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They never say die: Hollywood should have listened to "The Goonies"

Salon 3/13/2023 Alison Stine

Kevin Winter/Getty Images © Provided by Salon Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What may have been one of the best moments of Oscar night happened early, when Ke Huy Quan accepted the best supporting actor trophy for his role in the highly decorated "Everything Everywhere All At Once." In an emotional speech, Quan thanked his wife, Echo, "who month after month, year after year for 20 years, told me that one day my time will come."

It was a moving moment that recalled one of Quan's previously most famous films, "The Goonies." In the 1985 Richard Donner-directed adventure, Quan plays one of a group of kids who follow an old pirate map in search of treasure that will save their homes from being demolished by greedy developers. At a key moment in the film, Quan and the others are underground, at the bottom of a well, wet and exhausted, and Mikey (Sean Astin) must convince them to stay and keep looking for the treasure. He pleads, "Down here it's our time. It's our time down here."

Quan's time has come at last and he has found his treasure, shiny and gold. It only took 38 more years.

Quan got his break as a child in 1984, playing Short Round, the scene-stealing and enterprising, young (very young) getaway driver and personal assistant for Harrison Ford's Indy in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." A year later came the part in "The Goonies." Quan portrayed Data, a kid inventor whose contraptions more often than not fail to work exactly as intended. The part — and the movie — were and continue to be beloved.

"It's our time down here," became the rallying cry for the film (as it was for the Goonies themselves). You can get the line on T-shirts, posters, mugs, a cross stitchIt's the headline for a LinkedIn article on motivating teams. 

What we don't consider, don't want to think about, is this: he was trying all this time. 

Because it was about more than saving the neighborhood in "The Goonies." It was about saving a kind of life, one with struggle but still deserving of dignity and respect. Those weren't fancy houses the developers wanted to raze. They were lived-in, worn, in need of repair. And the bad guy developers wanted to turn them into a golf course, turning out the families in the process. The "Goonies" cry was anti-adult in the film ("They gotta do what's right for them cause it's their time up there"), but over the years, it's become anti-establishment, anti-rich. Adults and the land-grabbing capitalists can have their manicured lawns. But kids in the damp, dangerous underworld will inherit the earth. 

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And it was their time for most of the other actors in the film. It was their time a long time ago and it continued to be.

Astin worked steadily after "The Goonies," starring in "Rudy" and becoming the definitive Samwise Gamgee in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, among many other high-profile roles. He even made a comeback as Bob in "Stranger Things." Corey Feldman was one of the most famous faces of the 1980s, appearing in "Gremlins," "Stand By Me," "The Lost Boys," "The 'Burbs." Martha Plimpton performed on Broadway, racking up three Tony nods; she scored a Prime Time Emmy nomination for "Raising Hope" and later won for "The Good Wife." Josh Brolin became . . . well, Josh Brolin. You may know him as Thanos, among many many roles.

The Goonies © Provided by Salon The Goonies "The Goonies" (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Every performer who won an acting Oscar this year was over the age of 50.

But Quan struggled to find work after "The Goonies." (In his Oscar speech, he gave a shout-out to his "'Goonies' brother for life Jeff Cohen," who played Chunk in the film and who also had a hard time finding acting roles afterward.) Quan appeared on "Head of the Class" and "Encino Man." Then things fell away. He earned a degree from USC School of Cinematic Arts, worked as a stunt coordinator and assistant director. He couldn't find parts in front of the camera. He wasn't cast in them.

Anyone who saw and loved "Goonies" over the years surely thought of Quan, wondered what had happened to him. Every time "Goonies" was on TV or showing in theaters again, we would remember and question. Where is he? Why did he just disappear? 

We tell ourselves he must have wanted to quit. We tell ourselves he must be on to other things, better things than acting. Maybe this dream was a childhood dream or a dream that wasn't even his. What we don't consider, don't want to think about, is this: he was trying all this time. He never went away. Only the roles did. And their drying up has more to do with Hollywood's racist failure of imagination and its limited idea of storytelling than any absence of talent on the actor's part.

The embrace of Quan, the universal outpouring of love, joy and excitement for his comeback should send the message, louder than an organ made out of bones, more powerful than Data's pop-out boxing gloves: we need different stories. We need different storytellers. Every performer who won an acting Oscar this year was over the age of 50.

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Vietnam-born Quan told the story of his journey beginning "on a boat," of spending "a year in a refugee camp." He said, "I cannot believe it's happening to me." We are hungry for all voices. Most of all: real ones, faces that tell the stories of lives lived, of disappointments, struggle and attempts. Of the trying, always trying, even when the world you're trying to break into keeps attempting to leave you behind. 

In his speech, Quan said, "Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine." He then pointed at the camera, with tears in his eyes. "To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive." Goonies never say die. 

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