UPDATE: November 4, 2019
Vanity Fair has an exclusive first look at Ming-Na in The Mandalorian! She has the Disney Triple Crown, y’all!!
Earlier this week, Lucasfilm announced the addition of two more actors to the cast of Star Wars Episode VII. We do not yet know who the two relatively unknown actors — Pip Anderson, who’s British, and Crystal Clarke, who’s African American — will play in the movie, but I’m guessing their roles must be substantial enough to warrant a press release about their casting. If their characters are indeed prominent, Clarke will join John Boyega and Lupita Nyong’o in making this “the blackest Star Wars ever.”
Still, every time breaking Star Wars casting news comes across my feed, there’s always one name that I hope to see in the headlines: Ming-Na Wen.
For those not in the know, Ming-Na is one of the most prominent Asian American actresses in Hollywood today. Though she has been acting since the mid-80s, her career took off in 1993 when she was cast in the lead role of June in Wayne Wang’s adaptation of the Amy Tan novel, The Joy Luck Club.
Wen also spent over five seasons as part of the main cast of ER as Dr. Chen when the show was at the height of its powers on NBC. In addition to these mainstream roles, her geek cred runs deep as well.
She followed her star-making turn in Joy Luck Club by playing Chun Li in 1994’s live action adaptation of Street Fighter. In 2001, Wen voiced Dr. Aki Ross, the lead character in the big screen CG-animated Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. And on television, Ming-Na provided the voice of Detective Yin on the Kids’ WB animated The Batman series and starred for two seasons on SyFy’s Stargate Universe. She even had a small role in the 2009 superhero flick Push — alongside future Captain America, and until recently, fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Chris Evans.
Despite this long and impressive filmography, the two roles that have led to Ming-Na’s icon status among us Nerds of Color — and the rest of the world, for that matter — are as a Disney Princess and as a Marvel superhero.
Her turn as the legendary Chinese heroine Fa Mulan in 1998 was a big deal. Not only is Mulan the only animated Disney film set in China, its voice cast of predominantly Asian American actors is still pretty impressive 16 years later1. Though Mulan has never been depicted as a princess in any Chinese telling of the legend, Disney nevertheless inducted the character into their heavily branded — and super popular — Disney Princesses line, making her one of the very few non-white Princesses to be “coronated,” and therefore one of the very few Asian dolls in the toy aisle.
Last year, Ming-Na officially joined the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Disney’s other mega-franchise — when she was cast as Agent May on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And while I admit that I haven’t been the show’s biggest fan2, it was never because of any issue with the character of Melinda May. (My main problems with S.H.I.E.L.D. were always its Whedon-y bits).
In fact, she was one of the few bright spots on the show for me (this mini-Joy Luck Club reunion, for starters) and her relationship with Coulson is actually interesting. Hopefully, the showrunners give her more to do in Season Two than stand around and glower.
While she was promoting the premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ming-Na revealed that there was yet one more Disney franchise she wanted to be a part of: Star Wars.
Though her interview with Access Hollywood made all the rounds back in October, those of us who had been following her career since Joy Luck Club already knew about her preference for that galaxy far, far away. I think it was in a feature in the now defunct A Magazine where I first learned about her Star Wars fandom and her desire to be in one of the films.
Not sure if this was the issue, but I’m pretty sure the issue came out around the time the prequels were being shot. Unfortunately, the magazine existed before the internet and not even Google can track down the article. But trust me, Ming-Na’s Star Wars fandom runs deep, and in the mid-90s, she was all about being in a Star Wars movie. Up to that point, I had no idea that the actress from Joy Luck Club was a fangirl!
Despite the pleas to be in one, George Lucas wasn’t swayed enough to cast her in any of his movies. I guess in Lucas’ Star Wars universe, the only Asians we ever get to see are:
One of Jabba’s dancers in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi…
…Uh, Lando’s co-pilot on the Millennium Falcon, Nien Nunb…
…And the Nemoidians in Episodes I-III.
Also, Amidala in all kinds of Orientalist costumes and makeup.
That’s it. That’s the list.
The one time Lucas actually did cast a real live Asian for a role, he cast Bai Ling instead3 of Ming-Na (and subsequently sent that scene to the cutting room floor).
Also, peep the diversity in that deleted scene. By cutting it, all the black and brown people in Star Wars was reduced by 95%!
When Episode III came and went in 2005, no one expected there to be more Star Wars films, and Ming-Na’s dream to be in one went the way of the Jedi after Order 66. But now that Disney has swooped in to resuscitate the franchise, it is the perfect opportunity to let Mulan wield a lightsaber!
Even if she isn’t cast in J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII — or Rian Johnson’s Episodes VIII and IX, for that matter — Disney has already announced that they will be doing standalone Star Wars movies outside the main sequel trilogy. With a new Star Wars movie coming out every year from now to eternity, why not throw a bone to one of the Magic Kingdom’s most loyal subjects?
Not only would it be a dream fulfilled for one of nerdom’s own, but it would be an historic occasion. To win the Disney triple crown of being an official Disney Princess, a Marvel superhero, and a Jedi? Hell, that’s gotta be bigger than the EGOT!
So just like the time I called on Marvel to cast an Asian American actor to play Iron Fist, I am once again calling on Disney to do the right thing and cast Ming-Na Wen in a Star Wars movie!
- Still not sure how or why Donny Osmond provided Shang’s singing voice, though. Either way, here’s hoping Disney doesn’t neglect to cast Asian American actors to voice the characters in the upcoming Big Hero 6 movie. ↩
- I will say, though, that the post-Winter Soldier episodes did eventually get better. ↩
- Is she even real life? ↩