Asians Get #EmmaStoned (Again) in The Martian

Last week, we spent a lot of time on the blog discussing the erasure of people of color — particularly Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — in movies like the upcoming Doctor Strange or the recently released Aloha. I was even asked to talk about whitewashed casting on outlets like HuffPost Live and The Rundown on msnbc. And frankly, getting outraged over Hollywood being racist is kind of exhausting. Fortunately, I was able to take solace knowing The Rock crushed Aloha at the box office and that James Wan would be directing Jason Momoa in Aquaman. There’s nothing like a good genre flick to cleanse the palate after a week of justified moral outrage. Take the new sci-fi thriller The Martian — which just had a pretty cool trailer drop yesterday. Surely, there won’t be anything controversial here? Oh wait, this is Hollywood. Crap.

Honestly, seeing this trailer made me really excited for the movie. Full disclosure: I have yet to read Andy Weir’s novel, but I’ve heard nothing but praise for the book, so I’ll likely get to it some time before October when the movie comes out. But seriously, what’s not to like? After all, I really enjoyed Saving Private RyanGravity, and Interstellar. But what if they were all the same movie?!

Then, fellow NOC Noah pointed out that the film had whitewashed or racebent all of the significant Asian characters in the book because of course they did. Ridley Scott directing should have been the first clue that there was going to be some whitewashing going on. Here’s his explanation for why the Ancient Egypt of his last movie Exodus: Gods and Kings is full of white folk:

“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott says. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”

I’ve discussed ad nauseam how infuriating this line of reasoning is. “Bankability” is such a smokescreen and is just used as an excuse for not casting people of color. It’s the excuse given for casting Emma Stone in Aloha and, when pressed, I’m sure it’ll be used as a similar excuse for why Mackenzie Davis is playing a fan-favorite character named Mindy Park1.

“Bankable” movie star Mackenzie Davis, y’all.

At this point, it’s not even surprising anymore to see Asian American actors erased from the screen and replaced by white actors. And while they’re no longer taping their eyelids — well, not all of the time — the result is the same: one less role for an Asian American actor. The Martian throws a few wrinkles in to this tradition though, since they’ve also cast Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor as an Indian character named Venkat Kapoor and Naomi Scott — who is multiracial Indian and British — as a (presumably) Japanese character named Ryoko.

To make matters worse, on the same day The Martian trailer was released, Warner Brothers announced that the once-dead Akira adaptation was being resuscitated under the pen of new Daredevil showrunner Marco Ramirez. Coincidentally, The Martian screenplay was written by Drew Goddard, the original showrunner and co-creator of the Daredevil series on Netflix.

This connection can only mean one thing. We already know who’s going to play the lead in the Akira movie.

P.S., we should totally make #EmmaStoned happen on twitter.

  1. Granted, “Park” does not necessarily have to be a Korean surname. There’s this guy, for instance. But folks who have read it tell me that the character is supposed to be Asian. Have you read the book? Is this the case? 

35 thoughts on “Asians Get #EmmaStoned (Again) in The Martian

  1. Anecdotally, at least from my limited life experience, the racism conversation in America emphasizes African-American relations. I am grateful for the #EMMASTONED message in regard to Asian Americans in entertainment. However, that’s not the only industry that blurs and confuses the enormous contributions people of all races and cultures have made, their sacrifices, and valor in times of war. If you read the poem on page 30 of the official dedication booklet of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project, “The Last Pair of Round Eyes,” you will be stunned by the casting of Asian facial features as The Enemy, still, with the glory and honor given to the blue-eyed, round-eyed nurse.
    There were plenty of Asian soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen in the Vietnam War, as there were Asian-American nurses. For this poem to appear in the only publication authorized by the VWMP at the time of its dedication of their memorial to women at the VVM (the “Wall”), a national memorial, a statue venerated and representative of those who lost their lives in a conflict that became the hallmark event of a generation, is horrible, amazing, disgusting, shameful and stupid. The VWMP/F #EMMASTONED every Asian-American military member who served and showed themselves to be incredibly insensitive to racial issues in the military and in the general population.

