Masi Oka has an improv background and computer science degree, and worked for George Lucas’ visual effects studio, ILM, before acting.
His first leading role is ‘Hiro Nakamura’ in the TV series Heroes [dvd].
[The image is from Wired magazine – The 2007 Rave Awards.]
On the Tavis Smiley Show April 27, 2007, he addressed stereotyping and expectations related to high intelligence:
Masi Oka: You see, I’d rather kind of lower everyone’s expectations. I’d rather be kind of dumb and exceed peoples’ expectations rather than like raise the bar and not be able to meet it, which is like constantly my life.
Tavis Smiley: The flip side of that, though, I would think, Masi, is being burdened by the intellect. You ever feel burdened? That is to say, the expectation on you from your parents and others is so great because they know your IQ is high?
Oka: Yeah, my mom definitely had a very high expectation of me, and myself as well. I’ve learned through the years that it’s much easier to live if you lower your expectations.
Smiley: Let me go back earlier to something you said.. this notion of Asians being smart. I mean, that is a stereotype and every race gets stereotyped in certain ways.
I guess if you’re going to be stereotyped, being smart ain’t the worst way to be stereotyped, but how do you navigate being an Asian and being stereotyped as expected to be smart because you are Asian?
Oka: It’s interesting. It’s an expectation. I mean, there are some truths just because of our education background. The systems in Asian tend to be a lot more strict and there’s a higher expectation.
The level in education in Japan, especially public education, seems to have a higher quality. But it comes more of like more discipline. The education system is a lot more stricter. They have a lot of hard work ethic.
You know, that’s just a generalization. I mean, you see a lot of Caucasian folks who are really smart and a lot of Asian kids who aren’t smart at all. So a stereotype does come from some truth, but it’s only a sampling of it. Some of us kind of perpetuate that stereotype and some of us don’t.
Smiley: Part of what we hear at least that is in part, again, behind the stereotype of Asians being smart is the parental expectation, the parental drive.
You started talking to me earlier about your parents, but every time I read an article or I’m in a conversation about why the Asians who are smart, are smart, the reason for that is that the parents drive them to achieve in that way.
Oka: Without a doubt. I think that goes true with any kind of immigrants who’s come from a different country or who came from not as a wealthy family.
You know, they want their kids to succeed. So they came to America to fulfill their dreams, you know, to pursue their life and to have a better life for their children, for their next generation.
That’s why I think there’s a lot of parental expectation and a drive to kind of push their kids harder so they can achieve and have the American dream that everyone talks about.
So I think if you’re born here, you take it for granted and there’s not as much of a stronger drive possibly.
Smiley: Speaking of stereotypes, though, you fit in in every way. You’re smart, your IQ is high –
Oka: – and I’m a bad driver too.