Discrimination against Asian-Americans is ignored, trivialized, and dismissed by the wider American public. As the so-called “model minority,” Asian-Americans are often assumed to face negligible, or nonexistent, racism. Resisting this dominant narrative requires publicizing incidents and narratives of discrimination against Asian-Americans. In the past year, two digital projects made viral through social media — #StarringJohnCho and “Jeremy Lin: Too Flagrant Not to Call” — have proven to be effective at highlighting issues of racism and underrepresentation affecting the Asian-American community. Due to their broad reach, speed of transmission, and ease of creation, social media campaigns are arguably the most important tool for the resistance of hegemony in the digital age.
#StarringJohnCho illuminates Hollywood whitewashing by re-imagining blockbusters as starring Asian-American star John Cho. Posters, spread on Twitter through the hashtag #StarringJohnCho, replace white leads with Cho. Many of these posters pair him with a female romantic interest, positioning Cho as the “Asian American heterosexual heartthrob” identified in “A History of Race and He(te)rosexuality in the Movies.” The project website notes: “Cho is everything you’d want for a title role that will have audiences laughing, swooning, and returning to the theater again and again. So when Cho is cast in the next shocking thriller, hilarious rom-com, Oscar-bait drama, or box-office breaking blockbuster, let’s get him what he’s always deserved: TOP BILLING.”
#StarringJohnCho is the brainchild of William Yu, a digital strategist living in New York. The project went viral in early May 2016, and was reported on by media outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, and the BBC. While the campaign has not directly led to John Cho earning a starring role in a major Hollywood film, it drew significant attention to the issue of whitewashing, particularly in relation to Asian-American actors. It is worth mentioning the exceptional quality of the #StarringJohnCho posters, perhaps attributable to Yu’s background as a digital strategist.
“Jeremy Lin: Too Flagrant Not to Call” is an example of a more amateur, yet still successful, effort. A month before #StarringJohnCho began, a video titled “Jeremy Lin: Too Flagrant Not to Call” was posted on YouTube. The video explains the NBA’s definition of a flagrant foul, with supporting clips. It then launches into a compilation of clips which show Asian-American NBA guard Jeremy Lin drawing hits deserving of flagrant fouls, and dealing with the subsequent non-calls. The video, which contains some shockingly violent uncalled fouls by committed by the NBA’s biggest stars, garnered considerable attention for having revealed potential racial biases in officiating. It was shared on the NBA subreddit, where it became the 4th highest upvoted post of all time up to that point. It received support from Skip Bayless on ESPN’s “First Take” program, who proclaimed that he “found this to be absolutely outrageous” and that “this needs to get to the highest levels of the NBA.” Ronnie Nunn, the former NBA Director of Officials, said in a tweet that it was a “fair video and letter.” Lin himself said that he was “psyched” about the video.
The New York Times ran an article about the video and its creator, Hsiu-Chen Kuei. Kuei, then 48, is a stay-at-home mom from San Jose. Unlike William Yu, Kuei had no experience with video-editing software — the creation of the six-and-a-half-minute video took Kuei nearly twenty hours. Ten days after the video was posted, it had over one million views and over one thousand comments. It garnered so much publicity that the NBA itself issued a response. Though the league has admitted officiating errors before, it refused to in this case, stating: “we have found no data that suggests that Jeremy Lin is disadvantaged by our officiating staff…it is not statistically significant that none of Mr. Lin’s 814 fouls drawn were deemed flagrant.” This statement was a PR move, as admitting that the most prominent Asian-American NBA player was egregiously denied obvious calls would lead to reinvigorated activism. Nevertheless, the NBA statement was widely panned on basketball forums, as seen in this top reddit comment:
These projects illustrate the power of social media campaigns, particularly regarding issues of publicity and awareness. #StarringJohnCho and “Jeremy Lin: Too Flagrant Not to Call” represent major successes in Asian-American online activism. The Jeremy Lin video, in particular, demonstrates that anyone can resist hegemony through the dissemination of online material. Hopefully, future online activism can continue this trend, and apply pressure on organizations complicit in discrimination.
Fasterfood. Comment on “NBA Response to New York Times Story on Flagrant Fouls and Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin.” Reddit, 15 April 2016, 3:51 p.m. https://www.reddit.com/r/nba/comments/4eyj1g/nba_response_to_new_york_times_story_on_flagrant/d24hbwh/
“Jeremy Lin: Too Flagrant Not to Call.” YouTube, uploaded by JAD 7534, 5 April 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvaM0pMj-8o
Keh, Andrew. “Open Season on Jeremy Lin? In Video, Fan Highlights Hard Fouls.” The New York Times, 14 April 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/15/sports/basketball/jeremy-lin-video-hard-fouls-fan-charlotte-hornets.html
“NBA Response to New York Times Story on Flagrant Fouls and Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin.” NBA, 15 April 2016. http://official.nba.com/nba-response-new-york-times-story-jeremy-lin/
Nunn, Ronnie (NunnBetterRefs). “Fair video and letter to NBA for both JLin and any other mishaps in FF judgements affecting other players as well.” 6 April 2016, 12:09 p.m. Tweet. https://twitter.com/NunnBetterRefs/status/717791405884719104
Shimizu, Celine. “A History of Race and He(te)rosexuality in the Movies: James Shigeta’s Asian American Male Stardom.” Global Asian American Popular Cultures, edited by Shipa Dave, Leilani Nishime, and Tasha Oren, New York University Press, 2016, pp. 46-60.
“Skip: Lin flagrant foul video needs to be seen by everyone.” ESPN, 15 April 2016. http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=15210311
#StarringJohnCho. #StarringJohnCho, 2017. http://starringjohncho.com/