Olivia Munn speaks out in wake of violence against Asian Americans
Asian American celebrities are speaking out in the wake of recent violent attacks, some against senior citizens in a number of high-profile cases.
A man was caught on video this month violently throwing a Chinese woman to the ground outside a bakery in New York City. The woman received stitches in her head, and the incident sparked a push for his arrest on social media, including from actress Olivia Munn.
“We have a mutual friend ... and he's like, ‘Hey, look what happened to Sam's mom,’ and seeing the video, it was heartbreaking,” Munn, 40, of “X-Men: Apocalypse,” said in an interview with NBC News’ Snapchat show "Stay Tuned."
"It was just immediate that we had to post it, amplify it. I asked Twitter, Instagram, the internet to do its thing and to help us. And thankfully, they did.”
The man in the video, Patrick Mateo, 47, was arrested within a week of the attack. He was charged with assault and harassment. The NYPD said "numerous tips from the community" played a key role in the arrest.
Mateo said in a text exchange with NBC News that the video circulating of the incident was selectively edited and that the complete video from multiple angles would vindicate him.
He also said the victim sprayed mace into his face and "I had to defend myself."
Sam Cheng, the son of the woman attacked, recalled his reaction when his mom came home after the incident.
“Absolutely furious. She came home, and she didn’t show me her face. She was very reluctant because she knew that I would have been furious and I would have wanted to do something about it,” he said.
Stop AAPI Hate, an organization tracking anti-Asian incidents nationwide, reported more than 2,800 accounts of hate toward Asian Americans from March 19, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020. But activists warn that these numbers may be underreported.
“For many, many reasons, they don't they don't want to report what happened to them because it's shameful. They're scared about, you know, fear of reprisal,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, the executive director of Asian American Federation.
"A lot of immigrant immigrants come from countries where your interaction with the police is not necessarily a positive thing. And so people don't report things,” she said.
And this feeling of lack of safety is something Munn said she understands well.
“We're not safe in this country, you know, as minorities, we're not safe, our Asian community is not safe.” Munn said she thinks Asian immigrants often don’t report bias incidents “because we don't really feel like this is our country. We don't feel like the police are there to support us, that the government is there to support us, that our fellow Americans are seeing us as fellow Americans.”
She says after the rise in social media posts after the Black Lives Matter protests last year, she became more vigilant on noticing who in her circle was staying silent on Asian American issues.
“We're doing the vaccination. People are kind of getting back out to the world. So then they're not stuck at home anymore. So they're like, ‘Do we have to care about the Asian-American community?’” Munn said. “And the truth is that to me, when I see this, your performative self is showing me who you are with your silence. It doesn't cost anybody anything to tweet or to post the story.”
“Does it have to happen to my mother for you to care? Why? Why can't you just care? she added.
Growing up in Japan and Oklahoma, Munn said she always tried to embody her Vietnamese and Chinese heritage, and she wants to use her platform to stand up for her people.
“I'm an Asian American woman. This is my lane," she said. "And my mom did always instill in me the fight to go up against anything that is wrong, to fight for justice, to fight for people who can't fight for them, for themselves. And right now, our Asian elders need us to fight for them.” Munn said.
Sam Cheng says his mom’s attack has inspired him to fight for the Asian American community even more.
“I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. And I've been given a chance to speak up for my community and I want to hit it.”
This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.