“Big Hero 6″’s Hapa Brothers: Daniel Henney and Ryan Potter

“We actually just met last week to promote this movie,” Ryan Potter laughs, gesturing to his neighbor, Daniel Henney. A startling revelation, as Potter and Henney voice a pair of loving, biracial brothers who tell each other just about everything.

Disney’s Big Hero 6, while a superhero cartoon, focuses on much more than just the combat scenes. Whether the young protagonist Hiro Hamada is hanging out with his friends or bantering with his older brother Tadashi, he’s at his happiest when he’s being affirmed and supported by his unconventional family. Family doesn’t always mean two parents and the dog.

“[Big Hero 6 is] about the idea if you utilize the brain of a brilliant child, or children in general, to its full capacity, what they can do, what they can overcome with the right support system,” says Henney, who voices Tadashi.

Tadashi has assumed the role as family protector from the start of the film, when he rescues his little brother Hiro from a few crooked robot fighters. Gently nudging Hiro in the direction of applying for college, Tadashi watches over him lovingly as their parents would and proves that broken families don’t lack love.

“I’m kind of his rock, and I try to guide him the right way when he seems to step off the path a little bit,” Henney says of his character. “Tadashi sees that Hiro isn’t up to his full potential, but by the end of the film, [Hiro] definitely sees his own purpose,” adds Potter.

While Tadashi might not be physically present for the majority of the film, Hiro carries his brother’s influence and his passion for helping people in his mind, and it’s this love for caring that has him committing to fighting crime with the Big Hero 6 by the end of the movie.

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The Super Jamie Chung in “Big Hero 6″

What’s even cooler than a female superhero? Two of them. Disney’s newest animated film Big Hero 6 details the adventures of boy-genius Hiro Hamada as he tries to investigate a fatal and suspicious fire that took everything away from him. With the assistance of his friends and a robot, Hiro forms a superhero team that can solve any mystery.

Korean American actress Jamie Chung voices one of Hiro’s two female, college-aged friends, GoGo Tomago.

“What’s so great about her and Honey Lemon is that there’s no stereotype of, or cookie-cutter character of what they think a strong female character is,” Chung says about the brainy, female characters, each of whom are completely unique. While both GoGo and Honey Lemon are studying the sciences along with Wasabi and non-student Fred, they couldn’t be more different. Honey Lemon is “girly,” but can still use chemicals to create a destructive weapon; GoGo can get answers out of anyone with her cool yet direct personality.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

“She’s a woman of few words –– she’s like the Clint Eastwood character of the group,” says the actress, who has recently gained popularity for her role as Mulan in Once Upon a Time. “She’s got quite a lot of sass, she’s got a need for speed, she’s an adrenaline junkie, and she’s got a secret crush on Fred –– I’m just making that up, but I’m gonna go with it.”

After earning some major upgrades with costumes and gadgets, GoGo can out-race anything with her speed-inducing rollerblades and boomerang-like discs which she can throw at targets. Just as impressive, Honey Lemon can type a few elemental equations into her periodic table purse to produce chemical, explosive orbs.

“I think what I love about this group and the reality is that intelligence is not sex-biased. Everyone is pretty equal in that world, and they can hang and if anything, they’re a bit more fearless than their male counterparts,” Chung says.

And when the mystery has been solved, the superheroes don’t go their separate ways to their ordinary lives; they hang out at Hiro’s aunt’s café and spend time with each other.

“It really celebrates a new kind of family –– a very contemporary, unconventional family, and that’s with your friends.”

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Japanese American Hapa Ryan Potter on His Big Debut in “Big Hero 6″

 

As someone who has spent his whole life training in martial arts –– it was this hobby that landed him the leading role of Mike Fukanaga in Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas and jumpstarted his acting career, after all –– you’d think the fight sequences featured in Disney’s newest animation action flick Big Hero 6 would seem kind of mediocre to Ryan Potter. But he’s as floored by the elaborate animations as anyone.

“It’s that Marvel effect! Gotta love those Marvel action sequences,” 19-year-old Potter said excitedly over the phone, referring to Big Hero 6’s origin as a Marvel comic. “They’re larger than life.”

Potter lends his voice for the first time to the character Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old genius living in the fictional city of San Fransokyo and the eventual leader of Big Hero 6, a team of super smart superheroes. After the sudden death of his older brother Tadashi, Hiro decides to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding the tragic accident with the help of Baymax, a healthcare robot designed by Tadashi. Hiro’s older friends, GoGo Tomago, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred, also join the fight in a show of friendship.

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Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

The friends skate, race cars and even fly through the city of San Fransokyo, which is a clever and imaginative mash between the major cities of Tokyo, Japan and San Francisco, U.S.A. After watching the finished product, the city itself stirred up fond memories for Potter, who was raised in Tokyo until his family moved back to the United States at the age of seven.

