Many of you have probably seen The Hangover Part 2, the sequel to the surprise hit of 2009. I recently watched the first Hangover film and mostly enjoyed it, although it was not quite as uproariously hilarious as many of my friends hyped it up to be. I have yet to see Hangover 2 and now my motivation has declined even further, after reading my friend Jeff Yang’s recent article about it in his column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Some excerpts:

Ken Jeong in Hangover 2 © Warner Brothers

“H2″ made an absurd $103 million over the three-day weekend — an all-time record for a live-action comedy, despite near-universal excoriation by critics, who called it “uninspired and unoriginal,” “unclean and mostly unfunny,” and “rancid and predictable.” What few pointed out was that, in seeking to top the already over-the-top comic sensibilities of the original, the filmmakers chose the sleaziest, easiest possible solution, unleashing a relentless bastinado of abuse at the expense of Asians, a group that they presumably felt could be targeted with minimal concern about potential backlash.

If you’re an Asian who swallowed hard upon hearing that the sequel would be set in Bangkok, you’ll need to swallow harder just to keep down your gorge at what they’ve produced. The film’s depiction of Thailand transforms the “Land of Smiles” into a bizarro realm of brute violence, grim depravity and unfettered libido, populated entirely by broad racial stereotypes: Thuggish gangsters. Wizened monks. Lascivious ladyboys. Not to mention whiz-kid pre-meds, infinitely forgiving lotus-blossom brides and the Father of All Tiger Dads. . . .

As an Asian American who enjoyed the first film, I found the sequel bluntly and inexplicably offensive — with the fact that the movie opened in the waning days of May [Asian Pacific American Heritage Month] being soy sauce in the wound.

Jeff Yang could have ranted on about the various ways in which he found Hangover 2 offensive but most of his article actually focuses on what Asian Americans can actually do about this ongoing problem of Asians and Asian Americans consistently being portrayed using racist stereotypes in mainstream Hollywood films. Specifically, he offers some thoughts about the possibility of not only creating an alternative set of filmmakers who would portray Asian Americans more accurately, but also creating an alternative audience that would be able to sustain such independent efforts. But along the way, Jeff raises some important challenges that still need to be addressed:

For an indie filmmaker, you simply can’t make money with theatrical distribution. But if you’re talking a target not of theatrical distribution but direct-to-DVD, a film with a guerrilla $250,000 budget can make back its costs and return a healthy profit if it sells 20,000 units at $20 a pop. . . .

Now, there are currently more than a million Asian Americans enrolled in college — two-thirds of whom are concentrated in eight states. It would only take two percent of them collectively purchasing a book or DVD or CD to make it solidly profitable — supporting the work of a creative artist, and enabling that creator to continue doing what he or she does, with full freedom to make art that’s appealing and authentic and true to an Asian American experience.

This is the gist of something that, in our conversations, cultural critic and academic Oliver Wang has dubbed The Two Percent Project. Here’s how it might work: Get together a group of smart, influential tastemakers — journalists, critics, student leaders, bloggers. Have them select five indie Asian American creators — writers, filmmakers, musicians — from an open call that includes anyone with a brand-new, brashly different and commercially viable product.

Send these creators on a collective national barnstorming tour of the college campuses with the biggest Asian American student representation — reading, performing, speaking, and showing their work and their potential. The costs of the tour would be covered by student organization funds and corporate sponsors.

Here’s the kicker: Although attendance at these events would be free, every attendee would have to purchase one of the five products these artists are promoting on the spot, while enrolling in an online community that gives the artists long-term engagement with their consumers. The goal? Constructing an independent audience. Reinventing the Asian American brand. And creating recorded proof that Asian American artists are marketable and that a market exists to sustain them.

Jeff’s idea sounds plausible to me, especially if Asian Americans, young and old, keep railing against movies rife with racial stereotypes like Hangover 2. Jeff’s idea doesn’t even take into consideration the growing numbers of Asian American professionals who are making good money and actually have the financial means to support such independent efforts even more than college students. If there is a plan that can incorporate them into this movement, it would certainly produce positive results.

Either way, I applaud Jeff Yang, Oliver Wang, and others who are doing more than just complaining about injustices against Asian Americans — they’re proposing potential plans of action and solutions to the problem. Their specific ideas may or may not bear fruit immediately but at the least, they get the conversation started, get ideas rolling, and will hopefully lead to some innovative thinking and action to get something done.

