Gedde Watanabe didn't consider his “Sixteen Candles” role racist at the time

Gedde Watanabe didn't consider his “Sixteen Candles” role racist at the time

The actor played foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong in the John Hughes flick.

Plenty has been said about problematic character Long Duk Dong in John Hughes' Sixteen Candles, but actor Gedde Watanabe, who played the foreign exchange student, admitted it didn't occur to him at the time that the character was offensive.

Watanabe, also known for voicing Ling in the animated film Mulan, said he was just happy to be a working actor at a time when Asians were scarcely represented on screen.

"Frankly I was like, this is a good job, and I'm going to get paid more doing one week in this movie that I did for all the years I was in the theater," he told PEOPLE. "It didn't really occur to me that it was a stereotype because there wasn't really anything out there for Asian actors at the time. It was just so scarce. So I didn't think it was stereotypical or racist. Isn't that weird?"

"I remember the movie using the word 'Chinaman,' and even then I was like, 'Oh, that's not great,'" Watanabe continued. "But you also have to remember in that period of time, people still had to be educated about parameters, what the alarm bells were when it came to being offensive."

<p>Universal Pictures</p> Gedde Watanabe in 'Sixteen Candles'

Universal Pictures

Gedde Watanabe in 'Sixteen Candles'

Hughes' 1984 coming-of-age comedy starred Molly Ringwald as Samantha, a teen whose 16th birthday was overshadowed by her sister's impending wedding and the angst of her crush on popular boy Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). Long Duk Dong was a Chinese foreign exchange student taken in by Samantha's grandparents, who had an exaggerated accent and was often accompanied by a gong sound as he entered a scene. (Ringwald herself has spoken openly about reexamining her past films.)

Watanabe, Japanese American born and raised in Utah, doesn't speak with a heavy accent — and revealed that he once surprised Hughes by speaking in his regular accent after staying in character throughout the audition process. "He totally burst out laughing," Watanabe recalled to PEOPLE. "He was in shock."

<p>Michael Yada/ABC via Getty</p> Gedde Watanabe

Michael Yada/ABC via Getty

Gedde Watanabe

Watanabe is glad that the times have somewhat changed since the film. "In the '80s, my career was playing a lot of foreign people from other countries," he said. "As I got older that tipped away, which I'm thankful for, but the '80s were a hard time for Asian American actors, AAPI people, there wasn't a lot out there. There was no real support to guide me about the fine line between being a goof in comedy and what's stereotypical and what's offensive now."

"Now it's been somewhat defined, but it's muddied still," Watanabe added. "But I think that the new Asian actors that are coming up, all the shows that are coming out, is really so exciting. It's great to see friends out there that aren't just one-dimensional characters."

Watanabe's recent credits include films Kung Fu Panda 4 and Patsy Lee & the Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms. Plus shows Blue Eye Samurai and The Sex Lives of College Girls.

Want more movie news? Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free newsletter to get the latest trailers, celebrity interviews, film reviews, and more.

Related content:

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.