Just to start with, I honestly don’t think anyone expected to see Scarlett Johansson mercilessly gunning down Asians in two separate movies:
Lucy (2014) – “You speak English?” *BLAM*
Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Well, at least they’re armed this time.
That’s a bit of a tangent, but still relevant as this was sparked by the live-action Ghost in the Shell adaptation, which premiered in theatres across the country today. It’s also worth starting things out with a diversion, if only because I didn’t want you to get into a breakdown of the title a split second after reading it.
FACT: All Asian Americans are Asian by definition, but not all Asians are Asian Americans. The truth is that most Asians aren’t. While they may share an ethnic heritage, as well as many cultural similarities, Asian people who were born and raised in and reside in an Asian country have vastly different wants and needs and priorities than those who were born and raised in and reside in North America [and other non-Asian countries].
For the purposes of clarity I will be referring to the former as “Asians”, and the latter as “Asian Americans”.
With all of that being said, it should be obvious that Asians and Asian Americans also have very different views when it comes to their shared representation in Western media. Continue reading
Posted in America, Asia, bizarreness, film, race, television
Tagged Asia, asian, Asian-American, casting, demographic, Ghost In The Shell, Japan, Japanese, Lucy, opinion, opportunity, perspective, race, representation, Scarlett Johansson, whitewashing
The following is research that was done for my post titled “The K’un-Lun of Netflix’s Iron Fist [Within the Larger Context]”, as a means of supporting one of my points. Due to its length I decided to dedicate another short post to it to avoid adding to what was already too lengthy an article.
I would encourage you to read that one in full, though this should certainly be interesting enough on its own.
For the vast majority of my blog posts about Marvel comic books I refer to the Marvel Database, an unofficial wiki updated by fans. While that format can and does lend itself to the occasional error, the citations at the bottom of the page referring to specific runs and issue numbers allow for fact-checking if needed. At this point in time there are no direct mentions to K’un-Lun being anything other than one of the Capital Cities of Heaven, besides a heading for the alien race the H’ylthri with no text underneath it.
However a number of other sources have slightly differing origins. Comic Vine, another well-regarded comic book wiki, mentions on its entry for the city that:
“K’un-Lun is the stronghold of a colony of humanoid aliens, place of origin unknown, whose spaceship crash-landed upon a small, extradimensional world, approximately a million years ago.”
Unfortunately there are no citations listed anywhere. This tidbit of information is also listed on Marvel Directory, a largely defunct site that appears to have been last updated in 2015. Their entry categorizes K’un-Lun as an “Alien world” and only refers to the issue where the location first appeared, Marvel Premiere #15. As far as anything from Marvel themselves, the page on the publisher’s own wiki currently does not exist.
Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1, #69. Written by Jo Duffy and Steven Grant, illustrated by Alan Weiss.
Posted in Asia, bizarreness, race, writing
Tagged alien, aliens, Asia, asian, Capital Cities of Heaven, China, Chinese, comic books, extraterrestrial, H'ylthri, human, Iron Fist, K'un-Lun, Marvel, research
Technically my posts are supposed to go up on Friday. As loyal readers may have noticed, and much to my chagrin, my tendency as of late has been to put them up on Saturday, and sometimes even Sunday. This is one of those very rare instances where I’m glad I took some time to get to a particular topic.
See, this Thursday I came across the Comic Book Resources headline “Finn Jones On Iron Fist Criticism: ‘Danny Is Not A White Savior’”, which I ended up clicking on against my better judgement.
The actor begins by empathizing with those who might be upset about Netflix’s latest upcoming Marvel project, saying:
“I understand where this frustration comes from. I understand the need for more diversity in television and films, especially for Asian actors. I understand that frustration. I agree with it, and I stand in solidarity with that voice.”
I filled my lifetime quota for Well-Meaning White Person™ responses with Tilda Swinton last year, though, so there’s only so much Jones’ attempts at allyship could do to affect me. What really riled me up, to the point where I was going to lean hard into the style of my co-writer Gordon’s profanity-laden rage posts, was what he mentioned a little later on:
“People from all over the world, all different cultures come from K’un-Lun, so it isn’t just this Asian-specific culture. You have people from Brazil there, you have people from Europe there. It’s a multicultural intergalactic alternate dimension.”