    1. That’s terrible. History should not be distorted like that, especially when it relates to war.

  2. So are you going to watch this movie? I know I’m not. It’s another mission to mars film.

  3. Has anyone seen the trailer for “No Escape”, starring Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, and Lake Bell? They obviously don’t mind casting Asia in a bad light. They’re using the memory of the 2006 (that far back) military coup in Thailand to broad brush Asia. Except it’s not the military but rebels who are targeting foreigners – namely white people.

  4. I think making profit is a real issue though. What they say is completely true. Capitalism doesn’t care about social justice. Even if the roles were supposed to be Asian or any minority, investors care about the profit. They’re investors because they’re looking for a return and not to make people happy. Making people happy is only a means to an end – money.

    If people really want to change the game I think it’s time to stop looking at and waiting around for Hollywood’s legacy players to slowly disappear.

    Asians have been really successful on YouTube because there’s no one to report to. Find more avenues like that — like crowdfunding or nonprofits. Nonprofits do things based on social-based mission statements.

    What’s actually happening here is that the community is frustrated that they don’t have as much inherent value as other demographics. I’m alluding to capitalism again. If that’s the case then it’s not about getting angry on why things are but figuring out how to create more value on what you think deserves attention.

    Producers and Directors are in a sandbox and play with the toy’s their given. They’re not revolutionaries as much as people might think

    1. Agreed. It’s time that we stop waiting for mainstream media to speak for us. Even here in Australia the government wants to cut the funding for the only channel that represents non-white lead programs and shows.

      Lately, in video games, many indie groups have been making their own content and’s earning lots of praise. ‘Never Alone’ was made in cooperation with Alaska’s Native community, to present one of their stories. “Toren” has a non-white heroine, created by Brazilian indie group, even if ‘toren’ is dutch for ‘tower’. There are so many ways for POC to tell the stories that represent them without going through mainstream nonsense.

    2. Yes, but avoiding the fact of racism will not help either. Why won’t movies make money with an Asian when most of the world is Asian? It is even rare to see a part Asian star which may have more universal appeal. Are we going to fix the problem of racism against Asians by wholesale avoidance of them as main protagonists in American Cinema? Or will this continue to exacerbate the great divide?

  5. Random question: you mentioned the Rock’s new movie crushing Aloha (yay!) and I was wondering if you noticed/ what you thought of the white-washing of his daughter. The Rock is Black and Samoan and the actress who plays his wife/ex-wife (I haven’t actually bothered to watch the movie) is white and the girl who plays his daughter is very white. It’s very similar to the Emma Stone situation because they hired a white actress and claimed the character is mixed, but went unnoticed because she is not a main character (at least I don’t think she is, once again I haven’t actually seen the movie).

  6. Just finished the book. Half way through I saw that Mackenzie Davis plays Mindy Park so I was looking for overt signs that she was Asian. Other than the name it’s not not obvious. Also no idea who Ryoko is replacing as she’s not in the book.

  7. The characters in Akira animation are Japanese looking. But then again you probably don’t understand or know anything about animations.

    Obviously, Homer Simpson and everyone else is Asian.

  8. Park is also a relatively common English surname, as well as Korean, and there’s nothing in the book to indicate Mindy was Korean, so I don’t think this was white-washing. There’s only so many syllables in the world I guess. Ryoko is much more disturbing because that’s a character who isn’t even in the book, if they really wanted that particular actress they could have changed the character’s name to reflect her background.

    1. True, which is why I mentioned Ray Park in the post. Still, Weir has all but confirmed Mindy was supposed to be Korean (in interviews like this one. And the fact that “there’s nothing in the book to indicate” her ethnicity isn’t really an excuse for filmmakers to default to “white” either.

      1. I just saw a video on youtube where he says the casting staff didn’t know Mindy Park was a korean.So, I am presuming that he didn’t reveal Mindy Park’s true ethnicity in front of them. Maybe the staff didn’t know that Park could be a Korean surname too at the first place.

