Daniel Dae Kim is probably best known for his role in the iconic sci-fi series Lost as well as his role in Hawaii Five-0. He has since become a gamechanger and disrupter when it comes to advocacy for Asians, Asian Americans and other underrepresented voices in Hollywood.
In 2017, he and Grace Park, who is also Asian, exited the CBS reboot of the classic ahead of the eighth season due to contractual agreements surrounding salary. This shined a light on salary parity in film and TV and how it impacts people of color and other marginalized voices — something that the industry has been grappling with for decades.
He forged his own path with his production banner 3AD, which produced The Good Doctor and has many irons in the fire via his first-look deal with Amazon. He is producing a comedy with deaf actor and model Nyle Dimarco as well as the supernatural drama Tether from The Black List scribes Kevin Hamedani and Travis Betz. Most recently, he and Randall Park announced that they would be teaming for an Asian American-led heist film at Amazon. But one of his most noteworthy projects is his campaign to get Hollywood legend James Hong a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
If you don’t know Hong’s name, then you definitely know his face. He has been in nearly 600 film and TV projects that have ranged from comedy to drama to action including Big Trouble in Little China, the original Blade Runner, Kung Fu Panda and the animated Mulan. With this campaign, Kim continues to help bolster the underrepresented and in this case, an overlooked legend.
In 2018, Deadline interviewed Hong when Crazy Rich Asians debuted. As we all know, the movie, marked a watershed moment for Asian representation and Hong, after a career that rivals any other actor when it comes to credits, basically said it was about time.
After starting his acting career in the mid-50s Hong continues to work today, but when Crazy Rich Asians came out, he said: “After 50 to 60 years, things are starting to look better. I never thought it would take this long. At least I’m alive to see it, but it took this long to get this far.”
At the beginning of August, Kim tweeted, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: James Hong deserves a Star on the #Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’ve already started the nomination process. Who’s with me?” That instantly garnered support and he launched GoFundMe campaign that reached its goal in three days. Now it’s all about the waiting game as to whether or not Hong will get that well-deserved Hollywood Star.
Deadline talked to Kim about why he decided to launch the campaign and why it is important for the Asian community to advocate and help uplift each other.
DEADLINE: What was it that led you to launch a campaign for getting James Hong a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
DANIEL DAE KIM: I’ve been thinking about this for a number of years. I remember sitting around in a dinner meeting one night — and this was maybe four or five years ago — and I was thinking, this man has been around for decades and decades. Everyone that I was eating with had worked with him and yet, he had relatively little recognition for the amount of work that he’d done. I remember walking up and down the Walk of Fame one day and seeing Bruce Lee and Mako and James Shigeta and I thought, “Well, if these guys can be on here, then James should be as well.” I think there’s something to be said for honoring those who blazed the trail for not just Asian Americans and not just actors of color, but actors in general. To have worked over seven decades and done over 600 projects — it puts him in the 1% of the 1% of actors in my opinion, and it should be honored.
DEADLINE: I mean, if you work in Hollywood and you should know James Hong’s name.
KIM: Absolutely. I was overwhelmed at the diversity of people who were coming forward after I tweeted about it. People from all races, different ages, different demographics all knew him. So many of them said, “I grew up with him. I never knew his name, but of course, he should be in the Walk of Fame.” It was really encouraging to see how quickly and how widespread the campaign evolved.
DEADLINE: It feels like Hong is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Asian and Asian Americans in Hollywood that have been overlooked.
KIM: Since I can remember, Asian Americans have been undervalued and underrepresented. It’s not so dignified at times to be tooting your own horn. I think it’s a pleasure for someone like me to acknowledge someone like James because he would never do this by himself. In fact, he didn’t even know I was doing it until after the campaign had started. I thought it would be more significant if I just undertook it on my own. I didn’t want anyone to think it was a concerted effort between the two of us because it wasn’t.
DEADLINE: Did he call you when he found out?
KIM: We didn’t speak until after the donations had been closed off and we’d raised all the money. He was very grateful. We got a chance to work together and so we’re already friendly. He was moved and I appreciated that, but for me, it was a matter of fact that I believe he earned this. He deserved it and someone should be picking up the mantle for him.
I think it’s doubly important that so many people from such a wide range of the country support him. I think it’s important to show the committee that. I will also add I got criticism on social media with people saying, “Well, why doesn’t Daniel get his rich friends together and just pay for it?” To me, that goes against the spirit of what this honor means. I think the whole point of it is to acknowledge someone whose work is respected by a wide group of people and a grassroots movement. I think it speaks volumes.
DEADLINE: What you’re doing is the perfect example of how the Asian community should be acting, especially in Hollywood. At the end of the day, a lot of people in this industry are looking out for themselves and trying to bolster their careers. However, I think it’s so much better to advocate for someone else and stand up for them.
KIM: It makes total sense. Look, we need to acknowledge the people upon whose shoulders we stand. If we in our own community can not help get those people acknowledged, then we actually do ourselves a disservice because no one is going to speak up for us if we can’t speak up for ourselves and our own community.
DEADLINE: Speaking to representation, it was recently announced that Disney’s live-action Mulan is moving to Disney+ rather then getting a theatrical release. A lot of people feel that it deserves to be in theaters and that this is a blow to Asian-led blockbusters. Do you think what happened with Mulan will affect Asian representation in any way?
KIM: It’s hard to say because there are the specifics of it being an Asian-led project, which is different, by the way, from being an Asian American-led project and the politics of the time and the industry as a whole. Because you look at the industry as a whole, there is just acceleration towards representation in general. If you look at the state of theatrical movies and movies in theaters on the whole, there are major trends and major changes that were already occurring but are accelerated now because of COVID. So it’s really hard to separate all of these things from one another. Of course, it can’t go without mentioning that when you deal with all the acts of hate toward Asian Americans, Asian Canadians and anyone of Asian descent, that factors into whether a movie like Mulan gets a theatrical release.
I remember reading articles about Mulan posters getting defaced during the COVID crisis as well. It’s a very complicated issue. I think the really important thing to remember is that we need to keep creating good content. We need to continue on our end to develop. Those of us who are in the executive suites and head of powerful agencies need to be championing these projects so that it’s not just about a temporary trend…it’s about a permanent change to how business is done and how Asians are perceived. That starts with movies like the one that we’re making and Mulan and several others like The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians. It needs to be a concerted, continued, steady effort.
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