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“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” had an impressive 15 season run on CBS. But these days nothing is ever really over, which is why the network is bringing the show back, along with original stars William Petersen and Jorja Fox, under the slightly reworked title “CSI: Vegas.”
This is not good news. I like both actors; Petersen is a veteran of the Chicago theater scene and he’s always found a way to retain that grounded, no-bull approach in his work on TV. Even on a weekly procedural.
But I would deem the return of “CSI” as the least inspired television gambit of the year if it weren’t for Dick Wolf and NBC saying “hold my beer” and burping up “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” which premiered last week starring Christopher Meloni, whose Det. Elliot Stabler last appeared 10 years ago on “Law & Order: SVU.” He’s back. And he’s more or less the same: Too intense but the ends justify the means because he cares. Meet the new show, same as the old show.
This is nothing against Meloni, who’s a terrific actor. Audiences like Stabler. We also like familiarity. There’s nothing wrong with that, and executives appear all too happy to launch new projects if half their marketing is already done.
Even so, it’s a curious decision to add yet more cop shows in the midst of a collective reckoning on police abuse, racism and fatalities. It’s a genre that plays such an influential role shaping real world perceptions and misconceptions about what justice is supposed to look like. I’m still waiting for a bold network or streaming executive to greenlight a TV show that portrays a community that has replaced policing with other systems. How might that work? What are the upsides? And what are the unintended consequences? Fiction can take all kinds of leaps and help us envision alternatives to our present.
But really, I just want Hollywood to tell new stories instead of succumbing to franchise fever and regurgitating the same old intellectual property over and over.
It’s the only way forward if people in decision-making roles are serious about creating real opportunities for writers who have long been marginalized and ignored. So many words were spoken to that effect last summer when studios acknowledged they needed to publicly take a stand against racism. Was that just lip service?
Thuc Nguyen is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and founder of the mentorship program #StartWith8Hollywood. She moved to the U.S. from Vietnam with her family in 1980. “I look at the big picture,” she said. “And from my point of view as a Vietnamese-American woman, I’m coming at it from the perspective of: What do I think society needs to know that you couldn’t possibly know unless you were me?”
Columns are opinion content that reflect the views of the writers.
There’s been no shortage of films about the war in Vietnam from the perspective of those who served in the U.S. military. And they just keep getting made; Zac Efron and Russell Crowe are in talks to star in “Beer Run” from director Peter Farrelly, about a Marine vet in 1967 who sets out “on a wild journey from New York to Vietnam just to bring beer to his childhood buddies in the army as they battle overseas.”
There are other stories worthy of backing from financiers and studios.
Nguyen’s screenplay for “Scent of the Delta” tells the story of a Vietnamese-American woman in her 30s who returns to her hometown of New Orleans after her mother, a manicurist at a nail salon, is murdered.
She has another script, a satire called “Mindy Wu Tran Versus Silicon Beach,” about a Vietnamese-American entrepreneur who battles racism, sexism and the less talked about insidiousness of white feminism in order to keep her startup alive: “Will she make it out of #Brotopia?”
Nguyen also has a couple of horror films written, as well as a TV pilot that tackles the fetishization of Asian women, about a Ph.D. candidate who “pretends to participate in a white male/Asian female romantic relationship to examine: What is the deal with these things and what are the racial dynamics? It’s her academic study of yellow fever.”
What kind of feedback does Nguyen get when she pitches these ideas?
“There’s a scene in ‘Scent of the Delta’ where the main character is walking alone at night and a car drives by and someone yells, ‘Me love you long time.’ And a white woman producer told me, ‘That doesn’t happen.’ And I said, ‘Yes it does! It’s happened to me a million times in my life.’ And she said, ‘Let’s go ask my Vietnamese friend down at my tennis club if this happens to her, I bet it doesn’t.’ Those are her words, verbatim, that ring in my head.”
As violent attacks on Asian people have increased in recent months, Nguyen said she’s had more requests to see her screenplays. Especially after the mass shooting last month of female spa workers in Atlanta. Nguyen mentioned something neither of us has seen addressed so far: The women in Atlanta were killed on the anniversary — to the day, March 16 — of the 1968 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, when a company of American soldiers slaughtered a village of unarmed Vietnamese women, children and elders.
“So we have history practically slapping us in the face,” Nguyen said. Her scripts contend with the kind of violence Vietnamese and other Asian women experience today, and when producers suddenly express interest in her scripts but only in the wake of traumatic events, “it feels cynical.” Nguyen pointed out one of the lines on the poster for 1987 1/4 u2032s “Full Metal Jacket” as emblematic of the apathy that is the norm: “Vietnam can kill me, but it can’t make me care.”
“All these messages right now about #StopAsianHate, we’re begging people to just care. And in Hollywood, people haven’t cared unless they can make money off of Asians, or proliferate these white-friendly lifestyle movies like ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ which doesn’t show that there are actually socioeconomic problems experienced by the Asian diaspora, it just makes it look like Asians don’t need help. That we’re rich and we flaunt it.”
Much as I want to see new stories, I also want projects that avoid old traps and bad habits.
Too often when Hollywood does zero in on Asian stories, they lack specificity: “That applies to Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ where it’s like all Southeast Asians were put into a blender,” said Nguyen. “They’re expecting all Asians to share this one crumb.”
Or producers would rather cast a star — the point of view character — who is white. That’s the case in the forthcoming Netflix movie “A Tourist’s Guide to Love,” with Rachael Leigh Cook playing a travel executive who goes undercover “to learn about the tourism industry in Vietnam.”
“This white woman goes to exotic Vietnam and interprets the country through white eyes, produced by all white, people isn’t really sitting well — especially right now,” Nguyen tweeted when the film was announced earlier this month.
Often, Nguyen said, Hollywood “only thinks of Asian women serving you — as your nail tech or your girlfriend or your eye candy.” Or serving a bad guy’s rear on a platter.
But there’s a whole spectrum of characters and human experiences that aren’t being portrayed as often. Or at all.
Does Nguyen feel optimistic about her own prospects as well as those of others?
“I’m a cynic supreme,” she said, “but I just saw an ad from a company looking for grounded Asian stories that have nothing to do with wealth. So we’ll see.”
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