Crime shows typically follow the same plot trajectory: a group of geniuses, whether they be a special unit of FBI agents or forensic investigators at a police department, bands together to catch the “bad guy”—most likely a psychotic, sadistic serial killer. To be honest, Hollywood’s tendency to churn out season after repetitive season of the latest CSI or Criminal Minds spinoff with no more than an occasional change of scenery to keep things fresh is not unlike beating a dead horse.
However, alongside millions of other viewers, I find myself tuning into the TV on a weekly basis to see what I already know will play out. The reason I watch these shows is exactly the same reason I go watch every new Spiderman/Batman/Whatever-Man installment in theater: simply put, these characters are heroes, and watching heroes save the day is always satisfying—even if you’ve seen them do it a thousand times before.
Although I’ve watched numerous crime shows, I have been an avid fan of CBS’s relaunch of Hawaii Five-O. Since the release of the pilot in 2007, I’ve watched the show’s kickass four-person police team catch criminals in one of the world’s most beautiful places, and it seems I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the view: the show was recently renewed for its 8th season in 2017.
This show is living proof that giving Asian American lead roles doesn’t ruin a show. Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park have made up half of the core cast since the show’s first season, and they have performed just as well as the other two lead members, Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin, both of whom are white men.
At the end of June of this year, Kim and Park both made public statements that they won’t be reappearing in the 8th season of the franchise. On Kim’s official Facebook page, the actor implied that the reason he and Park wouldn’t be returning had to do with a wage disparity between themselves and their white costars. Variety reported that in previous seasons Kim and Park received about 10-15% less than what Caan and O’Loughlin received in their paycheck. Although CBS did offer Kim and Park higher wages, the offer did not amount to total parity, and both chose not to return.
When I heard this news, it felt like someone had just told me the Easter Bunny is a guy in a costume and Santa Claus isn’t real. What seemed like an amazing milestone for Hollywood seven years ago now felt like a big little lie. CBS tried to justify this situation by saying that Kim and Park were “co-leads” while Caan and O’Loughlin were “stars.” While I can understand their desire to calm the waters, this attempt at damage control feels like another racist jab. As someone who dutifully watched the show for 7 years, I can objectively say that all four actors were equal not only in the quality of their performances but also in the importance of their roles. To say otherwise, especially in a situation like this, is nothing but a last-ditch effort to avoid addressing the real problem.
The true root of the problem is what Hollywood has been struggling with for so long: systematic discrimination stemming from racist sentiments. This is bigger than a typical “CBS having another diversity issue” headline, because this isn’t just about diversity. For so long, we have put all sorts of issues into this huge umbrella called “diversity”—and, as a result, “diversity” has become sort of a magic word that anyone can spew out to sound like they understand an issue without having to actually do anything about it.
This isn’t just a diversity issue. This is about two lead actors in a hit TV show who weren’t justifiably paid for 7 years, not because of their performance but due to their heritage. Their heritage doesn’t make them any less qualified than Caan and O’Loughlin. And as someone who has spent the past seven years looking up to Kim and Park for being Asian American actors who have finally, finally “made it”, I feel like I’ve just watched a crime-show episode gone wrong—an episode where the genius agents miss the criminal by inches.
Ting Ting Chen