's a huge leap for one of the top law enforcement officers in the country to address the problem law enforcement faces in this country. 

To be clear, he didn't put the entire blame on our individual police officers. He pointed fingers at America's social climate and the institutions that breeds discrimination, the poverty that brews desperation and the education that tiptoes around the topic as if it was a thing of the past.

"With the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, the ongoing protests throughout the country, and the assassinations of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, we are at a crossroads," said Comey. 

"As a society, we can choose to live our everyday lives, raising our families and going to work, hoping that someone, somewhere, will do something to ease the tension—to smooth over the conflict. We can roll up our car windows, turn up the radio and drive around these problems, or we can choose to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today—what it should be, what it could be, and what it needs to be—if we took more time to better understand one another."

And it took guts for him to say:

"Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. In fact, we all, white and black, carry various biases around with us."

FBI director Comey

"... police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of good will working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel.

"... The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street—even in the same clothes—do not. The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or black. And that drives different behavior. The officer turns toward one side of the street and not the other."

Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama have made similar statements in various speeches across the country. The significant difference here is that Comey is a white man. For some reason, when Holder or the President, both African Americans, speak about race, they haves already lost the attention of the people that need to hear them and who refuse to listen to a black man (even if one is President) who - in their eyes - by the color of their skin, is already biased.

Corey's speech was hugely significant and a long step in starting an honest conversation about race, police relations and the environment of distrust between police and the communities of color.

Not surprisingly, Comey drew lots of criticism - not all of it from the conservative corners we would expect. ThinkProgress said Comey's remarks were not groundbreaking. The Atlantic was lukewarm towards his comments, but did say Comey was bold for diving into the dialogue on race..

Overall, though, Comey was praised for his boldness and his candidness.

"We—especially those of us who enjoy the privilege that comes with being the majority—must confront the biases that are inescapable parts of the human condition," Comey concludes. "We must speak the truth about our shortcomings as law enforcement, and fight to be better. But as a country, we must also speak the truth to ourselves. Law enforcement is not the root cause of problems in our hardest hit neighborhoods. Police officers—people of enormous courage and integrity, in the main—are in those neighborhoods, risking their lives, to protect folks from offenders who are the product of problems that will not be solved by body cameras."

"America," he says, "is hard work." Amen, to that.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Asian American lawmaker's bill targets Washington's NFL team's use of racist mascot

Rep. Mike Honda, 17th District, California
THE NFL TEAM based in our nation's capitol has been lambasted for its mascot based on a racist slur against the First Americans.

But despite the severe criticism, team owners and loyal fans refuse to change the name. This bill from Rep. Mike Honda (D-Silicon Valley) is the latest attempt to persuade team owners to change the football team's name.

Honda, who survived a bruising reelection campaign last November against Indian American Ro Khanna, another Democrat, released the following press release,
Bill Would Prevent Any Team Trademarking Name Offensive to Native American Groups
Feb 3, 2015  
Press Release 

Washington, DC – Continuing his promotion of the modern progressive agenda, Congressman Mike Honda (D-Silicon Valley) today introduced legislation to prevent sports teams from using a derogatory slur for Native Americans as their nickname, The Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act.
This bill will retroactively cancel any existing federal trademarks, and prohibit the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from issuing new trademarks, using the term “redskins” in reference to Native Americans. It will formally declare that the word “redskins” is a disparaging term when used in reference to Native Americans, and thus cannot be trademarked under The Lanham Act. In January, the Department of Justice joined a lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of The Lanham Act.
“It is unbelievable to me that, in the 21st century, a prominent NFL franchise is calling itself by a racial slur,” Congressman Honda said. “Team names should not be offensive to anyone. Allowing trademark protection of this word is akin to the government approving its use. Removing that trademark will send a clear message that this name is not acceptable.”
This bill is part of Congressman Honda’s kick off of his 114th Congress legislative agenda.  Each of the first six weeks, he will be introducing legislation that addresses a key area of the modern progressive agenda. Previously, he introduced bills on Manufacturing and Technology and Public Safety, Human Trafficking, and STEM Education. In the next two weeks he will introduce legislation on Education, and the Environment and Energy Infrastructure. 
Supporting statements for this legislation from outside organizations include:
“The negative and historic connotation of the word ‘r*dskins’—and the modern day implications it carries for Native people—has no place in today’s society. We are thankful that Congressman Honda has introduced the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act. Congressman Honda and the bill co-sponsors have chosen to stand on the right side of history by introducing legislation that would effectively eliminate the federal trademark protections of this racial epithet. We look forward to working with Congressman Honda and the Congress to finally bring an end to the use of this derogatory term in the National Football League.”

--Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director, The National Congress of American Indians
“UNITY: Journalists for Diversity believes that the 'R-word' has no place in American sports. It's an epithet used toward Native Americans and should no longer be part of our vocabulary in 2015. We strongly stand behind this bill and hope that this disparaging term soon will no longer be part of any team's name.” 
--Russell Contreras, President, UNITY
“The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) supports Congressman Honda and applauds his introduction of the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2015. This important legislation would cancel existing federal registrations for trademarks using the term “redsk*n” and deny registration for new trademarks incorporating the disparaging term. The use of mascots that depict Native Americans is a testament to the continued practice of the outright commodification of Native peoples and their unique cultural identities.  It destroys the individual self-esteem of Native students and devalues the cultures of Native peoples. This is unacceptable. NIEA looks forward to working with Congressman Honda’s office to move this legislation quickly, so that it becomes law.” 
--Clint Bowers, Policy Associate, National Indian Education Association  
“The overwhelming majority of Native people support an end to the racial slur that is the name of the Washington NFL franchise. It is a reminder of the vile practice of skinning Natïve people for ‘proof of Indian kill’ for payment of bounties issued by colonies and states. Even if it only meant the color of one's skin, it would be the worst case of invidious discrimination committed in public in our time. In 23 years of litigation in two lawsuits, the franchise has not brought any Native people into court on its side. Instead, it parades individuals before the media who in no way are equivalent to the memberships and constituencies of the major national Native organizations. The federal trademark judges have twice cancelled the registrations for this disparaging name. This legislation would affirm those decisions and withdraw the federal stamp of approval for this ongoing offense, and we are proud to support the Non-Disparagement Act.” 

--Suzan Harjo, President and Executive Director, The Morning Star Institute, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner

UPDATE: KUDOS to John Swett High School in Crockett, California for joining a growing list of educational institutions deciding to foregoing "tradition" and alumni pressure for deciding to do away with its Indian mascot. The school board voted 5-0 last week to change the name. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Barack Obama knows how to use new media BuzzFeed video to sell Obamacare

The medium is the message

MARSHALL McLUHAN was right. Fifty years ago he was talking about the impact of television on American society. Today, if he were alive, he'd be referring to the Internet and the subsequent birth of all the social media aps that many people - mostly the younger people - rely on to connect with friends, family and anybody else who might discover their photo, video, blog or Tweet.

I only bring up because of the uproar over President Obama's use of Buzzfeed to deliver a message to young people, to enroll in Obamacare, otherwise knows as the Affordable Care Act or the U.S. watered down attempt at providing health care to those who could not otherwise afford it.

His critics - and we know who they are - claim the President is being "unpresidential" for using a popular medium to encourage enrollment in the national health plan. 

Others say the President and his staff understand young people better than the old traditionalist media users. Young people don't read the newspapers or the 6 p.m. news anchors. They get their information, vetted and unveiled, from Comedy Central, late night comedians, Youtube, and any number of social media.

His use of Buzzfeed allows him to reach young people where they hang out (virtually). I understand your needs. I understand how you communicate. 

The President understands today. And I betcha, if he is like me, a baby-boomer coming late to the party, he depends on his daughters Malia and Sasha a lot to find out what's hot, what's trending, etc. 

Unfortunately, I'll bet you also that his detractors will find to use the clip in such a way to demean, discredit or defame him.

The use of the video is brilliant. The medium IS the message ... it is also the massage!

