The Unforgettable Gala lived up to its name Saturday night, delivering memorable speeches and performances.
The annual event — now in its 15th year — celebrated Asian-American trailblazers and their achievements in the entertainment industry. The gala was created by James Ryu, founder and publisher of the award-winning magazines KoreAm Journal and Audrey Magazine, and now the website Kore (a subsidiary of London Trust Media).
“Star Trek” actor George Takei joked on the red carpet about receiving the ICON Award. “Well all the icons I know are dead, I’m very much alive,” he told Variety. “I’m going to redefine what they mean by icon.”
Indeed, not only is the veteran actor alive, he’s had a career resurgence with his play “Allegiance,” cameos on “Hawaii Five-0,” and preparing for a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Pacific Overtures.”
But it’s his political statements — as a citizen who was forced into internment camps during World War II — that have perhaps had the biggest impact this year.
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John Cho, who reprised the role of Sulu that Takei originated, noted Takei’s activism when presenting the award. “You’ve always reminded me of the ideals of ‘Star Trek’ — infinite diversity in infinite combinations — [which] is being assailed in our country right now,” Cho said somberly. “This is a dark time for people of color, for non-Christians, for LGBT citizens, for our ecology, and for our Constitution itself. We are being tested as a people in a historically unique way. I want to thank George for always using his prolific platform and in turn risking to speak out when he has seen injustice. In this way, George, you have never been a model minority.”
Takei kept his acceptance speech apolitical, instead recognizing how far Asians have come in the industry. The rest of the night was lighthearted, with host Jeannie Mai joking between awards, with some help from her mom. At times it seemed to be a forum for their funny mother-daughter comedy act.
Other winners included Ken Jeong, who was name Actor of the Year; Wong Fu Productions, recipients of the Digital Influencer Award; Brian Tee, winner of the BMW’s Ultimate Drive Award; Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Director of the Year for “Kung Fu Panda 3”; and Steve Aoki, who received the Music Vanguard Award.
Performers included K-Pop artists Eric Nam, Boys in Groove, and Dean, singer Kina Grannis, and the East West Players theater troupe.
Other celebrities in attendance included the casts of “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Dr. Ken,” “Empire’s” Terrence Howard, Ming-Na Wen, “Edge of Seventeen’s” Hayden Szeto, and “Moana” herself, Auli’i Cravalho.
Perhaps Cravalho, a Pacific Islander who burst on the scene this year and is ruling the box office, put it best. “We’re certainly a minority but we’re beautiful and we’re strong and we’re making a really big impact in the entertainment industry.”
The Unforgettable Gala was sponsored for the first time by BMW of North America