In the early days of his acting career, when most roles offered to Asian American actors were caricatures or stereotypes, Mako took just such a part and used it to open the doors of Hollywood and Broadway to others.
In the 1966 film "The Sand Pebbles," he played the Chinese character Po-han, who spoke pidgin English, called the white sailors in the movie "master," and treated them as such. But through the power of his acting, Mako transformed Po-han and compelled the audience to empathize and identify with the engine-room "coolie."
The portrayal earned Mako an Academy Award nomination, which he used to continue his push for more and better roles for Asian American actors.
Mako, who in 1965 co-founded East West Players, the nation's first Asian American theater company, died Friday of esophageal cancer at his home in the Ventura County town of Somis. He was 72.
I have been a fan of his since The Sand Pebbles. His obituary is fascinating. Please read.