Oh, yeah ... the enrollment deadline is February 15.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

NPR's 'Serial' helps reopen 15-year old murder case

A girl, a boy and a radio program
Adnan Syed, left, was convicted in 1999 of murdering Hae Min Lee, right.
ADNAN SYED was convicted of the 1999 murder of his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, and sentenced to life in prison. After a letter-writing campaign by Syed's family captured a journalist's attention, and Serial became the most downloaded podcast in history, public pressure pushed the state of Maryland to re-evaluate Syed's case.

Fifteen years after Lee's death, a witness has come forward to testify that may place him elsewhere at the time of the homicide.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the testimony of Asia McClain, a classmate of both Syed and Lee, challenges the timeline Baltimore prosecutors used to prove that Syed strangled Lee to death after school on Jan. 13, 1999. McClain's testimony wasn't heard at Syed's 2000 trial, when a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment.

Syed's attorney Cristina Gutierrez did not call her as a witness. Gutierrez, died in 2004.

Syed, now 34, is serving a life sentence plus 30 years in a Maryland state prison. Prosecutors said he killed Lee out of jealousy after she began dating someone else.

Journalist Sara Koenig
The case drew the attention of former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig. She produced a 12-part series for public radio last year titled Serial. The series became a national pop-culture phenomenon and was downloaded by millions of listeners, discussion groups were formed and office workers gathered at lunchtime to try to unravel the the details of the case.

Public pressure and McClain's willingness to testify 

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Friday (Feb. 6) agreed to rehear Syed's case because of McClain's willingness to testify and public pressure.

Syed's main argument is Gutierrez, provided him ineffective counsel, and last week's court ruling gives him a chance to show the special appeals court why he believes he should be granted a new trial.

Lee was born in South Korea. She played lacrosse on her school team and was well-liked at her high school. She disappeared after school on Jan, 13, 1999, and her body was found on Feb. 9 1999. She had been strangled and left in Leakin Park in Baltimore. After a six-week trial in 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted of her murder.

Serial has been been faulted for presenting a one-sided version of events around Lee's homicide. Koenig says she tried talking to Lee's family but they wanted nothing to do with the project. 

Koenig was criticized for falling for the "model minority" myth by describing Lee and Adnan, a Pakistani American, as model students, community volunteers and honor students. One of the problems with the model minority myth is that it infers that there is a "bad minority."To Koenig, Hae's and Adnan's counterpart was Jay Wilds, Syed's friend who allegedly helped bury Lee's body. 

A conference room white board in a New York office shows the interest in the podcast, Serial

If there was any doubt about Koenig's feelings about Jay, who is African American, she says in her podcast: “Jay wasn’t in the magnet program at Woodlawn. He was ‘gen pop’ — their term, not mine — like general population at a prison.”

Wilds did not cooperate with Koenig's podcast but said in a Rolling Stone interview that she "demonized him."

If nothing else, the changes occurring in the case almost ensures that there will be a second season of Serial.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Fresh Off The Boat finds a safe harbor

Tune in Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

A new American Gothic 
EDDIE HUANG, the 11-year old boy in Fresh Off the Boat, looked familiar: a little bit pudgy, black hair, darker skin, definitely Asian-looking - trying desperately to fit in at a new school and whose goal is to sit at the white kids' cafeteria table. That was me entering middle school at the age of 12.

Personal - sometimes painful - memories easily came flooding back while watching the highly anticipated TV sitcom that centers around TV's newest television family - the Huangs.

But isn't that the point for all the Asian-American hubbub surrounding this new show: to see someone like me/us on the tube beyond playing the second fiddle, the butt of jokes, the servant, the stereotype? 

(NOTE: To all the non-Asians reading this blog, my apologies if I occasionally use personal pronouns, but the original intent of this blog, after all, is directed to my extended family. If you still dig reading it, thanks. I truly appreciate it.)

