I was surprised to hear that there were diverse reactions on twitter today about Darren's tweet, because as I said earlier this morning (see above post), I thought his Vulture article cleared up a lot of things for me in a very positive way. Most of the tweets that commented on his tweet or the Vulture interview were warm and accepting and appreciative, but a few were confused or offended.
I think that choice of words matter when talking about the sensitive topic of racial identity. As I said, I felt much better after reading the Vulture article, but I can see that there are a few times when his choice of words in the article may have offended or confused some people, and the same about what he said in his tweet.
I'm not pretending I'm an expert on Asian-American identity or Asian-American issues, but I can give my own take on words or phrases he may want to avoid when discussing his racial identity. For example, there was a discussion in this forum about something he said in the "Still Watching Versace" podcast, Darren's use of the phrase, "on paper" [he is a person of color]. Again, regarding my perspective, I think a phrase like "on paper" (I'm Asian-American), or "on paper" (I'm a person of color), minimizes or diminishes the importance of Darren's Filipino ancestry, because "on paper" suggests it's merely a technicality that he has some Filipino blood. Fortunately, the Vulture article gave context to Darren's use of the phrase, but if taken out of context, that phrase can offend people.
When I read that Vulture article, as I said, it was a very broad interview, covering so many topics, and Darren seemed to be a bit tired (which is understandable, in that he probably is doing multiple interviews a day to promote Versace
), so that he seemed a bit more rambly than usual. That he sometimes is not very direct or specific in his answers to the questions, and that his answers were very
combined with the appearance that he's just beginning to think about the issue of racial identity as it pertains to his own mixed racial heritage (which means he may not be as familiar with racial identity issues as some may assume he is), results in Darren treading on thin ice, on tricky territory, by discussing a controversial and touchy topic (racial identity of people who are of mixed race, as well as Asian pride).
Darren Criss on Playing Serial Killer Andrew Cunanan in ACS: Versace and Passing As White
March 14, 2018
By E. Alex Jung
Is this the first time you’ve played a half-Filipino character?
Yeah, it is, and the harsh truth is like, when else would that be a specific character? And that’s not a bad thing or a good thing. Somebody was talking about Asian-American representation, and he’s like, “I don’t see a lot of stuff for Filipinos specifically,” and I went, “I guess not, but I guess I don’t think about it.” I have the luxury of being half-white and looking more Caucasian, so it doesn’t weigh on my conscience as much, like, “Ugh, why aren’t there more roles?” I think as an actor, you just study and you wanna bring your A game all the time and hopefully it doesn’t even matter.
But a great story about Jon Jon Briones [who plays Andrew’s father on the show]. Ryan Murphy, everybody was blown away by Jon Jon, and Ryan asked me, “How come I’ve never heard of him? How come he doesn’t get cast in stuff?” . . . He’s like, “Well, I don’t get why I still haven’t heard of him.” I’m like, “He’s a Filipino man, dude.” There’s only so many opportunities that people can lock themselves into accepting when they’re casting shit, unless he’s playing the Thai terrorist on CSI or something. And what I hope happens is this will be a great stepping stone for him, for people to go, “Ah, he’s a good actor,” and then just cast where race isn’t a thing. But it’s a weird and unfortunate thing that you have to wait for an opportunity like this one. . .
[. . . ]
Has it played a part in casting for you at all?
No. No. I’ve been really happy and really thrilled. I always say one of my favorite things about myself is that I’m half-Filipino but I don’t look like it. It’s always like an ace up my sleeve of like, “Oh really? How nuts.” So it never really has. I just look like a Caucasian guy, which is nice. I’ve got the multiethnic thing going on. People think I’m like Italian or Mediterranean. No, my mom’s very Filipino. I grew up with a Filipino mom. Anybody who’s grown up in that world knows that’s a thing you share.
Maybe the simpler, most straightforward answer to the first question would be: Instead of saying you don't notice the lack of roles for those in the Asian-American community
because you pass as white--just agree that there are a lack of opportunities for Asian-Americans being represented in TV and film (and in theater). Also note that the question merely asked if this was the first time Darren ever played a half-Filipino character. He simply could have said, "Yes." Darren could abbreviate his answers and answer only
what is asked.
I really liked his comments immediately after that, where he does indicate after all, that he is aware of the lack of roles for Asian-American actors, and that Jon Jon Briones may have had limited type of roles offered to him because of racial stereotypes.
