As Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park exit “Hawaii Five-0,” the show suddenly finds itself without any regular Asian American cast members. That’s a huge problem for a show set in Hawaii, and a representation gap that producers will need to address before the show returns this fall.
The new “Hawaii Five-0” has made an effort to recognize Hawaiian culture in ways that other Hawaii-set TV shows hadn’t in the past – featuring more of the music, customs and traditions from the islands. But the depiction of the state’s large Asian American population was still mostly limited to cast members Kim, Park and Masi Oka.
But with all three gone (Oka announced his exit earlier this year), the network and producers hopefully understand it’s a huge void that needs to be addressed in the coming days, as production begins on Season 8. A show set in Hawaii without any Asian American stars would be rightfully subject to controversy – just as Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha” was ridiculed for its mostly-white cast, and the fact that Emma Stone played a part-Asian character.
A lack of Asian American characters has been a problem since Hollywood began depicting Hawaii on screen. Around 58 percent of the Hawaii population is Asian American or hapa (the Hawaii term for part-Asian), but that has rarely been reflected in series based in the islands.
Classics like “Hawaiian Eye,” the original “Hawaii Five-0,” “Magnum, P.I.,” and more recent series like the revamped “Baywatch Hawaii” (syndicated, 1999), “Hawaii” (NBC, 2004), and “North Shore” (Fox, 2004) were all led by white and African-American stars, with Asian American and Pacific Islanders relegated to supporting cast.
And it’s not just a scripted series issue: Key reality shows that have been set in Hawaii, including A&E’s “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and two attempts by MTV (“Maui Fever” and “Living Lahaina”), have also featured predominantly white casts.
Although more representative than other Hawaii-set shows in the past, the new “Hawaii Five-0” has faced similar criticism.
“Unfortunately, the racial hierarchy established in the original 1968-1980 series remained intact in the 2010 reboot: Two white stars on top, two Asian/Pacific Islander stars on bottom,” said Guy Aoki, the founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans. “They kept adding new regulars to the show and they were all non-Asian/Pacific Islanders – a white woman, a black guy, a Latino guy – even when Hawaii is 60 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 30 percent white.
“Now, all three Asian American cast members are gone within five months… that is not Hawaii,” he said to IndieWire. “CBS must replace Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park with at last two Asian/Pacific Islander stars and continue to work at giving guest APIs positive prominent roles.”
Aoki said he has contacted the network and CBS TV Studios several times about “Hawaii Five-0” diversity issues over the years, and has started to see some progress: “The governor of Hawaii was now a female Asian American, a special agent was an Asian American man, the representative from child protective services was an Asian American woman,” he said. “Before, these would’ve been all played by white or black actors.”
Kim and Park had been with “Hawaii Five-0” since the show’s launch in 2010, playing Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua respectively. But in a recent Facebook post, Kim confirmed he was leaving because he and Park weren’t offered salaries equal to that of the show’s white leads, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.
“Though I made myself available to come back, CBS and I weren’t able to agree to terms on a new contract, so I made the difficult choice not to continue,” Kim said. “As an Asian American actor, I know first-hand how difficult it is to find opportunities at all, let alone play a well developed, three dimensional character like Chin Ho. I will miss him sincerely… The path to equality is rarely easy. But I hope you can be excited for the future.”
Variety reported that Kim and Park were offered salaries 10 to 15 percent lower than O’Laughlin and Caan, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Kim “was offered a raise to come within 2 percent of what Caan and O’Loughlin make — minus the duo’s lucrative points of the show’s back end. Negotiations with Park, meanwhile, were complicated by the actress’ desire to only do a handful of episodes and be written out of the show. But the CBS source noted a substantial increase was still offered to her.”
In a statement, CBS said, “Daniel and Grace have been important and valued members of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ for seven seasons. We did not want to lose them and tried very hard to keep them with offers for large and significant salary increases. While we could not reach an agreement, we part ways with tremendous respect for their talents on screen, as well as their roles as ambassadors for the show off screen, and with hopes to work with them again in the near future.”