The man behind Long Duk Dong speaks out

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

NPR did an interesting story on Long Duk Dong recently – the Asian exchange student in the movie Sixteen Candles – a racist caricature of a character who has become a thorn in the side of pretty much every Asian-American male born after 1970. (Hat tip to Angry Asian Man.)

They also interview actor Gedde Watanabe (who is now 52!) and ask how he feels about having taken the role:

“People still come up to me to this day and quote my lines,” he says. “‘What’s happenin’, hot stuff?’ ‘Oh, sexy girlfriend.’”

Watanabe says making Sixteen Candles was a great experience, but one that, in retrospect, he realizes he was “a bit naive” about.

“I was making people laugh,” he says. “I didn’t realize how it was going to affect people.”

In 1984, when Sixteen Candles came out, some Asian-American groups decried Long Duk Dong as stereotypical, racist and part of a long history of Hollywood’s offensive depictions of Asian men.

“It took me a while to understand that,” Watanabe says. “In fact, I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I was accosted a couple of times by a couple of women who were just really irate and angry. They asked, ‘How could you do a role like that?’ But it’s funny, too, because at the same time I laugh at the character. It’s an odd animal.”

We know that actors of color have to eat, like everyone else. But what responsibility do you think they should take for perpetuating racist stereotypes in the media? What factors should they keep in mind as they decide which roles to accept and which to pass over?