“Mulan” star Tzi Ma is frequently recognized for his many film and television roles, including in last year’s indie hit “The Farewell” and the “Rush Hour” films. But it was an encounter weeks ago that has stayed with him.
Ma had visited a Whole Foods grocery store in Pasadena, Calif., when a car approached him as he made his way to the entrance.
“He rolls down the window and goes, ‘You should be quarantined,’ and then he took off,” Ma told Variety. He said he stood, speechless, before unleashing screams at the verbal assaulter, who was by then long gone.
“I just went numb. You know how you go cold? You just go cold and numb,” he said. “This is emotional. This affected my psyche.”
Ma, who is Chinese American, is not alone. Since the coronavirus pandemic has spread around the globe, so has a virus of a different type: racism and xenophobia directed at the Asian American community in the form of verbal and physical assaults, which have undergone an alarming uptick since the outbreak started.
President Trump’s insistence on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” has many Asian Americans on edge that they will be subject to more hate crimes if they’re in public spaces, doing routine things like taking public transportation.
To combat coronavirus-related anti-Asian sentiment and raise awareness of anti-Asian bigotry, Ma and other Asian American celebrities, with IW Group, launched the #WashTheHate social media campaign on Wednesday. Participants — including Ma, Celia Au (“Wu Assassins”), Ludi Lin (“Power Rangers,” “Black Mirror”) and Osric Chau (“Supernatural”) — have posted videos of themselves washing their hands for 20 seconds while sharing a personal story about how the virus has impacted their lives.
The CDC says washing one’s hands thoroughly for 20 seconds is an effective way to prevent people from getting sick and is considered a first line of defense for stopping the spread of viruses, like coronavirus.
“It’s a time for us to come together and not be racist,” Au said. “How are we going to fight this disease together when we’re all segregated and everyone’s pigeon-holing one another?”
Korean American actor Daniel Dae Kim, who revealed on Thursday that he has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, echoed the sentiment in video posted to Instagram, saying, “Please, please stop the prejudice and senseless violence against Asian people. Randomly beating elderly, sometimes homeless Asian Americans is cowardly, heartbreaking and it’s inexcusable. Yes, I’m Asian, and yes, I have coronavirus, but I did not get it from China. I got it in America, in New York City.”
Ma added that he hopes other members of the Asian American community will continue to take heed if they head out into public spaces.
“I think we all need to be very vigilant. I think we all need to be a little bit more hypersensitive to our surroundings, keep our eyes and ears open,” he said.
He would also like perpetrators of anti-Asian racism to question their own motives.
“Does it stop the virus? I don’t think so. Does it make you immune to the virus? I don’t think so. With this kind of hatred, you’re going to be sick, ‘cause it can’t be good for you,” Ma said.
Disney’s “Mulan” held its premiere event in Hollywood on March 9 ahead of a scheduled Mar. 27 global bow in theaters. But coronavirus-related fears, and the closing of theaters in the U.S. and China, have delayed its release.
Ma sees the film’s postponement as a blessing in disguise, as he hopes a later release might put the film on the awards season radar, especially Yifei Liu, who stars in the title role.
“If you look at Yifei’s performance, it’s really Oscar worthy in my mind,” he said. “I believe the cast has tremendous potential in being recognized.”