Tag Archives: representation

All Asian Americans Are Asian, But Not All Asians Are Asian American

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

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The K’un-Lun of Netflix’s Iron Fist [Within the Larger Context]

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.

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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

The Swinton-Cho Letters, Part 1: What Went Down and How We’ve Responded

tiredaf

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?
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For Your Consideration: Ned Leeds/Ganke in the Spider-Man: Homecoming Trailer

Welcome to another installment of “For Your Consideration”, every one of which thus far has covered comic book and video game movies [and this week’s is no exception]. The point of this particular feature was to present just the facts, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions, as well as to cobble together a short post due to a lack of time to devote to a longer piece. The latter is less applicable this time around as this required a lot of research and was not at all published in a timely manner.

Thursday night marked the premiere of the first ever trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, as well as the international trailer online. What caught my eye watching it, and what I’m going to detailing below, is the appearance of Ned Leeds, played by actor Jacob Batalon. Below I’ve compiled a timeline that tracks the history of that character, another character named Ganke from the comics, as well as the film franchise’s track record with diversity.


asm18November 1964Ned Leeds debuts in Amazing Spider-Man [Vol. 1] #18. His character is a field reporter at the Daily Bugle, where he meets Peter Parker and Betty Brant, the titular hero’s ex-girlfriend who he will one day marry. In later years Leeds went on to become the villain Hobgoblin for a spell, and was later killed [though you know what they say about death in comic books].

Ned Leeds is, as so many comic book characters at the time, a White man with brown hair and blue eyes.

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Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man  (Vol. 2). Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Sara Pichelli.

November 2011: Ganke Lee debuts in Ultimate  Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man [Vol. 2] #2. His character is the best friend of Miles Morales, a half-Black/half-Latino teenager and the new hero headlining the title.

As pictured on the left, Ganke is of Korean descent and a larger kid. The character is also shown to be a fan of LEGO blocks, or whatever non-copyright-infringing alternative can be found in the Marvel universe.

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April 30th, 2014
:
 IndieWire former chief creative officer for Marvel entertainment and founder of Marvel Studios Avi Arad is interviewed by Indiewire. When asked if “Spider-Man in the cinematic realm [would] always be Peter Parker” [in reference to Morales ever taking the role] he responded: “Absolutely.” I further covered his comments a week later.

February 9th, 2015: After a two failed Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield it’s announced that Sony Pictures would be partnering with Marvel Studios to produce a new film for the character that takes place within the latter’s cinematic universe. President of Sony Entertainment Motion Picture Group Doug Belgrad cements which iteration of the superhero will be webslinging across the silver screen, saying [emphasis added]:

“This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future.”

barbieriJune 6th, 2016: It’s revealed that fourteen-year-old actor Michael Barbieri has been cast in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming.
ComicBook.com reveals that, according to its sources, Barbieri’s character will be new, and “based off the Ultimate Spider-Man character Ganke.”

As seen on the left, Barbieri is currently not particularly heavyset, and is also not Korean or of Asian descent at all. It’s also worth noting that Peter Parker and Ganke Lee do not currently have any kind of relationship within the Marvel universe as the latter is a stalwart part of Miles Morales’ supporting cast.

June 15th, 2016Likely in response to an article making the rounds that directly states “Marvel Casts Michael Barbieri as Ganke in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming'” director Jon Watts goes on record to deny claims of whitewashing in a couple of tweets:

July 25th, 2016: At Marvel Studio’s film panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego this year three cast members are confirmed for Spider-Man: Homecoming. One of the three is Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds. The actor describes the role he’s playing as being Peter Parker’s “best buddy.”


EthniCelebs
, while likely not the most reliable of sources, notes that Batalon was born in Hawaii and lists his ethnicity as “Filipino, possibly other”.

November 15th, 2016: In addition to the Comic-Con announcement made several months earlier, Batalon reveals on KHON 2 News, a Hawaiian program, that he will be playing Ned Leeds in Spider-Man: Homecoming. He reiterates that Leeds is “Peter Parker’s best friend in the film.”

December 8th, 2016: As mentioned,  the first Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer premieres on Jimmy Kimmel Live!; the international trailer likewise makes its way onto YouTube.

December 8th, 2016: A number of top comments in a thread dedicated to the newly released trailer on /r/comicbooks focus on Leeds’ similarities to Ganke.

basicallyganke

“So Ned Leeds is basically Ganke?”

December 9th, 2016: Comic Book Resources publishes an article titled “No, That’s Not Ganke In The Spider-man: Homecoming Trailer”. The second paragraph reads:

“Admittedly it’s a very easy mistake to make. As we see in the trailer, Batalon plays Spider-Man’s best friend and one of the only people to learn his Spider-secret. Ganke Lee, a supporting character introduced in 2011’s “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #2, is also the best friend of a Spider-Man and also knows his secret identity. And yeah, both Batalon and Ganke are of Asian descent (Batalon is Filipino American and Ganke is Korean American). To be honest, maybe Batalon should be playing Ganke. But he’s not — he’s playing Ned Leeds.”

The final line hammers that point home, with columnist Brett White writing, “So right now, Spidey’s best friend looks and sounds a lot like Ganke — but he’s not Ganke. He’s Ned Leeds.”

