Westworld's Leonardo Nam Denounces Coronavirus Racism: 'COVID-19 Doesn't Care What You Look Like'
"Let’s stop racializing this pandemic and call it what it is: COVID-19. Period. Now, let’s get on with unifying the country to save lives and the economy," the actor writes in an essay for PEOPLE
Leonardo Nam plays Felix Lutz on HBO’s Westworld, and has roles on CBS’ MacGyver and the upcoming HBO series Room 104. He was raised in Sydney, Australia by his Korean immigrant parents and currently lives in San Diego with his husband and twin toddlers.
Westworld is a dark and dystopian world of “us versus them.” And Westworld is a work of fiction, but in these anxious times, some of the show’s themes feel a little too close to reality. My character, Felix Lutz, is a kind and compassionate soul trying to bring light and humanity into the world in the face of darkness. Similarly, right now is a time to bring light and humanity into the world to unify and combat COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, together.
With the growing number of shelter-in-place orders across the country, it is obvious that we need unity now more than ever. This unification effort must start at the top. Unfortunately, when our President uses divisive language, like the term “Chinese Virus,” or when his aides use terms like “Kung Fu Flu” in an attempt to blame others and deflect criticism regarding the President’s initial response to the outbreak, it promotes an “us versus them” mentality. [Ed. note: President Trump insists he doesn’t have racial motives behind his language and his aides have denounced reports of officials calling it the “kung flu.”]
Violence and harassment of Asian Americans is on an alarming rise since the outbreak of Covid-19. Asian Americans are being assaulted on the street, bullied in our schools, and unjustly accused of spreading the disease. While these misguided racist and xenophobic attacks may not be the direct result of the President’s language, his words do matter.
As Dr. Ravi Chandra, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, states in Psychology Today, “Racist words from the top lead to racist actions by those disinhibited by the president’s rhetoric and dog whistles.” By playing the “blame game,” he is stoking the flames of fear and divisiveness instead of educating and unifying the country. This disease was not caused nor spread by a specific group of people, it is spread through contact history and travel patterns. Let’s stop racializing this pandemic and call it what it is: COVID-19. Period. Now, let’s get on with unifying the country to save lives and the economy.
Like many of you, I am blessed to be spending extra time with my family during this Shelter at Home period. As the father of twin 3-year-old boys, I witness the “blame game” whenever one of them feels threatened or distressed. I am teaching them to resist the impulse to blame by empathizing and modeling taking responsibility. While I don’t always succeed, I’m doing my best to teach my boys to “repair” hurt feelings and make things better when they do fall into the blame game. I can only hope that our President will learn to do the same by focusing on making things better rather than pitting one group of people against another.
Let’s all remain united – and wash your hands! As my Westworld character’s counterpart Sylvester said about washing your hands with soap, you need “bubbles. You don’t make little bubbles, it isn’t doing s–t…” Remember, COVID-19 doesn’t care what you look like, so be kind to one another and we will defeat this together.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.