I’m actually on vacation right now, but the moment news broke that Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding was in talks to play the lead in Paramount’s G.I. Joe solo Snake Eyes movie, I couldn’t not write about it!
See, the G.I. Joe comics and action figures were seminal to my being a nerd of color. As a child, I was fully enraptured by the world created by Larry Hama in the pages of the Marvel comic and on the card backs of the Hasbro toys.
I won’t go into it again, my NOC origin story covered this already, but I was particularly obsessed with the storyline involving ninja blood brothers Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Like most Joe fans, I thought they were the coolest of all the colorful characters, but to me, they represented something more.
Despite what many fans assume, Storm Shadow was an Asian American comic book character. If your only interaction with G.I. Joe was the Saturday morning cartoon, you might remember Storm Shadow as the unscrupulously evil Cobra assassin who spoke with a preposterously “Asian” accent. In the comics, though, he was a Japanese American kid named Tommy Arashikage who enlisted in the Army and fought in Vietnam alongside Stalker and Snake Eyes. Speaking of which, since Snake Eyes is presumably an origin story, they have to explore his time in the army alongside Tommy and Stalker. Here’s hoping they cast Michael B. Jordan and Warrior star Andrew Koji, respectively.
Tommy’s reasons for joining Cobra were more complicated than the cartoon ever got in to, but through it all, he was one of the rare, multidimensional Asian American characters in all of comics.
Snake Eyes, of course, is everyone’s favorite G.I. Joe character. He’s got the best costume and his file card made it so that any kid could imagine themselves behind the mask. And for this Asian American kid, that was a big deal. It also helped that everything about his backstory was a mystery. He could literally be anyone to anybody. Which is why it was ultimately disappointing to learn Snake Eyes was a white guy. That realization is probably one of the fundamental reasons for launching the Asian American Iron Fist movement if I’m being honest. There’s no reason Snake Eyes has to be white.
Which leads me back to the news of Henry Golding taking on the iconic visor of Snake Eyes. Somehow I feel like I have Jon M. Chu to thank for this.
I know @jonmchu isn’t involved in #SnakeEyes, but I’m thanking him anyway since he made #GIJoeRetaliation (legit one of my fav movies) and discovered @henrygolding pic.twitter.com/5s4oj0IlQ2
— Keith Chow (@the_real_chow) August 14, 2019
This isn’t a case of racebending an iconic character. Instead, it’s correcting a three-decade old wrong. Snake Eyes is just like he was when I played with the figures as a kid in the ’80s. Snake Eyes is Asian again — as he should have always been.