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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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The Asian Cultural Alliance presents: Dante Basco


On Nov. 16, Loyola’s African, Latinx, Asian, and Native American Services (ALANA) and Asian Cultural Alliance (ACA) hosted a Q&A webinar with actor, writer, producer, and director Dante Basco. ACA executive board members Kayte Rooney ‘22 and Carly Dacanay ‘23 hosted the event and asked Basco questions during the hour-long webinar. Basco spoke of his career thus far working as a prominent Asian-American actor in Hollywood, more general Asian-American representation in the industry today, as well as projects he currently has in development. 

Dante Basco is a well-known Filipino-American actor, writer, producer, and director known specifically for his roles as Rufio in the 1991 film “Hook” and as the voice of Prince Zuko in the animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” He is also recognized as the voice of Jake Long in Disney’s animated series “American Dragon: Jake Long” and has worked as a producer and director for multiple projects. Basco has an extremely impressive resume, spanning over 30 years in the business. 

The event began with ALANA’s opening remarks, including a reiteration of their mission statement, and moved to acknowledge the land of Indigenous Peoples upon which the country, and Baltimore specifically, resides.

Basco first spoke of his start in Hollywood in the early 1990s. At this time, Asian-Americans were extremely underrepresented in the industry. According to Basco, he would meet people who didn’t know “what a Filipino was.”  For a long time, the only Asian-American representation on screen was the character Long Duk Dong in the 1984 film “Sixteen Candles,” which is now recognized as a racist stereotype of the Asian community. Basco remarked that people today approach him and say that his portrayal of Rufio in “Hook” was the first positive Asian-American representation in Hollywood. 

“People that grew up watching the work I did, they’ll be like, ‘You’re the first cool Asian I’ve ever seen on film and television,’” Basco said. He spoke of coming onto the film scene with the possibility to show more dimensions of what it is to be Asian in America. When Basco met Jon M. Chu, the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), Chu told him seeing him as Rufio “made [him] feel like [he] could be part of Hollywood.” 

Basco later talked about his experience working for the Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender. When Basco was first informed of the project, he said he didn’t think it would be picked up. He remarked that the show was so unlike Nickelodeon’s other projects at the time. Their biggest animated shows to date were “Spongebob” and “CatDog” and, when reading the script of an epic hero story placed in an Asian-inspired folklore adventure, Basco was surprised. 

“When I was doing it I had a lot of great fun, it was really cool, but then I didn’t really understand the impact it was having when it came out,” Basco said. 

At the time, Basco was filming another project in Toronto and recording remotely for Prince Zuko. His first inclination of the show’s success was when another 21-year-old actor on set caught wind that Basco was working for “Avatar. Basco recalled that, when the other actor heard, “he started freaking out. And this was an adult… he said, ‘That’s my show.’” 

Basco remarked that little by little, the show started seeing the phenomenon of what “Avatar” became. 

Recently, the series has regained popularity after Netflix uploaded it to its streaming service in May. Shortly thereafter, it hit no. 1 on Netflix. Speaking of its resurgence, Basco said the whole cast was fascinated. He partially attributes its popularity to the world climate of today. 

“I think the story of ‘Avatar’ is just a great story… But especially in a year like this where we’re talking about balancing the world out, talking about government stuff… ‘Avatar’ is this unique cartoon that tackles so many big, big issues in a light-hearted way, in a way kids can digest it, and also adults can digest it,” he said. 

Basco closed the webinar by talking about the status of Asian-American representation today. He references the movement of the last few years for more Asian filmmaking and storytelling. Today, Asians in Hollywood are at the highest profile they’ve been since the beginning of the industry. The 2018 film “Crazy Rich Asians” caused a paradigm shift in film. But Basco mentioned that the work is not close to done. He stated that the Asian-American community must lay the groundwork in order to reach long-term goals of perpetual representation. 

“Some of it is working with studios and getting studio films made, another is independent films. We shouldn’t have a ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ film out… once a year. We should have a film that comes out every month,” Basco said. He ended with a message to young Asian-American filmmakers and artists: keep the fight for better representation alive.

Event moderator and president Rooney remarked on the event afterward. She said: 

“The Dante Basco x ACA event was such a success and it is largely due to the amazing work of the ACA’s  Executive Board. The board worked as a team to get everything in place. I have to highlight the work of ACA’s Vice President, Kelley Chan as she was an integral part of the event’s success. She took on the role of contacting Basco’s publicist and was the main line of communication between ACA and Basco’s team, with the assistance of ALANA’s Assistant Director, Julie Rivera…. [The Executive Board] put in so much work for this event and I can’t thank them enough for all their hard work this semester. We hoped that this event would help highlight the importance of Asian American representation in the media in all its various formats but also bring some joy as Basco has impacted many student’s childhoods. As the semester ends, ACA wanted to have our last event be something memorable to all and we hoped it made the semester seem a little brighter.” 

Attendees of the event agree with Rooney’s sentiments. Elisa Renta ‘21, attendee, said: 

“Getting the opportunity to ‘meet’ Dante Basco was kind of emotional, especially during this time. Basco has been such a big part of my childhood, and with the recent resurgence of ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ during quarantine, his message of unity and finding balance within yourself and your surroundings was so impactful and motivational.” 

Be sure to look for Dante Basco’s upcoming projects in the future.

Featured Image courtesy of MomoCon Photos via Flickr Creative Commons

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The Asian Cultural Alliance presents: Dante Basco