Is Crazy Rich Asians Good For Representation?

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I read an article in The Atlantic recently. It was by Mark Tseng-Putterman, and titled “One Way That Crazy Rich Asians Is A Step Backward.” What it argued, essentially, was that, despite the films groundbreaking nature, it also took care to represent its Asian characters according to White norms. Those norms being things like having Western names, going to Western universities, wearing Western-style clothes, and being wealthy and materialistic. To Mr. Tseng-Putterman, the fact that the Asian characters in the movie were all so well off and Westernized made them un-relatable, and not at all emblematic of the experiences shared by the vast majority of Asian Americans. Now, normally, I wouldn’t give an op-ed piece like this much thought. Every time a movie about a certain group or issue comes out, even if the intentions of the filmmakers are clearly good, there will inevitably be detractors. There were women who thought that Wonder Woman wasn’t Feminist enough. There were Black people who thought that Black Panther perpetuated Western stereotypes of Africans as being warlike and tribal. So, of course, Crazy Rich Asians will have its fair share of Asian detractors. But two things happened, the publishing of Kelly Marie Tran’s New York Times piece, and the release of Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, that got me thinking about the article and its questions of Asian representation more seriously. So I decided to address them, and, hopefully, figure out what, if any, solutions can be found. Continue reading

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Glorious, Buffalo Trail & Silver City (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game. Continue reading

Will Asian-Americans Ever Get A “Black Panther?”

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game. Continue reading

GLOW (Season 1, 2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

It’s 1985, and Ruth Wilder is a struggling actress in Los Angeles. Desperate for money, she answers an ad for “unconventional women,” and finds herself at a gym with several other, equally-confused ladies. Two guys, B-movie director Sam Sylvia and pampered rich boy Sebastian Howard, then come out, and explain that they are looking to put together an all-female wrestling show, GLOW, or the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. Ruth, like everyone else, is shocked to hear this, but decides she’s willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t “like your ass. Or your face, and dismisses her straight off the bat. Ruth, however, isn’t taking no for an answer, and after putting on an elaborate show, including an unscripted fight with a friend who’s husband she’s been sleeping with, lands the job. And, from that point on, the story just gets bigger and more ridiculous.

GLOW has a lot of things going for it. It’s got good acting, a premise with a lot of comedic potential, and some nice period decor. I also really like the fact that it features an almost entirely female cast, and that it passes the Bechdel Test. And yet, despite all this, I can’t really say if I like GLOW or not.

A lot of it comes down to personal taste. First off, I’m not a big fan of the 80s. The poofy hair styles, the huge shoulder pads, the annoying synthesizer music; it all gets on my nerves. I also don’t like how casually racist and homophobic movies and TV shows from that era are, and how, nowadays, when we fetishize the Reagan years, we neglect to mention the negative aspects of the time. If you read my review of Stranger Things, a show that I really loved, you saw that I didn’t like how it failed to touch on the darker facets of 80s culture. This show does a slightly better job at highlighting the racism and sexism of the time, but, still. The period in which this show is set kind of annoys me, so maybe I went in somewhat biased. On top of this, I didn’t grow up with wrestling, so the series doesn’t hold any nostalgic charm. Literally the only two things I know about professional wrestling are the scene from the original Spider-Man film, where Toby Maguire has to fight Macho Man Randy Savage,  and the VH1 reality show, Hogan Knows Best, which was on when I was a kid. So, yeah.

