Five-0's diversity issue is not that simple
November 22, 2017 | 73° | Check Traffic

Five-0 Redux

Five-0’s diversity issue is not that simple

  • COURTESY CBS

    A scene from the “Hawaii Five-0” season one episode, “Mālama Ka ʻĀina” (“Respect the Land”).

It’s been a really tough week for “Hawaii Five-0.” With the news of the departure of show regulars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, which hit the fandom hard, and the statement from Kim about the contract dispute that caused his exit, it seemed that the July 7 start of filming was kept on set with only cast and crew invited. Typically, Five-0 hosts the press and morning news crews at their yearly Hawaiian blessing to mark the start of their new season. But this morning, there was nothing– no live videos, no pictures, no Tweets. Fans were disappointed at the lack of news and social media coverage to kick-off what some are saying may be the last season of the show.

Beyond the lack of news from the set, it seems that fans from all over the world are tremendously divided on how they feel about the departure of Kim and Park. Many have voiced via social media their varied opinions which run from sadness, to anger, to frustration, to messages of good luck and thanks. This week, several news organizations began to write their opinions about the issue– mainly focusing on the contract dispute and the lack of diversity on the hit CBS television show.

Kim released a statement via his Facebook page on July 5 a few days after the news broke of his leaving the show after failed contract negotiations with CBS. Kim confirmed the sad news that he would not be returning to “Hawaii Five-0” for season eight. He also said in his Facebook post: “Though I made myself available to come back, CBS and I weren’t able to agree to terms on a new contract, so I made the difficult choice not to continue. As sad as it feels to say goodbye, what I feel most is gratitude. I am so deeply thankful to our crew, writers and everyone associated with the show – and especially the cast, who have been nothing but supportive through this entire process. They and the crew have been my second family for seven years and I wish them nothing but success for season 8 – and beyond.”

Executive Producer Peter Lenkov also released a statement on July 6, which he addressed to the “H50 community,” saying: “We are all saddened by the Daniel and Grace news and I wanted to reach out to you directly. The truth is: Both actors chose not to extend their contracts. CBS was extremely generous and proactive in their renegotiation talks. So much so, the actors were getting unprecedented raises, but in the end they chose to move on. No one wanted to see them go– they are irreplaceable.”

While Park did not release a statement, Lenkov mentioned in his post that, “After being away from her family for seven years, I understood Grace’s decision to leave.” His comment perhaps confirms the social media posts at the end of March (right around the end of season seven filming) that alluded that Park would not be returning for season eight.

Kim also revealed in his message to fans that he has “new acting projects on the horizon, and as a producer, my company, 3AD, has its first show, THE GOOD DOCTOR, set to air this fall on ABC.”

So what does all of this really mean for “Hawaii Five-0”? Right now, the “core four” (the original Five-0 Task Force from season one) is down to Alex O’Loughlin, who plays Steve McGarrett; and Scott Caan, who plays Danny “Danno” Williams. Both actors will return for season eight. Included in the main cast is Chi McBride, who plays Lou Grover; and Jorge Garcia, who plays Jerry Ortega.

While fans are grieving the loss of almost half of their main cast, they may also be faced with even more loss. As Chin and Kono will no longer be a part of the Five-0 universe, we can speculate that characters attached to their arcs will possibly not return as well. Fans are digesting possibly also saying aloha to Londyn Silzer, who played Chin’s niece Sara Diaz; Julie Benz, who played Chin’s girlfriend Abby Dunn; as well as to Ian Anthony Dale, who played Kono’s husband, Adam.

The show now will no longer have any Asian actors within the main cast. Nor will there be a female in the main cast. The only other females are supporting cast members– Dr. Noelani Cunha and Grace Williams, played by Hawaiʻi actresses Kimee Balmilero, and Teilor Grubbs, respectively. With the exit of Masi Oka, and his character Dr. Max Bergman– the only Asian actors are among the recurring cast members. Mainly, Dennis Chun, who plays Sgt. Duke Lukela; Will Yun Lee, who plays Sang Min; Shawn Thomsen, who plays Officer Pua Kai; and Balmilero.

Thankfully there is a good Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander presence on the show, as Taylor Wily, who plays Kamekona; Shawn Mokuahi Garnett, who plays Flippa; Kekoa Kekumano, who plays Nahele Huikala; Kala Alexander, who plays Kawika; and Al Harrington, who plays Mamo Kahele; along with Chun and Grubbs, definitely help to round out the Polynesian cast members.

