It’s been nearly a year since we were hit with the double whammy of Tilda Swinton and Scarlett Johannson. Now with Iron Fist and Ghost in the Shell just around the corner, we’re joined by BuzzFeed News’ entertainment reporter Susan Cheng to let us know where Asian Americans currently stand in the greater pop cultural landscape.
The Great Wall was, as the movie posters implied, about how we should all say #ThankYouMattDamon. Yes, he comes up with the brilliant plans that the Chinese hadn’t figured out in the last 2,000 years (even though there was a clue in ancient texts) and all that white savior stuff — fittingly, the movie was written by the same guy who wrote The Last Samurai. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up). But I’m not gonna talk about it because you can find it all over the internet.
You can read about the plot here — or read Valerie’s review here — so you know what I’m going to be talking about, but it’s basically Starship Troopers in ancient China. But there was a theme that made me not want to slit my wrists and go screaming out of the movie theater (which was the case when I saw Kubo and the Two Strings, but that’s for another day). What was it? It was the portrayal of womyn.
All that is lacking in substance is made up for with gorgeous imagery in a Zhang Yimou’s new and pointless film, The Great Wall. Whomever his set people are, give them all the awards because they bring their A-game when it comes to costume and set design. But I digress.
I’m not sure what I expected, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the Silk Road version of Edge of Tomorrow featuring giant Komodo Dragons. Shouldn’t a larger budget allow more time to work on perfecting the CGI? How many Adobe-editing programs did they use to get these monsters to look as fake and silly as they do? Zhang Yimou should stick to martial arts dramas because he is out of his element with The Great Wall.
When a leaked script revealed that Disney planned to center its live-action Legend of Mulan film around a white merchant who comes to “white knight” the hero of China, the outrage was swift and fierce. After thousands signed 18MillionRising’s petition, Disney quickly responded to assure fans that all major characters would be cast as Chinese. “Don’t worry,” one patronizing headline went so far as to say, everything’s going to be fine. And by and large, the once-raging fire of #MakeMulanRight has cooled to a few glowing embers. Asian America seems to be satisfied to know that Disney won’t turn Mulan into yet another white savior film.
It’s a win, but not exactly the sort of victory you can feel great about. We’ve been through this too many times, haven’t we?
[Ed. note: In the 24 hours since this open letter was posted on AAM, Disney has released a statement that their live action adaptation of Mulan will not feature a white love interest. We are still posting the original letter because we can confirm that the spec script discussed below does indeed exist and is still indicative of how Hollywood views Asians.]
A white merchant’s business brings him to the heart of a legendary Asian conflict — he unwittingly helps save the day while winning the heart of the Asian female. Am I describing the plotline of the Netflix series Marco Polo? No. I’m describing the spec script that Disney bought for its live-action feature film, The Legend of Mulan, which is projected for release in 2018.
Over the weekend, I was invited to join a CCTV America newscast — the Stateside arm of China Central Television — to discuss Hollywood’s continuing habit of erasing Asians and Asian Americans from the movies. It was my first time as an in-studio guest, but I was able to join anchorwoman Susan Roberts live from Washington, DC. Check out the video of the segment after the jump.
This morning, our friends at MCU Exchange (with help from The Hashtag Show) broke some pretty big news: mainly, that Shang-Chi will be a featured part of the Iron Fist series on Netflix, with the possibility that he may get spun off into his own series! This is definitely some welcome news, especially considering how a lot of folk reacted to the news of Finn Jones. In fact, I can already hear the FistBros1 queuing up in our mentions telling us to finally shut up about #AAIronFist.
The news just broke that Scott Buck has been tapped to spearhead Iron Fist for Netflix and Marvel. This has led people to speculate that the show will cast a white lead despite the fact that the momentum for an Asian American Iron Fist is growing. Keith Chow begun the discussion over a year ago with his powerful op-ed on why having an Asian American play Danny Rand is so important. It was a piece that had a large impact on me, and many others such as Lexi Alexander and Gail Simone have taken up the call. Nerds of Color and MCU Exchange have teamed up to produce a series of articles providing suggestions not only how to adapt Iron Fist’s complex mythology but also arguing that an Asian American Iron Fist makes more sense not only for reasons of diversity, but for thematic and narrative reasons as well, and a few weeks ago Charles Pulliam-Moore of Fusion wrote forcefully that Iron Fist “better be Asian,” joining the chorus of voices who feel this is important. It’s a proper movement now.
We’re continuing our look at how Marvel can adapt Iron Fist for Netflix, and while an earlier post looked at the supposed difficulties of incorporating the mystical elements of the Iron Fist mythology into the Netflix world, perhaps Marvel’s issue is a more basic one — the challenge of how introduce a character to a new audience given a complicated and convoluted continuity.
This is of course an issue any comic book adaptation must grapple with, but Iron Fist has a particularly convoluted and dense continuity. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the basics of the character — a young boy shaped by the trauma of the death of his parents, trained in a mystical city, who returns to Earth to seek vengeance — is a phenomenal origin story for a superhero. Rather, its the labyrinthine and often contradictory history that has been built up around the character over time. Any adaption will necessarily make changes to smooth out continuity, and I have five small but crucial suggestions on how to do just that. Best of all for purists, these changes leave Danny Rand himself almost completely unchanged — instead, they focus on his father, who presents the majority of the backstory issues.
Stan Lee, like Ken Jeong, is one of my personal heroes. I previously wrote about how he probably is Asian1. As a writer, his legacy is unmatchable; he created literally DOZENS of characters with which almost everyone in America has a passing familiarity. I mean, ask a person in a bar to name four characters in The Great Gatsby and it might take a while, but that person will at least have heard of Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Thing, Daredevil, X-Men, Galactus, Magneto.
And, I’m Chinese American, so yeah, technically I’m in favor of more Chinese superhero characters (there are only, like, three of them). And as a culture critic I see the righteous value of a female-led narrative in a Chinese context. The world needs those.
Yesterday, we published the first part of my sprawling interview with fantasy novelist and comic book writer Marjorie Liu. She was at New York Comic-Con promoting next month’s release of her first creator-owned comic for Image Monstress.
For the second half of our interview, I ask her about her previous career as a lawyer, how she decided to become a writer, and what it means to be a prominent Asian American in the media.
I spent this past weekend at New York Comic-Con. When I wasn’t manning the Epic Proportions booth, I was able to sneak away and meet with writer Marjorie Liu. She makes her long-awaited return to comics with Image Comics’ Monstress, reuniting her with X-23 artist Sana Takeda.
In the first part of this exclusive, wide-ranging interview, Marjorie and I discuss the origins of the book, her childhood obsession with the apocalypse, the influence of pre-World War II China, and what it was like reuniting with artist Sana Takeda.