'Cobra Kai' star Tamlyn Tomita asks: Where are the Filipino nurses on US TV?


Posted at Jan 05 2021 02:52 PM

Tamlyn Tomita, who reprised her role as Kumiko in the third season of the Netflix series “Cobra Kai,” has been fighting for authentic onscreen representation ever since she landed her breakout role in "The Karate Kid Part II,” which was released back in 1986.

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times published on January 1, Tomita revealed that when she was offered to do Kumiko again, she thought it would be fun to do.

“But the only caveat is that because I’m older, because I’m a little bit more knowledgeable and I’m going to fight for it anyway — I need to be able to inject a truer picture of Okinawa,” she told the newspaper.

In the series, Tomita said she did her best “to inject as much Okinawan as I could” to her character.

“I’m so lucky, because I have the ability and the privilege and the luxury to say no. If they’re not, I’m not going to be saddled with another interpretation of what Okinawa is. It was that important to me to bring three pieces of luggage with Okinawan artifacts and art that could color the world and the sets that I was on, to reflect what it means to be Okinawan. And I have to give credit to the Okinawa Association of America in Gardena,” she said.

Speaking of bringing authentic cultural heritage onscreen, Tomita revealed that she has also been fighting to see more Filipino representation in Hollywood.

“Another thing that I continue to fight for especially during this pandemic time is the representation of Filipino nurses on medical dramas throughout the decades of American television,” she said.

“I fought for a Filipino nurse regular on [‘The Good Doctor’] in the writers room for all three years. But shooting in Canada, there’s not a lot of opportunity for persons of Filipino heritage. It’s something that I’m always very cognizant of. Where are the Filipino nurses? Whether they’re Filipino born or American born, that’s what’s been missing in a lot of the storytelling of American television,” she added.

Tomita said being part Filipino is something that she is very proud of although she defers to other Filipino-American artists and storytellers “because they are closer to the true Filipino experience.”

Nonetheless, Tomita, whose mother is Okinawan-Filipina, said she is always seeking out Filipino stories. 

“I’m there to be the cheerleader, to be the amplifier, to be the spotlight focus person to say, these stories exist. And outside my own personal heritages there are so many stories out there that I’ve had the opportunity to tell. I’ve played Vietnamese, I’ve played Hmong, but I know there are actors out there of those ethnicities who could have played them more authentically and more truthfully,” she said.

As such, Tomita is encouraging anybody in the arts that “if you can reflect your heritage and you want to — you don’t have to all the time! — be brave and ask, ‘Can I do it?’”

“Because I didn’t know that during ‘Karate Kid II.’ I didn’t ask anybody. But [have] the courage to say, ‘Can we do this? Because it’s a beautiful part of my culture and being an American I’d like to introduce the whole world to this. That’s what I’d like to convey.’ We have more power than we think we do,” she said.

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