Even if it’s a small step, at least it’s a step in the right direction.

This article originally published at Asian-Nation.org and is copyrighted © 2013 

Please welcome guest blogger R. Tyson Smith, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rutgers University Institute for Health. Starting this July he will be an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in the Sociology Department at Brown University. He can be reached at: tyson321@gmail.com.


In Philadelphia, a great divide splits the opportunities for students who attend public school from those fortunate enough to attend private schools. The differences in resources, safety, class size, and most importantly, educational attainment, are a few of the contrasts that make the two systems almost reverse images of one another.

As problematic as this divide already is, it will get even worse if Governor Tom Corbett succeeds with his proposal to cut 11% from Pennsylvania’s K-12 public school budget. These cuts, coupled with reduced federal funding, means the Philadelphia School District must slash more than $600 million from their annual budget.  All public school students in Pennsylvania will suffer, but students from large urban districts—who already contend with lower per pupil spending than their suburban neighborhood—will be especially hard hit; Philadelphia’s school district will likely need to lay off almost 4,000 teachers.

Corbett’s cuts to public education have important racial implications because public schools in Philadelphia are overwhelmingly students of color whereas private schools are mostly white. Only 14% of the public school students in Philadelphia are white despite the white population of the city being nearly 50%. This disparity is largely due to the enormous cost of a private school education. Philadelphia has one of the highest poverty rates in the country—half of Philadelphia’s households have incomes less than $35,000 year—and tuition in certain private schools can run nearly $30,000 a year. The difference is compounded by the fact that middle to upper-class families commonly opt out of the public system. In the more affluent and white zip codes of Philadelphia, it is taken for granted that one’s child will attend a private school. This norm increases the contrast in racial composition between public and private and lowers the social investment in Philadelphia’s public schools by elites.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Corbett’s cuts and their impact on Philadelphia’s racial equality go largely unnoticed by families privileged enough to pay top dollar at area private schools (on the order of $250,000 for kindergarten through 12th grade). This is despite the fact that most private schools today routinely champion “diversity” and “community service” as values central to their educational mission.  One look at the websites and admission brochures of private schools (often more euphemistically called “independent schools”) show how diversity and service are integral to their striving for inclusion, equity, and justice. Some of these private schools, of course, do a better job than others in trying to address the inherent inequalities, and financial aid can make it more affordable for a certain percentage of the families; however, from looking at their publicity materials, you might think racial and class inequality had been solved. (Or perhaps this is the point?)

Nevertheless, even though certain groups can afford to look the other way, everyone should be concerned about Pennsylvania’s cuts to public education. Strong public schools provide a public good that improves the Philadelphia community as a whole—when the overall populace is better educated, everyone benefits. And regardless of where you or your children attend school, we all live and work in the same society once you are past high school age.

Moreover, Corbett’s cuts will further exacerbate the gulf in opportunities between Philadelphia’s black and white children. This is a harmful divide that should be no more the responsibility of Philadelphia families enrolled in public school than families enrolled in private school. If we want racial segregation to be a relic of the past, shouldn’t we make fighting Corbett’s cuts a priority like other collective efforts such as diversity initiatives and community-service projects?

Accepting politicians’ claims that “there is no money” and that these are tough times requiring tough decisions is today’s norm, but state budgets, like all financial decisions, are less about dollars and more about priorities. Whether it is through a severance tax on drilling during Pennsylvania natural gas boom, a stronger demand for funding which has been directed to serial wars, or redressing the lenient tax enforcement on major corporations, money could be found if public education were a true priority.

I recognize that many people feel that educational reform is beyond their reach; the myriad of issues, from No Child Left Behind to standardized tests to teacher unions, is commonly cited as obstacles to improvement. While these issues are not necessarily invalid, let’s not let them derail this conversation or prevent us from acting on what’s right in front of us—protesting Corbett’s cuts to public education.  We may not be able to change inequity in education overnight, but we can do our part by stopping it from getting worse. In doing so, we serve our community, fight a divide in children’s opportunities, and help sustain a more genuine racial diversity, not the patina of diversity so often advertised.