But by far the biggest thing I had a problem with was the writing; specifically, the humor. It’s very, very dark. If you are easily offended, then don’t watch this show. Because they go places I wasn’t expecting them to. Every taboo topic you can think of–racism, incest,dead babies–gets touched upon. There’s a whole episode devoted to making miscarriages funny, and the season finale includes a substantial father-daughter incest subplot. It’s really kind of creepy. Now, look, I don’t want to sound like I think gallows humor can never work. I think In Bruges is one of the most underrated films of all time, and it features tons of offensive jokes. But there, the tone was a whole lot darker. Here, the show is pretty light-hearted and upbeat. But then, out of nowhere, it’ll throw in these very macabre bits of humor that, one, aren’t funny, and, two, don’t feel as earned. Another aspect of the writing I didn’t think worked were the characters. Oh sure, the four main people–Ruth, her friend, the director, the trainer–are all pretty fleshed out and interesting. But everyone else kind of just fades into the background. Yes, that’s to be expected in an ensemble piece, but here, it’s very noticeable. Two characters in particular, an Indian-American wrestler played by Sunita Mani, and a Cambodian-American wrestler played by Scott Pilgrim vs The World‘s own Ellen Wong, get the shaft when it comes to background and personality. We know next to nothing about them–Sunita’s grandma likes wrestling, Ellen likes birthday parties–and they are treated the worst when it comes to stereotypes. The wrestling personas they are given are, and I swear I’m not making this up, Beirut the MadBomber, and Fortune Cookie. Yes, Fortune Cookie. And the racist jokes don’t stop there. At every single opportunity, the writers throw in a “Asians can’t speak English” jab, or an “Asians know Kung Fu” barb. And, yes, they have characters comment on how offensive these  stereotypes are, but most of the time, someone else in the scene will say “shut up” or “get over it.” This is actually a very old writing technique, referred to as “ironic lamp shading,” where a character in a work of fiction will point out how stupid, illogical, or offensive something is, but then go right ahead and do it anyway. It’s meant to keep us, the audience, from questioning the tropes we’re seeing, but I’m not taking the bait here. Just because you know something is offensive doesn’t excuse you from doing it. If anything, that makes it worse. It shows us that you lack moral fiber, since you know something is wrong, but chose to go ahead and do it anyway. If you want to comment on racism or sexism, have there be negative repercussions for all the bigotry. Or, and here’s a novel idea, don’t write racist jokes, or characters who are racial cliches. Just a thought.

Guys, I really don’t know what to say. There’s enough good in GLOW to keep you invested, I finished all 10 episodes, but the dark humor, offensive characterization, and inconsistent tone are also quite off-putting. I don’t know if I can recommend this to you all. But if anything in the review spoke to you, maybe go and give it a look. You might find something in it that I didn’t.

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

In a dystopian, futuristic Tokyo, the line between humanity and technology has blurred. Virtually everyone is “enhanced” in some way, possessing cybernetic limbs, eyes, or, in the case of the film’s protagonist, an entire body. She is the first of her kind; a human consciousness, or “ghost,” inside an entirely robotic body, or “shell.” As such, she is stronger, faster, and more intelligent than regular people, and has absolutely no fear of death or injury, since she can just be rebuilt after being destroyed. This makes her the ideal police officer, and that’s precisely what she is, a member of the elite Crime Fighting Unit, Section 9, which takes down terrorists that threaten this new world. But when several high-ranking scientists of a prominent robotics firm wind up dead, and she and her teammates start investigating, she learns that there is more to her origin, and the man perpetrating these murders, than meets the eye. Continue reading

To The Nostalgia Critic, Regarding Your Video On White-Washing

While you do make some valid points about audiences being complacent with height washing (casting non Little People To Play Little People), and various other forms of impersonation, the crux of your video is both flawed and troubling, and I don’t believe that you are aware of this.

First of all, the title, “Is White-Washing Really Still A Thing?” Yes. It is still very much a thing. That’s why Gerard Butler got cast in Gods Of Egypt, Christian Bale got cast in Exodus: Gods And Kings, Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone got cast in The Last Airbender, and why Emma Stone got cast in Aloha. Hollywood, like you said, is a business looking to make money. And in their eyes, White actors, even character actors with no charisma, are more likely to bring in audiences than actors of color. White-washing is still very much a practice, done out of fear and unwillingness to try anything new, and when you frame the issue as a question, you make it sound like it isn’t a problem. You make it seem as though this is a topic for debate, which it is not. It’s a problem that needs to be solved. This kind of framing the issue as a question is what allowed people, for years, to say that “climate change isn’t real,” or that, “smoking is no more unhealthy than eating twinkies.” So, yes, White-Washing is real, and a problem, whether you want to believe that or not, and when you frame it as a question, you diminish its significance, and the opinions of those arguing against it.

Second, your claim that no one gets upset when White characters are played by actors of color just isn’t true. I don’t know where you were when Michael B Jordan was cast as the Human Torch, or when Quevenzhane Wallis was cast as Annie, but there was a lot of angry White backlash. People threatened to boycott the movies. They sent the actors and directors death threats. People went nuts. So, already, one of your major arguments, that people who hate White-Washing are somehow hypocritical because there’s no backlash when actors of color get White roles, has no substance to it.

