Gedde Watanabe reflects on stereotypical Asian role in 'Sixteen Candles'


Gedde Watanabe, known for his role as Long Duk Dong in the 1984 film “Sixteen Candles,” has admitted to initially not realizing how his character perpetuated Asian stereotypes.

Key points:

  • Watanabe, now 68, said he initially saw the role as a great job opportunity that paid significantly better than his previous theater work.

  • Despite recognizing some lines in the movie as problematic, he did not fully grasp the impact of the character’s portrayal as a stereotype.

  • He believes the character somehow challenged stereotypes by getting the American girlfriend and experiencing a joyful, party-filled narrative.

The details:

  • Long Duk Dong is a nerdy Chinese exchange student who communicates in broken English and a heavy Asian accent. Speaking to People for the film’s 40th anniversary, Watanabe said he initially did not consider the character a stereotype, considering how scarce roles for Asians had been at the time:

“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?”

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  • Still, he recognized some lines in the teen rom-com as problematic, such as the use of the term “Chinaman.” However, he pointed out that people were still being educated about what was considered “offensive” back then.

  • The Utah native even stayed in character off-set. This surprised director John Hughes when he finally spoke in his regular accent during a table read.

  • Despite criticisms, Watanabe believes his character somehow challenged Asian stereotypes by getting the American girlfriend, partying and being "in bliss like that." He notes how it also fueled constructive dialogue, becoming a topic of study in Asian studies classes.

  • Watanabe now sees the problem. He expressed excitement about emerging Asian actors, saying "it's great to see friends out there that aren't just one-dimensional characters."

  • The actor currently lives in Southern California. He spends plenty of time reading and talking about the Japanese American concentration camps — in which his mother was involved — but he still takes on acting roles when available.


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