As young Eddie navigates his way through pre-adolescence and being a stranger in a strange land, (Orlando, Florida) F.O.B. has its funny moments, a few outright laughs and moments of deja vu as an added bonus 

The real Eddie Huang
Don't think this is just an ordinary American TV sitcom with the parents and kids simply replaced with Asian actors. If you're looking for comparisons, its The Wonder Years with Hunan chili peppers. The groundbreaking show, loosely based on restaurateur Eddie Huang's memoirs of the same name, doesn't shy away from race but it doesn't hit you over the head with a sledgehammer about race relations either. 

Being a person of color allows you to pick up on the sometimes subtle nuances provided by the plot. Almost every Asian American, at some point in their lives, remembers how it felt being called the c-word ... hell, it was on national TV for goodness sake ... "chink!" For many of us, that moment is a critical point in how we perceive ourselves and where we fit in this society.

When the c-word is uttered in F.O.B., I gave a silent gasp as the camera briefly focuses on Eddie's face. In that fleeting instant, you can see the anger simmering inside the young boy. (Perhaps, I'm projecting.) Somehow, miraculously, the writers turned it into an incident that leads to a funny confrontation between the parents and the principal.

But the fact that hip-hop loving Eddie had that moment between him and the only African American student in the school as they jostled to avoid being at the bottom of the social pecking order, says so much more than any documentary about race relations on public television.

Constance Wu underplays the mother.
At the same time, to the producers' and writers' credit, they didn't dwell on it. They quickly moved on quickly to other things, often, funny things. The funny moments didn't always have to do with race. The creators use race is just another element that has been missing in most TV shows but one that makes F.O.B. different from your run-of-the-mill half-hour sitcom. 

The other scene that struck a chord was right after the meeting with the principal, the family is strolling across the school playground, when young Eddie comes across his white classmates playing basketball. They stop and look at Eddie. He struts and acknowledges them with a chin-jutting gesture. Yeah. Its all about respect, right? Yeah ... but it came at the expense of the black student.

Constance Wu, who plays Eddie's mother, is a star in the making. Although using a strong accent, it would be easy to slip into the stereotypical tiger-mom, but the writers allows her to soften the character so we see that all that she does is out of love for her family.

In a lesser actress, some of the lines she delivers, or the silent "looks" she gives,would not be as hilarious. She has the best lines of the night and she steals the scene every time she's on the screen. If there's any justice in the world, she would be nominated as best comedic female actor for next season's Emmy's. 

Hudson Yang is perfect as Eddie Huang.
The father, played by Randall Park, fresh from his role in the controversial satirical movie, The Interview, is the likable father trying to do what's best for his family, aware of the uncomfortable situation he put them in by uprooting them to from diverse Washington D.C. to mostly-white Orlando. His unrelenting belief in the American Dream and America as the Land of Opportunity makes him a bridge that many non-Asians could relate to and admire.

Bottom line, the Huang family is extremely likable, something that will go a long way in determining the show's longevity if we are asking America to invite them into their living rooms every week. The non-Asian writers walk a tightrope between the real Eddie Huang's story and the all-too easy tilt towards racial stereotypes. Let's hope they can maintain that balance. 

What the show does best (mind you, I've only seen two episodes) is allow viewers to peek into a world and perception of that world from an Asian immigrant's point of view. No other TV show does that.

Let's hope that it does that for several more seasons. I'd love to see young Eddie turn into a teenager with all the angst that period between childhood and adulthood brings to it. Overall, the show works. The situation and environment of the show is ripe with possibilities - some funny, some poignant. 

One other inside joke that may bypass non-Asian viewers, F.O.B., long a derogatory term for newcomers, is on the ABC network, which in the Chinese-American community, stands for American Born Chinese, also a derogatory term used against Chinese Americans.

I know what I'll be recording Tuesday nights. Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Oh, I can't take credit for that last line.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sony exec whose hacked "insensitive" emails were made public, steps down

Amy Pascal
AMY PASCAL, the Sony Pictures executive who was in the eye of the storm created by the hacking by (allegedly) North Korea, is resigning her co-chairman post according to a report by Mike Fleming of Deadline Hollywood.

