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gedde watanabe

Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dong: A Product of its Time, Reflects on Representation and Stereotypes

Gedde Watanabe, the actor who portrayed the widely criticized character Long Duk Dong in John Hughes‘ 1984 film Sixteen Candles, has acknowledged the offensive nature of the role while offering context for his own perspective at the time.

In a recent interview, Gedde Watanabe admitted that the character’s exaggerated accent and stereotypical portrayal of an Asian exchange student didn’t register as problematic during filming. He emphasized the limited opportunities available for Asian actors in the 80s, stating, “There wasn’t really anything out there… I didn’t think it was stereotypical or racist. Isn’t that weird?”

While acknowledging the film’s use of the slur “Chinaman,” Watanabe highlights the evolving understanding of racial sensitivity during that era: “People still had to be educated about parameters, what the alarm bells were when it came to being offensive.”

Sixteen Candles, starring Molly Ringwald, featured Long Duk Dong as a comedic foil, often accompanied by a jarring gong sound and exaggerated cultural references. Watanabe, a Japanese American actor, actually speaks with a natural American accent, surprising director John Hughes when he finally broke character during the audition process.

Reflecting on the film industry’s progress, Watanabe expresses gratitude for the increased visibility of Asian actors today: “It’s great to see friends out there that aren’t just one-dimensional characters.”

While acknowledging the lingering challenges in navigating cultural representation, Watanabe finds hope in the emergence of diverse Asian characters on screen, a stark contrast to the limited opportunities he faced earlier in his career.

Watanabe’s filmography now boasts roles in Kung Fu Panda 4, Patsy Lee & the Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms, and shows like Blue Eye Samurai and The Sex Lives of College Girls, showcasing a wider range beyond stereotypical portrayals.

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