Fortunately I’ve since been able to calm down, so let’s take a few steps back and start from the top. Continue reading
Posted in Asia, comics, film, media, race, television
Tagged alternate dimension, Asia, asian, Big Hero 6, casting, China, Chinese, Danny Rand, Doctor Strange, Finn Jones, fish out of water, Iron Fist, K'un-Lun, Kamar-Taj, Kunlun, Marvel, multicultural, netflix, race, representation, San Fransokyo, White Savior, white saviour
I began the first installment of this two-parter making note of the long and ultimately wearying experience it has been, starting with Doctor Strange going into pre-production and continuing on to the recent exposure of the Swinton-Cho Letters. While I spent time describing the ups and downs of casting news what I neglected to mention, and what I’m going to focus on today, is the outset and ultimate resurgence of an argument in defence of whitewashing.
That’s right, an argument defending what Wikipedia helpfully defines as “a casting practice [. . .] in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles.” The very faint silver lining is that the justification here does not revolve around star power and A-list draw, or the idea that “the best person for the role” was hired, the latter of which rarely ever swings in the other direction. In spite of not being deeply rooted in these ways of thinking, however, the argument presented remains deeply flawed.
Before we get into that, however, we should probably get to its origin story.
Like I Said Last Time, “It’s Always Podcasts”
Having to hit all of this again it’s important to be thankful for small blessings, with one being that I don’t need to hear C. Robert Cargill’s voice again due to already having done the research for another post. The person in question was one of the screenwriters for Doctor Strange, and dropped in on the Double Toasted podcast mid-April to answer a few questions about it.
Eventually, and unsurprisingly, the issue of the Ancient One’s casting was brought up. Cargill’s response, as transcribed by CINEMABLEND’s “The Blunt, Yet Difficult Reason Doctor Strange’s Ancient One Isn’t Asian”, is as follows:
“The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet. So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet [. . .] If you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”
In essence Cargill chalked the reasons for the casting decision up to politics and economics, implying that having the character played by a Tibetan would cause Marvel Studios to lose out on Chinese box office sales. He also suggests quite strongly that, conversely, having a Chinese actor play a Tibetan would cause a large amount of controversy. This was picked up by sites from IndieWire to ScreenRant to The Hollywood Reporter, with several using words like “reveal” in their headlines, as if a longstanding mystery had finally been solved.
The justifications he laid out were to become the go-to response for every commenter looking to defend the Swinton’s casting, and why not? After all, as one of the screenwriters of the film Cargill should be a direct and dependable source. The answer to that hypothetical starts with what happened a few short days later- Continue reading
Posted in art, Asia, bizarreness, comics, film, geography, lgbt, politics, race, writing
Tagged Ancient One, argument, Asia, box office, C. Robert Cargill, Cargill, casting, China, defence, defense, Doctor Strange, Double Toasted, film, George Takei, justification, Kathmandu, lesbian, lgbt, Nepal, Overwatch, Political, politics, Rogue One, Scott Derrickson, Tibet, Tibetan, Tilda Swinton, Tracer, Urgyen Badheytsang, whitewashing
I’m just so tired.
I was tired when I wrote, last June, about how Tilda Swinton was in talks to play the Ancient One in the then-upcoming Doctor Strange, because it was just one of several announcements where a role that could have gone to an Asian person didn’t. And it made me weary to have to read comments like “if any young white woman can pull off an old Asian man, it’d be Tilda Swinton,” and “PLEASE TELL ME HES PLAYING WONG!” after it was revealed Martin Freeman would be appearing in Captain America: Civil War.
Swinton ultimately being cast as the Ancient One, a Tibetan man in the comics, was never far from my mind moving forward. I would inevitably bring it up when discussing whitewashing and racebending in The Martian that very same year, and in many ways it made Doctor Strange a film that loomed in the impending future, a comic book movie I would need to see for myself in order to determine whether or not they did right by the groups they were trying not to offend.
