SAN DIEGO – I usually don’t get this upset over someone being underpaid, unless I’m the someone. But when one of my favorite TV shows appears to have been hurt – perhaps gravely – by one of my least favorite things, it bothers me.
The show is “Hawaii Five-0” and the awful thing that seems to have afflicted it is racism.
Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who are both of Asian descent, recently left the CBS show after the network refused to pay them as much as their white co-stars. Their characters – Kim’s Chin Ho Kelly and Park’s Kono Kalakaua – will be absent from the upcoming eighth season.
Kim and Park were seeking salaries equal to those of fellow stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan. But they couldn’t reach a deal with the network. CBS’ final offer to the two actors was reportedly “10-15 percent lower” than the salaries of O’Loughlin and Caan.
This is an insult that’s tough to explain, no matter how talented the spinners are in your public relations department.
In a statement, a CBS spokesperson said: “We are so appreciative of Daniel and Grace’s enormous talents, professional excellence and the aloha spirit they brought to each and every one of our 168 episodes. They’ve helped us build an exciting new ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ and we wish them all the best and much success in their next chapters. Mahalo and a hui hou…”
Because nothing says, “We’re not racist” like sprinkling in a couple of Hawaiian words.
This is no ordinary Hollywood pay dispute. Both Kim and Park have – along with O’Loughlin and Caan – been with the show since its launch in 2010. Both have developed characters who are central to several existing plotlines. And both have consistently been audience favorites judging from industry press and social media. They’ve done the work and paid their dues on what has always been an ensemble show.
And no matter how much CBS would like to take race out of the equation, you can’t escape it. For one thing, it’s a big coincidence that the two highest-paid actors on the series are both white – like the majority of CBS’ top executives – and that the two lower-paid actors are both of Asian-American descent. For another, given the minuscule number of Asian-Americans on television, with even fewer in starring roles in a prime-time series, it’s fair to ask if Hollywood doesn’t have a blind spot concerning America’s fastest-growing racial minority – maybe one that it is not even aware of.
Still, I have to ask: What century are we living in?
It was at the end of the last century, about 40 years ago, that I became a fan of the original “Hawaii Five-0.” This had a lot to do with the fact that my mom was enamored with Jack Lord, who played Detective Capt. Steve McGarrett.
That version – which also aired on CBS – ran for 12 seasons. This means that, overall, this franchise has made a lot of money for CBS, with more still to come. You would think the network brass would handle it with more care.
One of the recurring themes of the show is “ohana” (Hawaiian for “family”). The writers have inserted that word into many an episode. Kim and Park have been treated shoddily, and that’s not what you do to family.
Meanwhile, Kim has been classy and gracious in discussing what seems to have been a painful decision to leave the show.
The actor wrote on his Facebook page: “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. … 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.”
Shame on CBS. Aren’t the networks always trying to pretend they’re more enlightened than the rest of America? Not this time.
The fact that this show is set in Hawaii – where nearly half the population is Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander – should have prompted executives to put more value in their Asian-American stars.
What will be the next spasm of idiocy to come out of Hollywood? Casting a series set in Los Angeles without Latinos? Don’t get me started.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.