For all the racial tone-deafness of Hollywood – where a comedian decides that the best way to address the racial inequities of the entertainment industry requires making fun of Asian children working in sweatshops (and hence, simply reinforcing the very stereotypical inclinations that he critiques) – one cannot help but wonder whether we have reached a watershed moment regarding the issue of whitewashing. The New York Times is writing about it and John Oliver is making fun of it.
And during these heady times, how about taking a moment to remember Burt Kwouk who died on Tuesday. A rare Asian actor who kept working for sixty years, remained a decent human being, and managed not to become embittered by all the shit parts he was given.
I spent much of my childhood in England, and grew tired of white kids insulting me with Burt Kwouk imitations – especially the car ads. You develop an animus to the source of your troubles – and I admit that I, in my difficult teenage years, liked him not one bit for playing up to stereotype. But with time, you learn to appreciate the tricky racial terrain that an actor like Kwouk had to navigate, and the compromises required to earn a living in a difficult and callous line of work.