By Colleen Murphy
Some recognized his voice as the title character of “American Dragon: Jake Long” while most others remembered him as Prince Zuko from “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” If it wasn’t the voice that people knew, it was the face — either as the red-mohawked Rufio, the leader of the Lost Boys from “Hook,” or Ramos, a boy from detention, from “Take the Lead.” But regardless of how they knew of him, students came to see a crowd-pleaser in the Education Building on Wednesday, Nov. 12.
Dante Basco, an actor, dancer and poet, spent some time during his talk “geeking out” over his role as the Fire Nation’s prince with the audience, some of whom were wearing “Avatar” shirts or holding Prince Zuko figurines. But Basco’s main reason for speaking to students was to discuss the lack of Asian Americans in the media and how that can be changed in the event sponsored by the Asian American Association.
Basco, a Filipino-American, has been an actor for over 30 years, and in those years, he has played all sorts of ethnicities, including Latino, Native American and a slew of Asian roles. He doesn’t consider Hollywood racist, though. Instead, he looks at it like a business that aims to fit its actors into ethnic boxes. And so, Basco was cast into roles in which he could ethnically pass off.
“We’re not really these characters,” Basco said. “We’re just a character in the storytelling.”
He did point out, however, that for every 100 roles a white person can play, there is only one an Asian can play. It is Basco’s goal to get more Asians Americans in the media because they “need to try telling more stories.”
“When you’re in (the industry) for a few decades, you start to realize, ‘Wow, it’s time for us to start to figure out what we’re going to do for this next generation (of Asian American artists),’” Basco said.
And according to Basco, it is on the Asian American community itself, not Hollywood, to help employ the next generation of its artists. In fact, Basco’s idea for a movie geared toward Asian Americans was shot down by a company because, as they put it, Asian Americans have already assimilated, meaning everything the company promotes to America’s white majority, Asians will buy.
“So why do we need to promote to them? Why spend another dollar on a community we already have?” Basco was asked.
Basco said he realized the man was right, and since then, he’s made it his mission to employ the rising generation of Asian-American artists. To do so, he created “We Own the 8th,” a conglomerate of production companies which releases new media — both traditional and digital media — on the eighth day of every month in hopes that an Asian genre will form.
“We are the arbitrators of taste for ourselves,” Basco said. “Why is it important to have a voice? Because our stories are just as important as (anybody else’s) stories. We are part of this fabric that is America and it’s on us to tell those stories. Is it (for us by us)? No, it’s by us, for all.”
Sophomore physics and secondary education double major Brianna Santangelo — a huge fan of Basco’s work, especially as Jake Long, Prince Zuko and General Iroh from “The Legend of Korra” — said it was interesting to hear his thoughts on making a system for Asian Americans.
“I honestly loved the talk,” Santangelo said. “His ideas for bringing old and new school media together are well thought-out and definitely seem like it will cause a lot of change in the entertainment industry.”
Jessica Perez, a senior applied mathematics major and the president of the Asian American Association, said that Basco was the perfect speaker to have. Not only does he regularly advocate for more Asian representation in the media, but he also appeals to a wide audience. As such, Perez believes what Basco had to say was important to hear.
“Asians are underrepresented in today’s media, and many times, when they appear in mainstream media, they are heavily stereotyped,” Perez said. “Media can greatly affect people’s perspectives on different types of people, so it’s important that there be more positive representation of Asians.”
Most of all, it seems as though Basco’s efforts to encourage more Asian Americans to enter and continue in the arts are working.
“It’s very hip to be Asian in America right now,” Basco said. “It’s happening.”