James Hong is a Hollywood star without a star. And now a group of fellow Asian actors are trying to right that wrong.
You might not recognize Hong by name, but there’s no doubt you’ve seen him on the screen. With over 600 credits and counting, Hong is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood history.
Yet the 91-year-old still doesn’t have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Once actor Daniel Dae Kim (Lost and Hawaii Five-0) learned that Hong had yet to be honoured, he launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise the US$50,000 needed for the application. He reached his goal within four days.
“This man epitomizes the term ‘working actor,’ and that’s not even taking into account all he’s done to help further representation for actors of color,” Kim wrote on the GoFundMe page.
“It’s time James Hong was honored in the way he deserves, and it’s time to show him how much he — and all the actors of color of earlier generations — have done to pave the way for us today.”
Hong, who was born in Minnesota, started acting in the 1950s after attending university for engineering. Since then, he’s appeared on screen in films such as Chinatown and Blade Runner and shows such as Seinfeld, most often in roles that played to Asian stereotypes.
“He was forced into a box for Chinese American actors,” says NOW film critic Norm Wilner. “That’s the reality of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, when he came up as an actor. And now he has weathered it all. He has done enough stuff that has resonated, that has lasted, that has endured, that people genuinely love him.”
Vancouver-based actor Raugi Yu looks at Hong as a pioneer for Asian actors.
“He was probably one of the first, if not the first, face on a big screen that looked like mine,” Yu says.
Like Hong, Yu went into acting against the advice of his parents and saw first-hand how Asian stereotypes kept him from even auditioning for roles.
“At the very beginning of my career, close to 30 years ago, I go to my agency and I say, ‘Show me the breakdowns,’” he says. “And they say, ‘Are you sure you want to see them?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, actually.’… And the descriptions were literally, ‘No Asians, please.’ Like, just literally, this plays in middle America so we want to see Caucasians only.”
The success of movies like Crazy Rich Asians has helped change some of the perception that Asians can’t be lead characters, but only to an extent.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s all great,” Yu says. “No, no. I’m just saying the wording is different. And it gets me into the room more often.”
Fellow Asian actors Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu have stars on the Walk of Fame, but it’s not guaranteed Hong will join them. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce gets up to 300 applications a year and on average greenlights 24 new stars. The earliest the 91-year-old’s application can be submitted is 2021 to be included in the class of 2022.
“I’ll put it this way,” Wilner says. “There are people who have stars on the Walk of Fame that absolutely no one remembers. But then you look at James Hong, who has been working since the ’40s and ’50s and doesn’t have one. And yet we still know who he is. And we love him. So, yeah, why? Why shouldn’t he?”