The highly damaging corporate hacking of Sony revealed slews of private emails amongst and about some of Hollywood's biggest names. A portion of the report:
Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures and chairman of the Motion Picture Group, has been at the forefront of the hack attack scandal pretty much from the beginning, after the massive breach of company data was first revealed on November 24. Among the troves of documents made public by the hacking group were racially insensitive emails between Pascal and producer Scott Rudin about President Obama. In the private exchange, the two joked that the President’s favorite films are black-themed movies like "Django Unchained" and "12 Years A Slave."
After the emails were revealed, Pascal met with the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton to quell anger over what Sharpton “cultural blindness” displayed in the emails.
Pascal will remain with Sony but will launch a new production venture

Since the Nov. 24 hacking, supposedly in retaliation for the studio's movie The Interview that spoofed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, there were some criticism coming from minority groups associated with the movie industry because it appeared that Pascal kept her high-level position and apparently was not being punished or reprimanded for the views represented in the emails.

"The content of my emails were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am," Pascal said in a statement last year. "Although this was a private communication that was stolen, I accept full responsibility for what I wrote and apologize to everyone who was offended."

This is the other shoe being dropped.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Anxiety over 'Fresh Off the Boat' TV sitcom eases up

Critics like what they see; premiere on Feb. 4

The cast of Fresh Off The Boat is being praised for its portrayals of an immigrant family adjusting to America.

THE EARLY REVIEWS are in for the ground-breaking sitcom Fresh Off The Boat and those of us who were worried about this make-or-break series for Asian Americans can breathe a little easier.

The "Daily Variety," the entertainment industry's newspaper almost gushed. TV columnist Brian Lowry writes
"The series mixes that kind of cultural specificity with universal themes, and in that sense is far more committed to its premise than, say, 'Black-ish,' where race regularly disappears as an issue. By contrast, one of the funniest bits in 'Fresh Off the Boat' comes in a later episode when Eddie brings home a terrific report card, and his mother marches into the principal’s office, complaining that his classes must be too easy.
Lowry does acknowledge the lack of diversity on American television and credits ABC for its "diversity push" amongst its situation comedies. He calls FOB the network's best sitcom this season.

The show is apparently funny on many levels. "That's the kind of expanded reach that Fresh Off the Boat (like Black-ish and The Goldbergs) has and needs," writes Tim Goodman of the "Hollywood Reporter." 

"This is a comedy first and foremost," Goodman says. "The laughs can't always come from the same source." In other words, race is just one source of jokes, there's school and all the situations about fitting in, assimilation and fresh takes on American culture that hopefully will find the audience laughing along with the  writers and producers.

Fresh Off The Boat is loosely based on the book of the same name written by Eddie Huang and is from the viewpoint of his 11-year-old self. Hudson Yang, who plays Eddie's character, Constance Wu, the mother, and Randall Park, who plays the father, are getting singled out for their portrayals.  

If the reviews are correct, don't get turned off by the first episode, which apparently relies on the same, old tired Asian stereotypes. By airing the second episode the same evening, viewers can reportedly still see the stereotypes but they can also see an evolution in the characters.
Hudson Yang, right, as Fresh Off the Boat's hip-hop loving Eddie Huang. 

That's the beauty of a series, characters can get more rounded and more complex beyond our first impressions. Let's hope ABC gives FOB more of a chance to achieve this than it did for the short-lived Selfie.

Despite their individual quirks, the Huang family is likable, which important if you want the American audience to commit itself to a half-hour every week. There has to be a reason to come back. TV viewers can hopefully find a bit of their own families in the Huangs' immigrant experience. The awkwardness of trying to fit in is a universal experience. Despite the mother's accent and the food that they eat, audience should see the Huangs as just another American family. We're all a little bit weird, unique, and similar at the same time, eh?

Not all the reviews were good but almost all were unanimous in praise of the cast.

FOB must seek that delicate balance between universality and what makes the show unique, which is the Asian American angle. America has not seen this side of the Asian American experience beside a few paragraphs in their history books about working on railroads and WW II.

The show premieres its first two episodes on Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. before moving to its regular Tuesday evening slot. 

Come back to this blog a day or two after the show when I'll be giving my two cents.