Then in response to another question, what he next said is the quote that @Vulture used in their tweet ("I always say one of my favorite things about myself is that I'm half-Filipino but I don't look like it"). Some people will interpret his words to mean he is happy he looks white, even though he has some Filipino heritage (which I know is not
what he meant). It was good he clarified in his tweet, that "just to clarify- 1 of my favorite things about myself is that I'm half Filipino. PERIOD." Yes, that was perfectly said, in direct, unambiguous language. Then in his tweet, he uses that metaphor of his Filipino heritage being an ace up his sleeve, which is sort of awkward to explain. I'm guessing that he saying that revealing to people who assume he is white, that in fact he also is part Filipino will lead to him winning the hand (continuing Darren's card game metaphor), that the revelation will benefit him somehow. But the concept of using his Filipino heritage to benefit himself seems contrary to what he said earlier about Jon Jon Briones, a Filipino actor having limited opportunities because of racial stereotypes about Asians (and it also is contrary to what he said later in the interview about obstacles that people who look Asian have to face, which he will not have to deal with because he can pass as white). This sentence in particular could offend people, when taken out of context, "I just look like a Caucasian guy, which is nice."
Vulture wrote:Did it ever in your life?
No. I suppose I’m very lucky because any people of color, it’s a thing. It’s a thing that is your best asset, and when it doesn’t work, is your greatest enemy. And it’s tough, yeah.
I wouldn't say being a person of color is your greatest enemy. Being a person of color is not the problem. The problems are people in society who discriminate by limiting opportunities of others based on their race.
Vulture wrote:Do you identify as Asian-American?
No. I think that’d be unfair. I think that’d sound like I’m reaching for the minority card on a college application. I think that would be unfair. Yeah, my mom’s Asian-American. She’s from the Philippines and came here and then married a white guy, and here I am. But maybe it’s because of the way I look. Maybe if I looked a little more pan-Asian and I was put in that box then I would be like, “Yeah, I identify as Asian-American,” but maybe because the obstacles that may come up haven’t that I don’t think about it. But that’s a really interesting question. I’ve never thought about that. For better or for worse, I guess not. But I guess I am. What do you think? Am I? On paper I guess I kind of am.
I talked about this part earlier this morning in the above post. Just one thing: I would not use the phrase, "minority card," because many people would feel offended by this phrase. But this is the part in the article that I really was grateful for clarifying Darren's motivations for identifying as white. Darren thinks it'll be unfair to be enjoying the benefits of identifying himself as Asian-American in certain circumstances, such as college applications where a college supports affirmative-action for those in underrepresented groups, when he hasn't felt that he has encountered the hardships that someone who looks Asian-American has had to deal with. Even though I am still confused how one could express pride in being part Filipino, and at the same time, identify as white, I feel like I understand where Darren is coming from, that he was motivated by doing what he felt is fair and what he felt is right. This has made a big difference to me.
I also mentioned that it's also interesting that this seems to be the first time he's really thought of this issue, because he asks the interviewer what the interviewer thinks, "For better or for worse, I guess not [he guesses he does not identify as Asian-American]. But I guess I am. What do you think? Am I? On paper I guess I kind of am."
Vulture wrote:I think it’s however you want to define it, but I do think that phenotype probably plays a large role in how you relate to that identity.
Yeah. I think if it was thrust upon me I would embrace it, because I love that I’m half-Filipino. But I’ve never been put in that corner, like, “We need an Asian-looking guy. Call this guy.” That’s never been a journey that I’ve had to navigate. Anyway, back to the show.
Just to repeat what I said earlier: I personally feel that yes, looking a certain way, looking like a person of color, does play a large role in whether or not you identify as a person of color. How others treat you
depending on how you look, how they label you based on whether you look like a person of color or pass as white, is an external factor that affects how you racially identify yourself. But race-identity also involves how you internally bond with one's cultural, ethnic, and racial heritage, in other words, not how other
people identify and treat you based on their own perceptions, but how you
identify yourself based on your own feelings of closeness or lack of closeness with your racial/ethnic/cultural heritage. So in other words, even if you do not look Filipino, you still may identify as Asian-American because of your bond with the Filipino culture and heritage, regardless if other people assume you are white and put you in that box because of your appearance. The bottom line is that it is Darren's right to choose how to identify himself racially.
I apologize for this long statement. I wasn't intending to break things down to this detail, but after I saw the various responses on twitter, I thought I would share my interpretation of, and response to, some of what Darren said in his tweet and the Vulture article, and make some suggestions of ways for Darren to reframe his responses to questions about