Tzi Ma has been Hollywood’s go-to Asian dad. In the last 2 years, he played Awkwafina’s father in The Farewell, Mulan’s father in the 2020 live action remake and the lead in Netflix’s Tigertail.
But a few weeks ago, Ma was hit with a harsh dose of American reality when he was racially profiled and verbally attacked outside of his local Whole Foods in Pasadena, Calif.
“A man stopped right in front of me with his car and said straight in my eyes, ‘You should be quarantined,’” Ma says. “Then he took off.”
Ma saw red; he went home and along with several other Asian-American celebrities, soon launched #WashtheHate, a social media campaign raising awareness about the sharp rise in anti-Asian xenophobia across the world due to coronavirus. Ever since, the hashtag has consistently been used to share stories of racism during the pandemic.
Protesting is nothing new for Ma, who has spent much of his life fighting bigotry and unjust structures. He grew up fighting his way out of attacks from other schoolchildren on Staten Island; in 1974, he was arrested for protesting discriminatory hiring practices at Confucius Plaza in Manhattan’s Chinatown. After repeatedly being asked to play villainous kung fu caricatures early in his career, he set strict rules for himself about what roles he would and would not take. While his credits piled up—including Rush Hour, 24 and NYPD Blue—he frequently sparred with writers and directors about his token characters’ lack of depth.