Asian Superheroes. The perfect intersection of two of my passions: racial diversity, in particular the representation of those who look like me, and the stars of my favourite medium, ie. comic books. It was just earlier today that I picked up the second issue of Silk, which [as briefly mentioned in another post] features Marvel’s newest hero, a Korean-American who received her powers from the same spider that bit Peter Parker.
Similar to Spider-Man she has enhanced speed, strength, reflexes, and a danger detection system [aka. her self-coined “Silk-Sense”] as well as her very own ability to create biological webs from her fingertips. Other favourites from the same publisher include Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, an Avenger at the time of this writing. He primarily relies on his master of martial arts, an ability which didn’t keep him from participating in an intergalatic war to save the universe. Another is Amadeus Cho, a teenager who attained the title of “7th Smartest Man in the World” and frequently took down superhuman assailants with only his intelligence and whatever else was available. Yes, at one point one of those superhuman assailants was the Hulk. The Hulk.
Each of these heroes is wildly different from the next, but share a few key similarities [besides their belonging to Marvel and being of East Asian descent]. The first is the quality that makes them heroes, the self-sacrificial desire to protect the innocent and defeat those who would do them harm. The second is that I would love to see any and all of them make it to the big screen one day, to fight alongside the White, square-jawed Chrises of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The third is that every one of them is a work of fiction.
Bradley Katsuyama is a real-life currently existing person. He is an Asian-Canadian and has been a doer of objectively heroic actions surrounding the investigation and consequent combating of algorithms that preyed on unwitting investors. While not the intellectual property of a company creating and producing recent years’ largest blockbusters he is the focus of the novel Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, a film adaptation of which Aaron Sorkin is set to write the screenplay for. Yet at this point Katsuyama is no closer to having his story told than Shang-Chi or any of the rest of them.
The Sony Pictures hack unveiled a lot, but among the myriad of planned projects [including a Jump Street/Men in Black crossover, yes please] was the revelation that the studio was moving forward with bringing Flash Boys to theatres the world over. SPE co-chairman Amy Pascal sent an email to the president of Columbia Pictures and a few others lashing out at Sorkin, reminding them that they had “paid him his insane fee on [sic] flashboys”, and that the screenwriter appeared to be doing everything he could to get out of it. [That link also states that the amount was very likely in the millions of dollars].
Now over at Fiction Diversity, a blog that you should all check out as Em Liu is passionate about many of the same things I am [see: the title of her blog], guest contributor John Entrada covered this very topic, helpfully listing the reasons Sorkin gave for his hesitancy to take on the job he had already been paid for. They are as follows [the quoted segments are from one of Sorkin’s own emails]:
- No precedent. “There’s no precedent for stories about high frequency trading creating a stampede to the box office.”
- Flash Boys has no plot. “I need time to come up with a plot as one doesn’t exist in the book.”
- Flash Boys’ protagonist is Asian. “The protagonist is Asian-American (Actually Asian-Canadian) and there aren’t any Asian movie stars.”
In his post John provides a rebuttal of each point, and while he was able to do so having read the book as a whole I feel like my more limited experience with it, having listened to almost five hours of the audiobook [nearly half of the full length] provides me with my own slightly different perspective.
To begin with, the first point is obviously moot, especially coming from Aaron Sorkin. Prior to The Social Network there wasn’t a film about any, well, you know [and no, The MySpace Movie, cornerstone of my youth that it is, doesn’t count]. It was due in large part to his screenplay that a subject as seemingly dull as the creation of Facebook was able to garner eight Oscar nominations. This is feigned ignorance at best.
The second point is what my introduction to this topic centres around, the perceived lack of narrative within Katsuyama’s story. Now John, who again has read the entire book, breaks it down into three decently sized paragraphs. I can do you one better. Here’s the plot in a single sentence:
“Brad Katsuyama sees that people are being taken advantage of and takes risks in order to combat those capitalizing on their inability to defend themselves.”
Given that this blog post hasn’t run on for too long at this point, you might recall that it’s essentially my breakdown of what a hero is, someone who has “the self-sacrificial desire to protect the innocent and defeat those who would do them harm”, just somewhat more specific. That makes him a hero in my eyes, whether or not that’s a word he would personally use to refer to himself. That’s my main issue with Sorkin’s defence, such as it is, that as a writer he claims the need to “come up with a plot” when the simplest one known to man stares him straight in the face.
At this point we [by which I mean “I”] would do well to admit that Sorkin clearly didn’t [and doesn’t] want to write this screenplay. Before we get to his third point I’ll introduce a fourth that John chose to omit, which is that apparently the project “is research intensive”, which more or less equates to it being too hard.
Considering how much he was very likely being paid, I cannot think of a better use of this gif:
And now, ah yes, the fourth point. I fully understand that this was meant to be a private email and not meant to be scrutinized as any kind of official statement, but I will note that Sorkin says not “there aren’t any bankable Asian movie stars” but that “there aren’t any Asian movie stars.” If this were actually true it would make him a worse person than Avi Arad, who acknowledges a shift in the industry but does nothing about it. In all honesty it’s ridiculous to consider that he isn’t aware of any existing, especially considering that Lucy Liu and Jet Li were very much household names at one point, though it is indicative of how highly he might consider them.
Both John and Em have put together short posts that very graciously assist the screenwriter in casting the film, finding Hollywood talent for not just Katsuyama himself but also a few other Asian characters who would appear in an accurate retelling of the story. I say with no small amount of shame that while I don’t know nearly enough Asian actors to do the same [which shouldn’t stop you from tweeting your own suggestions with the hashtag #TheSorkinChallenge], I would encourage you to check out their lists and take note of all the talent that does exist out there.
These are clearly answers to the call to action that John makes at the end of his post on Fiction Diversity, ending with the line “If you believe that the Flash Boys story is an important American story, there’s a lot you can do.” While what they did is one alternative I would be more than happy to present another.
To begin with, let’s acknowledge how impressive it is that the people at Sony appear to be legitimately committed to making a Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt film. It is a risky venture considering the content, which is not the most thrilling at first glance, and the fact that it likely will not feature a well-known actors in the lead role. At the very least we should give them credit in the traditional sense, which is to sit in front of our computer and nod and think “Good for them“. It would also be good for us to give them credit in a more active sense.
The #TheSorkinChallenge hashtag is a great first step, because it’s meant to create buzz on social media and ultimately perpetuate the conversation about the novel and the film. Ultimately all I really want is Hollywood movies about Asian heroes, “super” or otherwise, and the best way to do that is to communicate as best we can to the studios that these are stories worth telling, movies that we would line up to see. Tweet at Sony Pictures, harangue them on Facebook, do a thing to them on Instagram [I don’t know how Instagram works]! Just by writing this I’m adding my voice to what I hope are the many that want to see this get made, with or without Sorkin’s involvement.
This blog post is just a drop in what I hope to be a bucket overflowing with support for Flash Boys. Asian heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s a Brad Katsuyama-sized hole just waiting to be filled right now.