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 Project, Community, 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! )
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.