• Category: Features
  • Written by Rick Ellis

Opinion: Asian Actors Face A Lot Of Racism. But This Isn't One Of Those Times

A recent story from Variety regarding the exit of actors from Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park from "Hawaii Five-O" has prompted a lot of headlines arguing CBS and CBS Television Studios were somehow being racist. As an example, this Business Insider piece that breathlessly proclaims "The Asian stars of 'Hawaii Five-0' quit the show after CBS refused to pay them as much as their white costars."

While these stories are certainly examples of clever linkbait, the problem is that from all outside appearances, racism on the set of "Hawaii Five-O" is not the issue here. It really comes down to the standard contract wranglings that take place on any long-running drama with a large ensemble of characters.

In the Variety piece, it's reported that CBS's final offer to the two actors was reportedly "10-15% lower" than the salaries of their two white costars, Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan. And that pay differential is seen as proof that the offer to the two Asian actors is inherently racist.

The difficulty with this argument is that it falls apart if you've ever actually bothered to watch the show or spent any time learning how salaries work in Hollywood. Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park are both wonderful actors and any show would be lucky to have them. But from the time of the initial casting of the show, they have never been considered to be at the same level as Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan. Not because of racism, but because O'Loughlin and Caan were seen as the core stars of the show. The fact that they were the two actors also given profit participation in "Hawaii Five-O" is another indication of their perceived importance to the series. They are on one tier and the rest of the cast is at a different salary and script participation level. So an offer to Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park of 10-15% lower than the two main stars seems reasonable, based on the cast salary structures of competing TV  shows. Now if the story was that the duo had been offered less than "Hawaii Five-O" castmember Chi McBride, than yes, racism might be the differentiating factor.

Asian actors face terrible challenges in Hollywood. They're not cast enough in general, they struggle to get the prime roles and when they are cast, it's often in cookie cutter genre roles. Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park deserve the best Hollywood can offer and I hope they get it in the next roles. But based on what I've seen about the facts of this exit, this is more about standard Hollywood wranglings than institutional racism in Hollywood.

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