Third, you say that people shouldn’t get upset over the White-Washing in Ghost In The Shell, because there have been numerous instances, as with Seven Samurai, Infernal Affairs, and OldBoy, where Asian films were remade with White actors, and no one got angry. What you fail to realize is that, in each of those cases, the stories were not quintessentially Japanese, or Chinese, or Korean. They were universal stories that could be told anywhere. OldBoy was actually an adaptation of a Japanese manga series, which, in turn, was a re-telling of the myth of Oedipus. Infernal Affairs was just a cop movie about two moles chasing each other. And Seven Samurai was a simple tale about a group of mercenaries being hired to protect a small town. None of those films requires a distinctly Asian backdrop or cast to be told.  Ghost In The Shell is different. It, along with Akira, was one of the first anime films to bridge the cultural gap between America and Japan. It contained many stylistic, thematic, and social elements that were new and unheard of in the States. There’s a reason why so many filmmakers–James Cameron in Avatar, The Wachowskis in The Matrix, Jonathan Mostow in Surrogates–were inspired by it, and sought to emulate its style and ideas; that style, those ideas, aren’t universal. Americans simply wouldn’t dream up stuff like that on their own. What made Ghost In The Shell unique was its distinctly Japanese look and feel. The futuristic Tokyo landscape, the themes of identity and technology going too far, and the rather bleak tone, all are byproducts of Japan’s post-war psychology. Of course Japanese people would write stories in which technology was frightening, they’d seen the horrors of modern technology first-hand in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course Japanese people would make movies dealing with a search for identity, they’d had their old way of life destroyed and reshaped by a foreign power (seriously, Douglas MacArthur wrote the new Japanese constitution ). Everything about Ghost In The Shell is Japanese. A live-action adaptation therefore requires a Japanese cast and crew.

Fourth, you employ the “slippery slope” argument for why people shouldn’t get upset over White Washing. If we actually give leading Asian roles to Asian actors, then, my god, we’ll have to give leading Gay and Disabled roles to Gay and Disabled actors too! What’s wrong with that? As both a Chinese-American, and a person who is physically disabled, I want my story to be told by people who have had the same, or at least similar, experiences to me. And, the truth is, there are so few roles written for Asian, Disabled, Transgender or any non-White, non-male actors, that your irrational fear that, somehow, we’ll have to come up with a person who’s had a sex change and become a lesbian is patently ridiculous. The “slippery slope” argument is always a bad one to use. It’s the same argument that was used to fight ratification of the 13th Amendment, “if we free the slaves, we’ll have to give women the vote,” and to fight desegregation in Brown V Board Of Education, “If we let Black students into our schools, then we’ll have to let disabled students in as well.” Do you really want to be remembered like those people, idiots who fought against progress and the inevitable?

Finally, you spend most of your video criticizing people who want more diversity in their entertainment for not taking a stand against height washing or other forms of impersonation. Yes, height washing, refusing to cast actually disabled actors, and various other practices are awful, and need to be addressed. But the assertion that we shouldn’t get angry over White-Washing, unless we get angry over everything, is beyond ridiculous. You sound like an NRA member saying, “Well, unless it can get rid of all murders and violent crimes, gun control shouldn’t be implemented,” or an idiot writing off the Black Lives matter movement with the statement that “all lives matter.” Yes, all lives matter. Yes, all groups deserve to be represented respectfully and accurately. But some groups have a greater need for representation, or for protection. Asians are virtually invisible in Hollywood, with less than 5% of leading roles going to them. Police brutality is disproportionally aimed at Blacks and Latinos. Saying that people shouldn’t get angry over something because there are other things to get angry over doesn’t achieve anything. We need to focus on each issue individually, work to change it as best we can, and then, when we’ve made progress, move on to the next issue.

I understand that you probably aren’t trying to sound racist, or dismissive, or any of the other things that you came off as in your video, but I felt it was necessary to point out the troubling nature of your arguments. As the type of person not being represented in the media, both racially and ability-wise, I don’t want the discussion surrounding me, or people like me, to be dictated by a guy who has no idea what he’s talking about. Because, this election year, especially, that’s happening a lot.