December 9th, 2016: Inverse, the website responsible for the article Watts was likely responding to back in June, publishes another titled “‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Appears to Have Jacked a Miles Story”. Their coverage includes tweets from comic book fans who find the inclusion of Ned Leeds as he appears particularly damning, with one noting:

The article also highlights a moment within the trailer, drawing comparison between it and a moment in the comic books.

whatnothing

whatnothing

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man (Vol. 1). Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by David Marquez.


To summarize, Jacob Batalon will be appearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming as Ned Leeds, Peter Parker’s best friend. He bears a very heavy [no pun intended] resemblance to Ganke Lee, Miles Morales’ best friend in the comics. While the appearance of an Asian character in a major role certainly backs up Watts’ desire for the Queens depicted to reflect being “one of—if not the—most diverse places in the world” what may need to be addressed, by Watts or whoever else, are some fans’ concerns about poaching a POC character from another POC character’s story.

Miles Morales ever making an appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to be confirmed, but the question many have been asking since Thursday’s trailer dropped was if Ganke showing up is even possible now that this Ned Leeds exists onscreen.

What Does St. Augustine Have to Do With Social Justice?

“[. . .] where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.”

Those lines are from “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”, by 18th century poet Thomas Gray. Now we both know the origins of the phrase; you’re welcome. There’s a reason those three words I bolded have survived and become a part of our cultural lexicon when the man who wrote them, and even the fact that they come from a poem to begin with, have long since faded away: we all know what it’s like to learn something we wish we hadn’t.

Kind of like when that image of what appeared to be a pink boa constrictor began circulating around the internet a couple of years back-

pinkboa

-and many people, when they found out what it was, said they would never eat another chicken nugget again. Which, let’s be real, can’t be a resolution that most of them ended up sticking with.

It’s easy to continue hitting up our dietary habits when it comes to Gray’s words; after all, don’t we eat every single day? Anyone who has seen the documentary Food Inc. may come out of it with the hot piece of trivia that corn makes its way into almost every item of food in American grocery stores, but the real question is whether or not they continue purchasing and consuming meat that has, in all likelihood, been produced by a factory farm. Continue reading

Asian Comic Book Fan Watches Doctor Strange…: An Addendum

Even though I wrote a little over a thousand words last week on my experiences with Doctor Strange [required reading for this blog post] there were a couple of additional criticisms I wanted to level against both that specific film and the industry as a whole. While I covered pretty thoroughly how Asians were poorly represented in Marvel Studio’s latest offering, what I didn’t really touch on was why.

When Diversity Means Painting With All the Colour of the Wind

In the months leading up to the release of Doctor Strange the conversation about the Ancient One’s casting began heating up. With mainstream news outlets picking up on the controversy there were many waiting to hear from the creators themselves, which brings us to the episode of the Double Toasted podcast that guest starred screenwriter C. Robert Cargill.

While his explanations regarding the character have since been championed by those defending the casting decision, even after his rescinding all comments made, and in spite of them being refuted by others, in particular by Shaun of the No, Totally! podcast, what I want to focus on are what he says right after that:

Now if you don’t want to actually listen to him, which I find perfectly understandable, I’ve also transcribed the relevant quote [emphasis added]:

“But when you start to see this film you’ll see that what we were able to do with Kamar-Taj, we made one of the most multicultural films most people have seen in years. Like this film is [. . .] I’m not certain that there’s a single major race that isn’t represented with a speaking role in this film. It allowed us to bring in, even as small characters to build upon later, a lot of characters from the Doctor Strange universe who come from all over the world. We were able to play with a lot of things and it gave us a lot to work with.”

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Asian Comic Book Fan Watches Doctor Strange with Low Expectations of Racial Representation, Is Unsurprised but Writes Blog Post Anyway

This is the second part of a series I began almost exactly three years ago with “Asian Comic Book Fan Watches Thor: The Dark World Expecting Racial Representation, Deals with Crushing Disappointment by Writing Blog Post“. The Marvel sequel in question sidelined Hogun, played by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, almost completely, and as the title of the blog post would suggest I had been very excited to see him again.

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I can’t not use this image again, it’s just too perfect. Source: platoapproved.tumblr.com

With Doctor Strange, on the other hand, that anticipation was not present at all. Last June I covered the news that Tilda Swinton was in talks to play the Ancient One, the title character’s mentor, in “Celebrity Blind Spots and Fixing Racist Narratives [By Making Everyone White]“. The gist of that post was how, in an effort to be more “progressive” filmmakers have been choosing to “fix” problematic minority characters by simply casting them with White talent. That’s as opposed to simply amending what made them so racist and stereotypical to begin with.

At that point in 2015 Swinton starring in the film had not yet been confirmed, and absolutely nothing had been mentioned about the character of Wong, Doctor Strange’s manservant in the source material. With Benedict Cumberbatch already locked into the role it was a magical time in which there was still the possibility of Marvel releasing a movie with two prominent Asian characters.

Look, my hopes were never particularly high that Swinton wouldn’t land the part. As soon as it was announced she was in talks for the role support began pouring in. That she was a woman in her 50s in a genre that has helped shine a spotlight on men of all ages and women of a very particular age was laudable to many. The thing is, the optics are so bad.

twowhiteys Continue reading