  9. Where in the book was Mindy Park established as Korean or Asian? I just went through it and couldn’t find it.

    1. It was never explicitly stated at all. I think there’s a clue with her last name for sure. But Weir never explicitly describes his characters or what they look like at all really. It’s odd in such a good book for there to be *so* little description. Nonetheless, I did assume Mindy was Korean but *technically* it’s never hinted at beyond her last name. Venkat Kapoor the Hindu though…

      1. Far as I can tell, Park’s character being non-Caucasian does not have any bearing on the character itself. Neither would it have any if she were Caucasian. So what would be the point in explicitly stating she’s not when the name itself should leave enough room for doubt? The fact the writer didn’t do it shows that he respects people to be able to at least discern that for themselves. Guess he overestimated people.

  10. Yup. This is bullshit. As usual. I like that hashtag, I think I’ll use it from now on! Thanks!

  11. FYI. Read an article where the book author said that Irfan Khan was supposed to play Venkat but dropped out with only 3 weeks notice. So they had to cast quickly for a big part. At least they tried, I suppose.

    1. Irrfan Khan was who I pictured in my head for Venkat as I was reading the book. Shame he dropped out. I was wondering why on Earth (or Mars) they would cast Chiwetel as Venkat; he’s a great actor, but I’m glad to hear that their first choice was an Indian actor.

      And I agree that Mindy Park should be Korean. What, were their too many Asians already in the cast for Ridley Scott’s comfort because part of the movie takes place in China? Does that mean we should all forget about the fact that Asian Americans exist and they make up a healthy percentage of the smart people working at JPL and NASA??

      Props to Weir for writing a realistically diverse cast of characters without beating us over the head with it by describing the skin color of only non-white characters. If only Hollywood could follow suit and stop whitewashing entire casts. I guess I should be thankful that Martinez isn’t being played by Channing Tatum.

  12. Chiwetel’s character became half Indian/half black, there was a line that implied it in the film. Irfan Khan was originally suppose to play Venkat/Vincent, but had to drop out due to his commitment in a Bollywood film. Chiwetel ended up being a last minute/available casting because it was so close to production. Whether it’s excusable is up to debate.

  13. I have read the book and Mindy Park’s race plays absolutely no role in the depiction or development of her character. In fact, not once is it mentioned that she is Asian, so it is actually kind of racist to just assume someone’s race based on their name alone.

    Also, I don’t know if you’ve actually seen this movie, but there is a pretty major character named Benedict Wong who is a fan favorite and is played by a Chinese actor. In the book, his race does matter because he says he has relatives who work at China’s version of NASA, and it is accurately represented in the movie.

    Do some research next time and don’t just post and add an “I’m not so sure but whatevs” footnote.

    1. All the more reason Mindy could have (and should have) been played by an Asian American actress. Why does “race neutral” automatically default to white?

      1. @ Mark Forrester: So you think it’s okay to disenfranchise all non-white English speakers? African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and every non-white person in every other country who speaks English – none of them should be portrayed in film unless their character has a racially relevant role?

        And why give those roles to non-white actors, either? Why not just apply the necessary makeup to White actors, like in the good ol’ days? God knows Ridley Scott is still comfortable with that as of 2014, casting every lead Jewish and Egyptian character in Exodus with White actors in bronzer – *despite* race being central to the plot!

  14. “The film had whitewashed or racebent all of the significant Asian characters in the book.”

    What about Bruce Ng, the director of JPL, played by Benedict Wong? He gets way more screen time that Mackenzie Davis (Mindy Park is kind of in the background for a lot of the movie anyway) and has a huge role in terms of the effort to bring Mark Watney home. It seems strange to completely write him off, and it’s kind of ironic in a post that’s all about erasure of Asian characters. I think this is why you should watch a movie before criticizing it.

    1. Leaving one Asian character as it is written isn’t a justification for casting a white person in place of another Asian character and you don’t have to see the film to know that. That just says that they filled a racial quota. “We’ve got one Asian, we don’t need anymore. Bring on the white actors!” Imagine the outrage if say, Ken Watanabe was cast to play Jason Bourne. People would lose their minds. But who cares if we change the race of Asian characters, right?

  15. As a Korean American, I can fully get behind making Ray Park an honorary Korean. That is one badass white dude. They take all our cool stuff and white wash it, it’s time for us to start taking some of their cool stuff! Lol.

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