Aly Morita has caused quite a controversy recently. The daughter of legendary actor Pat Morita, who famously played the role of Mr. Miyagi and mentor to young heartthrob Ralph Macchio aka “Daniel Son”, has created a grassroots campaign on facebook to “Boycott the Remake of Karate Kid”.
Aly, a writer and Asian American activist, recently penned an article for youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com.
In the article, Aly wrote, “I don’t want my father to be forgotten so soon. It’s been only five years since he passed—five long years for me—and, maybe, if this remake succeeds or becomes another behemoth unto itself, the role he fought so hard for, the magic of the original film, the excitement felt by the Asian American community to finally have one of their own represented in the media will all be forgotten.
The Karate Kid has already grossed $106,254,000 in domestic box office since its release on June 11.
Filmhustler.com also has a great interview with Ms. Morita about the recent controversy surrounding her and her famous dad. In the article, Aly states, “I was embarrassed by my dad playing Mr. Miyagi in the height of his 80s’ popularity. I was constantly having problems with it as my own identity politics grew. Eventually I was able to separate my struggle and my dad’s struggle”.
When I read that quote, I was quite surprised and curious. Every child growing up in America has had its share of embarrassing parental moments but Mr. Miyagi was an icon. I remember leaving the movie theater in awe of his Karate ability and the lessons he taught. We all wanted to be “Daniel Son” who knocked out bully Johnny Lawrence played by Billy Zabka. The neighborhood kids and I would even reenact that final move on the playground. I, of course had to play the girlfriend, the boys were fighting over.. just kidding. Anyway, I just had to speak to her!
ASIANCE: Your father is an icon. That was a movie of my generation. I remember my mom taking my brother and me to see The Karate Kid. It was such a great movie and such a great part of my adolescence. My brother started taking Karate lessons soon after, in large part to that movie. Interesting that you were “embarrassed” by your dad playing Mr. Miyagi. I have an idea why you would be but he was so cool! Why? What is wrong with being “Pat Morita’s daughter”?
Aly: Thank you for saying that, Jaymie, and, yes, my dad was uber-cool! Way cooler, in fact, than most people know.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being Pat Morita’s daughter. I am very proud of my father and what he accomplished during his lifetime. However, growing up it was difficult at times dealing with the criticism he received from some groups within the Asian American community who thought he was perpetuating racist stereotypes. As with most teenagers and twenty-somethings, I wanted to distance myself as much as possible from my parents and their identities. I was trying to form my own identity. And I had a growing socio-political conscience and also had a problem with the wise karate master role. So, I was very conflicted. And this took place for me at the height of my father’s career when he was very much in the public eye, so it was difficult for me to make peace with it.
Now, I understand that he took that role because there are so few roles available to actors of Asian descent. He took that role and poured his heart and soul into it. Yes, he played the wise karate master, but he also brought a character to life and gave him depth and humor and humanity. I am very proud of my father for playing Mr. Miyagi and showing other facets of Japanese American culture that had not been seen before on screen.
The cultural representations of different ethnic groups on screen remains facile and, at times, very sloppy.
ASIANCE: If you could change some things in the latest Karate Kid movie, which would ultimately get you to pay to watch it, what would that be?
Aly: Maybe having a more multi-ethnic cast of good guys and bad guys, so that the movie doesn’t perpetuate or condone racial tensions, as the remake does by casting Asians, once again, as the villains. Or having a girl as the karate kid as they did in “Karate Kid IV” with Hilary Swank… but, watch out! Mark my words: here comes Willow Smith!
ASIANCE: Would you have liked to see a remake at all? Who would you cast?
Aly: Honestly, I have not given the idea of a remake much thought. I knew about the remake for over a year now, but only thought about it at length a week before it opened. I’m not in favor of doing remakes of movies, anyway–at least, that is, when they are regurgitative or simply replace one facet of the film with something similar, but different enough to seem original, like the “Jacket on, jacket off” sequence in the remake. That’s just clumsy filmmaking to me. Whereas, as a writer, I am completely in favor of reinterpretations of classics if they are done in a lucid, imaginative fashion, like Tim Burton did with “Alice in Wonderland.”
ASIANCE: What would you like to see changed in the film industry in America?
Aly: Ethnic representation. There are more and more people of color in front of and behind the camera in Hollywood, but the cultural representations of different ethnic groups on screen remains facile and, at times, very sloppy.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your background and the book you are working on!
Aly: I’m working on a novel, a fictive coming-of-age story set in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s. It has autobiographical elements, as most works of fiction do, but the characters are all made-up. I want to show another side of Los Angeles because my hometown also hasn’t been represented fairly. My Los Angeles hasn’t been depicted in the way I’ve known it growing up there and that’s always bothered me.
As for me, I’m a bit of a chameleon, like my father, and a wanderer. I’ve lived in different parts of the country and travelled quite a bit. Right now, I’m living in Tennessee at an artists colony, working on my novel and exploring The South because I’ve never visited the area before. I absolutely love it here! The South, too, gets a bad rap–maybe my second novel will take place here!
ASIANCE: Would you ever get into films yourself?
Aly: I will probably always be connected to Hollywood in some way and there certainly are many stories that I’d love to see onscreen. If an interesting project comes my way or there’s a great group of people working on something, then I’m open to working in entertainment again.
ASIANCE: Is there a film, involving Asian Americans that you would like to see made?
Aly: I do, but I can’t speak of it because someone always steals a good idea!
ASIANCE: I remember your father and Rocky Aoki being very close friends. What would you like to say about the Late Rocky Aoki?
Aly: Rocky and my dad were dear, life-long friends. Rocky was a pioneer in the restaurant industry–a true visionary. He and my dad were both complicated men, maverick Japanese guys–they shared a lot in common and had a great time together. Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting Keiko, but I hope she and his children are doing well. I’ve met a few of his kids and they are all colorful, talented people. I wish all of them the best.
ASIANCE: Who’s your favorite Asian American and Asian actor/actress?
Aly: Oh gosh… I have so many. That’s like asking, “What’s your favorite ice cream? Or favorite movie?” There are so many talented actors of Asian descent, I would hate to name just a few of them. I just hope we get to see more of them perform on screen, on television, in the theater world… if the roles are created, they will come.