Just to be clear, I can’t honestly say that I was angry when finally watching the movie. Like the title of my write-up plainly states I was left feeling disappointed. It also notes that my expectations were never particularly high, and how could they be when the filmmakers rewrote the character of Wong back into Doctor Strange upon finding that casting Swinton left them without any prominent Asian roles [in a movie that is set in Asia roughly half the time].
It was over a year of waiting for a film whose creators touted the representation of an older white woman to offset what was, without argument, whitewashing. It’s a defence that implies that in some cases the choices are feminism/anti-ageism and racial diversity, and that the two are mutually exclusive. It was, to put it more strongly, exhausting. And it’s easy to say that I should just care about this less and not let it affect me so much, but Asian representation is an issue that directly affects me, and one that will affect my children if and when I have any.
I was already so tired of all of this, and was looking forward to being able to stop thinking about Tilda Swinton and Doctor Strange and enjoy the few moments before we get any closer to Ghost in the Shell being released [difficult as a teaser aired before the Marvel film being discussed]. And what should I find this past week but an email conversation between Tilda Swinton and Korean American comedian Margaret Cho, which I have dubbed the Swinton-Cho Letters, and the internet’s response to the whole thing.
When I first started putting my fingers to the keyboard this was meant to be a single blog post split into two parts, but over a thousand words in and I thought two separate posts might be more efficient. And what better way to end a horrible year than to devote so much time and effort towards such a truly draining topic?
Posted in art, Asia, celebrity, comics, film, internet, race
Tagged Asia, asian, Asian actors should play Asian roles, backlash, Bong Joon-ho, Cho, Doctor Strange, emails, film, Margaret Cho, Okja, representation, Stephen Yeun, The Ancient One, Tilda Swinton, whitewashing
Today marks the last installment of “Making Till We Meet Again“, a series of interviews with the creators of the award-winning indie film in question. Focused on a handful of tourists making their way through Thailand, many of the questions and answers to date [with director Bank Tangjaitrong and actor/writer Johan Matton] have revolved around depicting another country and culture given that framework.
Actor Emrhys Cooper is the last person to share with us, in particular about how both he and his character, David, have experienced being in the South East Asian country as visitors and guests. Fair warning, this interview contains mild spoilers for Till We Meet Again.
David tells Joanna that being in Thailand “realigns you with who you really are.” Had you been there prior to filming Till We Meet Again? Do you think there’s any truth to that?
Yes, for many reasons South East Asia has pulled me into its orbit. That powerful land mass includes a major portion of this planet’s populations, including both India and China which are the two of the most densely populated nations on earth.
At the naïve age of 18 I went on a backpacking tour of Thailand. What an incredible experience that was. Then, in 2013, I was back again as I was cast in a movie called Kushuthara which shot in Bhutan. That’s a tiny country located up in the Himalayan mountains between India and China; one must go via Bangkok to get there.
This year I returned to Thailand to shoot another movie in Bhutan. I was lucky to get to spend New Year’s Day in Bangkok, followed by an impromptu trip to Vietnam. When I finished shooting in Bhutan I went to Cambodia, which is a country any person interested in animal protection should see. The elephant sanctuary reminds us that we are not God’s greatest creatures, but only the caretakers of his best and most precious treasures. To hear and see an elephant in all its glory, means more than any person’s hug or kiss. All human beings who value our animal companions, both great and small, should understand this.
Traveling helps realign you; travellers look to find themselves or something that will help them grow. In that sense, traveling is one of the greatest therapies. It belongs alongside the couch of Sigmund Freud as a great tool for our minds, to escape from a solely interior world.
Posted in Asia, film, interview, relationships, Travel
Tagged acting, actor, Asia, backpackers, backpacking, Bhutan, film, filmmaking, interview, Kushuthara, loneliness, mrhys Cooper, relationships, South East Asia, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Till We Meet Again, tourists, travel, ugly American, ugly americans, villain