Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
So here’s a big question; when, if ever, will Asian-Americans get their own Black Panther? When will we get our big, game-changing blockbuster that celebrates our identity and culture? I don’t know, and, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure we ever will. Let me explain, and, be forewarned, this explanation will contain some history and some math.
There are 21,655,368 Asian Americans in the United States right now. That’s roughly 7% of the population. And within that 7% of the US population, there are countless different ethnicities, religions, languages and histories. There are Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Filipino-AMericans, Hmong, Tibetan, Thai, Laotian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Nepalese and Sri Lankan Americans. And that’s not even considering people whose families are from countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan, which skirt the line between Europe and Asia. My point is, Asian-American is an extremely broad term that encompasses many different, distinct groups. Emphasis on distinct.
There’s never been an Asian-American equivalent to pan-Africanism, W.E.B Dubois’s idea about the unity of all Black people through their connection to Africa. A large part of this, I believe, has to do with the fact that Asian-Americans, for the most part, came to the US voluntarily. We, by and large, know where our ancestors came from, and have maintained a connection to our specific cultures and traditions. There was no system of chattel slavery, cutting us off from our roots, though there have definitely been many Asian peoples brought to the United States against their will throughout our history. As a result, there was no need to create a broad, generalized sense of being Asian that there was with people of African descent. Black Panther is about Wakanda, a fictional African nation that embodies all the best qualities Black people see in Africa, without being an exact representation of any one country. There’s no Asian equivalent to Wakanda, because so many Asian countries, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, have maintained distinct borders and customs, and fought wars with each other, that there’s no real sense of unity between them. An Asian superhero isn’t just broadly Asian. She is a Chinese, or Vietnamese, or Indonesian superhero, and she does not speak for everyone. And this ties into a larger issue, the fact that being Asian-American is not the same thing as being Asian.
Even though there are millions of us in this country, we, as Asian-Americans, still only represent a fairly small section of the US population. As such, Hollywood, which is all about making money, is less likely to target us. What they are far more likely to do is target the countries our parents or grandparents come from, since they have much bigger populations, and represent much bigger box office potential. And so, to appeal to audiences in those countries, they cast local talent. That’s why Hollywood movies are far more likely to tap Chinese actors, like Jing Tian, than Chinese-Americans, like Constance Wu, to be in their blockbusters. And even if they do cast Asian-Americans, that doesn’t mean that it will appeal to mainland Asian audiences. Beauty standards are different in different countries. An actress like Kelly Marie Tran, whom I love, and who is also on the shorter and heavier side, would not be viewed as movie-star material in China, where women are expected to be very thin, very pale, and have very big eyes. So it’s unlikely that Disney or Warner Brothers, who want to make as much money as possible, would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into telling the story of an Asian-American superhero. To them, there’s just not a big enough audience to make all their money back.
Am I happy about any of this? No. Do I want there to be an Asian Black Panther? You bet I do. But, as it is, I don’t see that ever happening. I really hope I’m wrong, though. I hope that our collective community grows to the point where Hollywood sees us, and not our family’s countries of origin, as a viable market. I hope that a spirit of pan-Asianism will spread across this country like wildfire, and unite our disparate ethnicities. I hope that some young writer, or filmmaker, will have the courage to tell their story, and the story of people like them, and that others will respond to that story. I hope.