“There are so many similarities between Tokyo and San Fransokyo that when I watched the film, there were a lot of hidden moments there for me,” said Potter. “There were memories of me taking the train with my mom … it represented a big part of my childhood.”

The presence of Tokyo wasn’t the only thing that held meaning for Potter. Many people are already pointing out the fact that not only does Disney’s newest venture feature a multiracial cast and a diverse number of characters, but the main hero himself is biracial.

“If you consider the U.S. the melting pot of the world, hopefully in the future, the media is going to show that,” said Potter, who is of Japanese and Caucasian descent. “This movie has opened doors for more mixed roles for characters and actors who are biracial.” Growing up, Potter would watch TV and notice that he never saw any heroes who looked like him. People of mixed race were not represented in the media. Big Hero 6 gave him Hiro, the hero he’d always wanted to see as a child. Though the Big Hero 6 team includes characters of various ethnicities, Disney doesn’t poke fun at the characters’ backgrounds, or even highlights them, for that matter. “These characters don’t feel like they need to identify themselves –– they’re just San Fransokyans,” said Potter. “It’s just like when people ask me about my background. I don’t like to say I’m Japanese and Caucasian –– I say I’m American. Because that’s all that matters.”

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Walt Disney Studios

With his first animated feature under his belt, Potter is hooked to voice-overs and hopes he can join more animated projects in the future. His dream film? Any future Studio Ghibli movies legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki decides to embark on. “It’s so freeing,” Potter said of the advantages voice-acting has over live acting. “You go into that [recording] booth and you don’t have to worry about what you or your body looks like. You can be completely yourself.” The young actor, while he has no big upcoming projects, is currently planning on applying to various film schools in Southern California and dreams of working with Jeff Bridges and Robert Downey, Jr. But Big Hero 6 is a project that will remain close to his heart. “My favorite scene of all time has to be the first flight sequence Hiro takes with Baymax,” said Potter, referring to the scene where Baymax takes Hiro on an adventure through the city and over the clouds. “I think it’s every kid’s dream to fly.”    

JANM Opens New Hello Kitty Exhibition

Los Angeles just got a little cuter with the opening of Japanese American National Museum’s newest exhibition, Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, organized with Sanrio in honor of Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary.

The first large-scale Hello Kitty museum in the United States, Hello! takes fans –– both the kids and the kids-at-heart –– on a trip through the brand’s archives, featuring vintage memorabilia, collections from collaborations and artwork that depicts the character’s evolution from a Japanese cultural figure into a global phenomenon. Visitors have the chance to view special pieces like the plastic coin purse –– the first Hello Kitty item Sanrio sold back in 1975 –– as well as Hello Kitty kitchen appliances, skateboards and surfboards and even a pair of boxers with the face of everyone’s favorite kitty stamped all over.

Gary Baseman for JANM

Gary Baseman for JANM

Older generations have the chance to journey back to their childhood with the wall of display cases featuring every Hello Kitty backpack Sanrio has ever produced. Another wall is lined with Hello Kitty plushes released throughout the years, giving viewers a visual representation of the brand’s transformation.

“I think our art portion stands up to any art exhibition in LA right now,” Dr. Greg Kimura, President and CEO of JANM, said last night at the VIP party for the exhibition, which was MCed by Japanese American actress (and former Audrey cover girl!) Tamlyn Tomita.

Hello Kitty vintage plush, 1976

Hello Kitty vintage plush, 1976

The art gallery proudly boasts 40 mixed-media works created specially for the exhibit by well-known artists such as Audrey Kawasaki and Gary Baseman, as well as collaborating brands like tokidoki and Swarovski. The celebrity and fashion portion of the exhibit illustrates the far-reaching influence of Hello Kitty, featuring the dress of plush toys Lady Gaga once wore for a photoshoot celebrating the character’s 35th birthday.

JANM has also opened a pop-up store for the exhibition, where visitors can purchase exclusive Hello Kitty for JANM items like pins, bags and coin purses.

The exhibition will be on view through April 26, 2015. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for ages 6-17 and free for ages 5 and under. JANM members receive free admission.

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Steven Yeun Rocks Tie-Less Suits

He was just featured alongside costar Lauren Cohan in a romantic photo shoot for Los Angeles Magazine last month, and now, Steven Yeun suits up again for a feature on suits in this month’s issue of GQ.

Our favorite zombie-slayer dons a slick comb-over and dressy shirts and blazers for March’s style feature titled “Back from the Dead: The Air Tie,” as if we needed another reason to remember the man is one of People‘s Sexiest Men of 2013.

The photos provide a stark contrast from the dirty, tired, blood-stained Glenn Rhee we see running around every Sunday night on AMC’s The Walking Dead, but we love Steve either way.

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Japanese American National Museum Introduces New Tattoo Exhibition

L.A.’s own Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo opened its newest exhibition last week titled Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World, which explores the history of traditional Japanese tattoo art and its relevance in mainstream culture today.