But they are all supporting cast members. The main cast no longer has any Asians, and there are no Native Hawaiians and/or Pacific Islanders in the mix. While many would find this not a huge issue, remember that the show is set in Hawaiʻi where 58% of our population identify as Asian and 23% identify as Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. I’m not at all suggesting that O’Loughlin and Caan don’t work as characters in the show, as 39% of our population identify as White. Jorge Garcia also fits as about 7% identify as Hispanic or Latino. And McBride, as well as recurring actors Michelle Hurd, Chosen Jacobs, and Paige Hurd, who play Renee, Will, and Samantha Grover respectively, work as about 3% identify as Black or African American. They all help to add to the diversity of the cast. But the larger population of our islands, is Asian.

I’d just think it would be great if the Five-0 task force (meaning the main cast) reflected more of the type of population that actually lives in the place where the show is filmed and where their stories take place– and that would include far more of an Asian and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander presence. If any additions are made to the cast, the actors should reflect the reality of our islands. It would be great if they moved several of the recurring cast members to the main cast. It would make sense and it would continue to protect the truth of the show taking place in Hawaiʻi.  

Yes, I understand that overall “Hawaii Five-0” is pretty diverse– more so than any other television show on network television. On American network television Five-0 has the largest mix of Asians, Polynesians, and Native Hawaiians in its cast. But it is in their recurring cast where their diversity lies. Not in their main cast.

I do see the show trying. O’Loughlin’s McGarrett is a kamaʻāina born and raised in Hawaiʻi. When Oka was set to leave, they cast a new medical examiner and chose Hawaiʻi girl and Asian actress Balmilero. It made a lot more sense to local fans when they cast Rosalind Chao as new Hawaiʻi Governor Keiko Mahoe. Still, they could push Balmilero to series regular, as well as Wily and Chun who have certainly paid their dues, as they have been with the series since season one and have a close connection to the Five-0 task force.

So while I think the cast in its entirety is pretty diverse, and that every show on television needs to be as diverse as Five-0, there is still an issue. And letting two of their strongest actors go over a contract dispute– actors who were series leads and helped to create more diversity on the show– does not help. It’s more than just the network not paying actors what they are due for the work they put in, but it’s also the fact that both Kim and Park’s characters helped to create the modern version of Five-0. We don’t just lose the actors, but their characters as well. All because of money.

Really, it’s not our concern how much money was offered, but obviously, the actors did not find it fair for them to accept. I don’t know the details and I’m just going off of what the statements say. But if they could not agree, it means that the actors did not think what was offered was enough to continue with the show no matter how generous the offers were. In a way, it seems as if network television feels that perhaps we as viewers are not ready to see Asians as leading actors. Or perhaps network television still does not feel that Asian actors can lead a television series.

Still, we don’t know all the details, and really this is all based on two statements and the news from Friday, June 30 that the two actors were departing the series. But as Kim says in his statement, “The path to equality is rarely easy,” it does give us an idea that he did not feel his new contract was on par with what he does for the show. Other news articles have alluded to the fact that he and Park were making less than his fellow actors, but that was not addressed directly in any of the released statements.

I’m sure I have not covered every issue or every point that fans want addressed or discussed. I feel a great sadness that the show has lost not only two great actors, but two rich and beloved characters, as well as the other actors and characters that are attached to their story arcs.

I think everyone remembers the scene from the season one episode, “Mālama Ka ʻĀina” (“Respect the Land”), with Steve, Danny, Chin, and Kono, sitting around their new offices, having a beer, and watching video of a young Steve breaking Chin’s Kukui High Football records. When they question Quarterback Steve about his jersey number 50, he explains that his father always called them Five-0’s– as in, they were born and raised in the 50th state, and while they were not Native Hawaiian, they still belonged. This is the scene that said it all– and from then on Chin and Kono were not just a part of the core four– they were Five-0. I think we’ll all miss that, and how their team grew over seven seasons, as well as what they could have become in season eight.

REDUX SIDE NOTE

This week’s repeat was the very interesting episode, “Ka Pāʻani Nui” (“Big Game”), which had McGarrett and Chin heading to Molokaʻi searching for the murderer of Leia Rozen (Angela Galvan). Leia had been on the hunt for the Nazi guard who terrorized her grandfather in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The guard, Tomas Sauer, had hidden himself as Allen Smith, a missionary who came to Kalaupapa to care for the patients of Hansen’s Disease. The part of Tomas Sauer was played by Hawaiʻi actor Don Dailey. I was lucky enough to have interviewed Dailey soon after the episode aired. Look for a recap of our talk about the episode in two weeks, after Peter Lenkov’s new series “Salvation,” starring Ian Anthony Dale, airs on CBS on July 12.


Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright, and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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