Watchdog group calls for more Asia, Pacific Islanders on CBS’ Magnum, P. I.’ reboot

A watchdog group is calling for more Asian, Pacific Islanders on CBS’ Magnum, P. I.’ reboot, reports Deadline.


The Media Action Network for Asian Americans is the condemnation of CBS’ upcoming reboot of “Magnum P. I.” with too few Asian/Pacific Islands and is an appeal to the show’s executive producer, Peter Lenkov, to be replaced.

Lenkov, CBS’ most prolific writer-producer, is also the EP on “Hawaii Five-0,” have a reboot set in the Aloha State that MANAA says is “white washed.”

A spokesman for the network said: “While we respect the work that MANAA is doing to promote Asian/Pacific Islander (API) inclusion in the entertainment, the statement does not accurately reflect the current status of ‘Magnum P. I.’ or CBS. ‘Magnum’ has two API series regulars, under an inclusive cast. In addition, one-third of the directors on the ‘Magnum’ API’, including Justin Lin, who directed the pilot.

The spokesman also notes that, on all his shows for the 2018-19 season, “69% of our series regulars are people of color, women, LGBTQ characters, and artists with disabilities. In addition, people of color and women representing 46% of our writers, and 43% of episodes directed. These numbers are increased from last year and steadily in the last five years. The CBS is proud of the progress we have made to create more integration on all of our shows, and we are fully committed to continue to improve in this area.”

“Magnum P. I.,” which stars Jay Hernandez, in the role of Thomas Magnum, is one of the few network shows with a leading man of Mexican descent. The co-star Stephen Hill, who is African-American; Left Weeks and Zachary Knighton, who are White; Tim Kang, a Korean-American; and Amy Hill, an American of Japanese descent.

MANAA president Rob Chan acknowledged that “the show is diverse”, but told Deadline that “often, Asians are of the diversity discussion, and for a show that takes place in a language that is majority Asian, the major does not lead to Asian offensive.”

The quote of Hollywood’s “total lack of opportunities for Asian American actors,” he said, “We generally want to have a show to give the demographic data. The show takes place in Hawaii, that most of the Asian, but if you look at the four stars, is there are no Asians reflected there. In fact, in the trailer, Jay Hernandez refers to four people by name, and none of them are Asian. We feel that the time and time again there is a pattern of exclusion. And while some of the supporting cast can be Asian, they are often not as much screen time as the leads.”

Chan said that he has not seen an episode of the show, which premieres September 24.

MANAA, and the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition had a problem with Lenkov since the CBS reboot “Hawaii Five-O” in 2010. MANNA says it has spent “many hours” in research and discussions with the network about the “insulting way” he threw Asian/Pacific Islander guest stars’, especially if suspects and villains.” According to MANAA, “In the eight seasons (193 episodes), every guest star who tags along with the team to catch the bad guy is white or black, except once when she was Asian.”

In December, after CBS bought Lenkov the pilot script for “Magnum P. I.,” Chan wrote a letter to CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl and CBS senior EVP programming Thom Sherman, expressing his concern about the network’s plans to revive the show. “If it’s in the air in the ’80s,” Chan said, “locals joked that it was a series that apparently took place on an unknown ninth Hawaiian island that had no Asian people.

“We think it’s absolutely necessary,” he told the network execs, “that you hire a Asian/Pacific Islander to star as Thomas Magnum, and that the majority of the cast are Asian/Pacific Islanders. In the history of television, no series Hawaii has ever seen a star Asian/Pacific Islander, despite the fact that they account for 60% of the population. This would be a great chance for the new version of the Magnum to the ground-breaking show to break that racial barrier.”

He also told me that MANAA is “very disappointed that Peter Lenkov will be the showrunner for the potential series. As we have described in a previous letter, MANAA, APAMC, and CBS have to spend a lot of time, energy and resources to help “Hawaii Five-O” a better reflection of the population of the 50th state, because Lenkov does not demonstrate the best of intentions in the direction of that objective in the first place.”

According to MANAA: “Kahl did not respond. Instead, he greenlit ‘Magnum P. I.'”

Many of Chan’s letter to Kahl was devoted to the sketches of the many problems MANAA and APAMAC had had with Lenkov on “Hawaii Five-O.” “Beyond the casting of the Asian/Pacific Islanders Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua characters for the first time, established as such in the original 1968-1980 series – he assigned the role of Max Bergman to Masi Oka. However, each of the following regular Lenkov added were not Apis: a White woman, an African-American man and a Latino man. He also kept adding new unofficial Caucasian regulars, who often have more screen than the API regulars.”

In the fall of 2011, the founding MANAA president Guy Aoki and Marilyn Tokuda, who then were co-chairmen of the APAMC, had a meeting with a number of CBS officials to discuss their concerns. During that meeting, Aoki told them that Lenkov had told the producer of “The River” – an ABC show that also shot in Hawaii – that “we the clean-up of Hawaii. We make it look like Beverly Hills.”

Lenkov, however, flatly denies that claim. A spokesman Lenkov said: “he has never met a producer of ‘The River’, and has never made that statement.”

Chan wrote that it was only after a conference call in the summer of 2015, with CBS execs that Aoki started to see a lot of changes to” on “Hawaii Five-O.” “Still on the most recent APAMC meeting with CBS,” Chan said in his letter, “we passed Guy the experience of talking with a guest-Asian/Pacific Island actor, who was told by the driver takes her to the set that he was used to driving in the blonde of the airport. Extras who do not speak. It seemed clear that Lenkov is not the feeling of Hawaii looked Caucasian enough.”

Since then, Chan wrote, “not much has changed” on “Hawaii Five-O.” “Some of these Asian/Pacific Island actors appeared on the screen for less than a minute, while other API cast regulars “do not appear at all.”

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