Hawaii Five-O tackles Pearl Harbour and Japanese American internment, and it was incredible

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I can’t figure out why lists of positive, progressive representations of Asian Americans on primetime television keep forgetting Hawaii Five-O. Really.

When we think about Asian Americans on television, we will rattle off several of the usual suspects — The Mindy ProjectCommunity, Lucy Liu on Elementary, Ming Na Wen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Glenn on The Walking Dead. But then there’s bizarre pop culture blind spot for Hawaii Five-O, a show that features three (count ’em three) regular Asian American cast members: Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly; Grace Park as Kono; and Masi Oka as Dr. Max Bergman. It also gives a home to a breath-taking rotation of Asian American guest stars, including Brian Yang in the recurring role of Charlie Fong.

(Funny story: I was at an exhibit opening for Secret Identities’ Marvels and Monsters, and was introduced to Yang — there to promote Linsanity — by photographer Corky Lee. Lee said to me, “do you recognize this guy? He’s famous!” I stared at them both blankly and said, “err, no.” “Really,” asked Yang. “I’m on Hawaii Five-O!” “You are? Huh.” “Do you watch it? Don’t you recognize me?” “Yeah, I do watch the show. But…. huh, no, I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you at all.”

Ooops. This is why I’m terrible at networking. I’m sorry, Brian Yang! )

Brian Yang plays Charlie Fong. In my defense, I WOULD recognize him now.
This is Brian Yang. He plays Charlie Fong. Yes, I should’ve been able to recognize him…

Sure, Hawaii Five-O will never be mistaken for a fabulous crime procedural. It’s formulaic and campy, and an unabashed vehicle for gratuitous bikini shots and/or Alex O’Loughlin’s abs. And, sure, the two main characters — McGarrett and Danno — are about as White as the driven snow.

But, against this backdrop, Hawaii Five-O also is quietly doing some amazing things for the Asian American community.

One of the most ground-breaking events was last week’s episode commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbour. And, strangely, it aired with virtually no fanfare from the APIA community.

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