Curated by Takahiro Kitamura and photographed and designed by Kip FulbeckPerseverance dives into the rich history of Japanese artistry by focusing on its roots in ukiyo-e prints. The exhibit also features the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii and Yokohama Horiken, along with tattoo works by selected others.

Perseverance opened on March 8 and will run until September 14.

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Transgender Activist Cecilia Chung Named “Woman of the Year”

Cecilia Chung was honored Monday night by the California State Assembly as one of its Women of the Year for her work in fighting for transgender equality.

Chung, who is the senior advisor for the Transgender Law Center, a health commissioner at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, was chosen by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to receive the award.

“Cecilia has an inspiring record of breaking down barriers,” said Ting. “Her bravery and brains have made our community a more compassionate and welcoming place. As we strive for even greater equality, we can simply look to her for a roadmap forward. Cecilia’s passion and commitment to equality know no bounds.”

According to assembly member Phil Ting’s official website, some of Chung’s honors include “the first Deputy Director of the Transgender Law Center, the first transgender woman and first Asian to be elected to lead the Board of Directors of San Francisco’s LGBT Pride Celebration, and the first person living openly with HIV to Chair the San Francisco Human Rights Commission which, under her leadership, documented widespread discrimination against transgender people and prompted the city to adopt many pioneering anti-discrimination ordinances and policies.”

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Activist Writes Letter to Now-Famous American Apparel Model

It should come as no surprise that American Apparel is once again the target of social criticism. The retailer is known for its controversial advertisements featuring naked models and even a sixty year-old model. Their most recent ad features a topless Asian-American woman –– a merchandiser named Maks, who has been working with American Apparel since 2010 –– wearing only a pair of high-waisted jeans, with the words “Made in Bangladesh” stamped across her chest.

The ad has produced mixed reviews via social media. Some publications have deemed it as “pretty cool,” and a visual way for American Apparel to point out that it treats all of its garment workers fairly, especially when compared to factories in Bangladesh.

“The labor issue is something we’ve spoken out about for a long time,”says creative director Iris Alonzo on the inspiration behind the ad. “In addition to physically unsafe conditions, Bangladesh has some of the lowest paid garment workers in the world. The recently increased monthly wage is still only $68 USD per month. American Apparel’s nearly 5,000 industrial workers in Los Angeles are earning from $10- $25 per hour. It is important for consumers to think about the people that we don’t see when looking at fashion photography.”

Yet for others, the ad represents another instance of the objectification of women of color, and, specifically, it gives more power to large corporations. L.A. activist Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed wrote an open letter to Maks via South Asian magazine “The Aerogram” yesterday as a fellow Bangladeshi to discuss the “fine line between self-expressive and being exotified and commodified.”

“The implication is that Bangladesh is bad, and American is good,” Ahmed writes in regards to the ad’s deeper message. “Burka-ed Muslim women are bad, and bare-breasted “former” Muslims with newly found American freedoms are good. Right?”

Ahmed cites the garment factories in Bangladesh as being built from the ground up on the backs of Bangladeshi women, and the same factories have collapsed or caught on fire in recent years, claiming these womens’ lives.

“Boycotting Bangladesh made products means we’re boycotting the Deshi-made women that helped get us here — our Ammas and Khalas and ChachisAmadher bhon, our sisters. We just want to make sure they are safe and can survive.”

Recap: Disastrous Vendor Evictions in Gangnam

Now Gangnam, Korea is becoming known for more than just a popular parody song in America. In February, over the course of two days, the Gangnam District Office and police hired a group of 50 city workers to forcefully evict street vendors. This resulted in physical altercations between workers and vendors, and the complete destruction of several street stands.

Running businesses on the streets of Gangnam has been illegal since 2011, without much enforcement. Now district chief Shin Yeon-hee says the area, which has been developing in recent years into a metropolis, needs to be “cleaned up” in order to make Gangnam more “global” and “foreigner friendly” for all of the incoming tourists.

 

Vendors couldn’t do much but watch as city workers not only harassed them, but took hammers to their stands, destroying all merchandise. Police officers stood nearby but didn’t interfere. There have been reports that a few brave vendors have ventured to set up new stands since then.

First Asian-American U.S. Marine Dies at 88

Major Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the first Asian-American U.S. Marine Corps officer, died on Monday in Washington, D.C. at the age of 88 from a heart attack.

During WWII, an eager Lee –– who is Chinese-American –– enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps to fight, but was instead based at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as a language instructor.

During the Korean War in 1950, Lee got his opportunity to fight and was commander of a machine gun platoon, where his heroic actions in a clash with Chinese forces on November 2 earned him numerous military honors, including the second highest military decoration, the Navy Cross.

Lee later fought in the Vietnam War, where he earned a Purple Heart. Only a few weeks ago he was the honorary grand marshal of San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade. Lee is not only the first Asian-American, but the first non-white man to enlist in the Marine Corps.