Last week I had outlined this lovely post about Captain America: Civil War but held off on polishing it up till this week. I wanted to hit my local shop on Wednesday to pick up Black Panther’s 2nd issue (cop it fam!) just in case something Mr. Coates wrote had relevance to my own take on T’Challa. Since I rarely carry cash, I was browsing for a trade* to reach that critical $10 credit card minimum. CHEW Vol. 11: The Last Suppers was my top choice. It’s the second to last trade paperback for the series, which follows FDA Detective Tony Chu as he uses his unique gifts as a cibopath (able to generate psychic impressions of the entire life of whatever he eats) to investigate crime through some great procedural work and the occasional nibble on a perp or victim. When it finishes CHEW will be the first full run that I have ever collected, and my heart aches to see it ending.
Not only is it witty, well-drawn, and full of please-explain-this-because-what twists, it centers around a non-stereotypical Asian lead. And I am not reading into this folks. There are notes on original art from early issues that say “non-stereotypical Asian”. What does that translate to? A character that is trusted to lead his partners (both white and black), gets the girl, and is shown as a crime-fighting badass without resorting to panels of him doing karate or intensive lab work. I’m sure the upcoming animated adaptation featuring the voices of nerd all-stars Steven Yeun, Felicia Day, & David Tennant will be some kind of wonderful.
But that’s not the only reason I switched focus this week. As long as you have not been hiding under a rock without reliable Twitter access you have seen the GLORY that is #StarringJohnCho. To summarize, digital strategist William Yu took blockbuster movie posters and photoshopped the ever-charming John Cho as lead. And it’s gooooood:
The main argument that has always popped up about Asian leads is that there are “no Asian movie stars.”
*I’m going to pause here, as my anger at this whitewash-justifying yellowface-friendly statement is causing me to feel slightly lightheaded*
Phew. I know we all talk about visibility of minorities in media, and how the gains in Black representation extend to other POCs at the party. But that is easy to say when someone trying to be us will pretty much be immediately accused of blackface. Heck, Zoe Saldana just showed everyone you can still get that accusation even if you’re somewhere in the tan set yourself. Asians have it MUCH harder, as their roles are continuously cast and rewritten for white actors/actresses. It’s not just the obvious ones like ScarJo as Ghost in the Shell’s Major Motoko Kusanagi or Mickey Rooney’s cringeworthy performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s seeing Emma Stone as a part Asian woman in Aloha, which filmed on location and had ENDLESS access to appropriate casting as well as a glut of starpower to carry publicity. It’s Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in the upcoming Doctor Strange (note: Hollywood, stop making me have to wrestle with boycotting things I was desperately looking forward to).
Sometimes I see us moving forward. John Cho’s turn as the romantic lead in Selfie was a real “stand up and cheer” kind of moment. He was the first Asian male romantic lead in a primetime rom-com. While we are thinking about Black and Latino representation, Asians have been told every weekday between 8PM and 10PM for decades that their men are not worthy of being starring love interests, though we are fine with fetishizing the bejesus out of their women. Sigh.
But what happens when you give an Asian a role, and allow him to grow out of a stereotypical shell?
Lemme tell y’all about Osric mother-lovin’ Chau.
I love myself some Supernatural on the CW (11 seasons and counting!) but it is a well-known white bro-fest that constantly fridges minorities and women characters to advance the boys storyline, or uses POCs in incredibly sterotypical ways. I mean, Osric came into the series as a super-studious high schooler who wanted to run from his calling as a prophet of the Lord because he was pretty busy studying and trying to go to one of his top choice schools.
The episode is literally called Advanced Placement. And he has a Tiger Mom (duh). But Kevin Tran grew to be a fan favorite superstar recurring character as he accepted his fate as reader of the tablet, dodged demons & tricked the King of Hell, and became hardened (both emotionally and physically. My boy is fine). He is a perennial convention favorite, and his story arc from scared Asian bookworm to skillful and respected ally of the Winchesters is one of the best the series has to offer. While he was also victim to Supernatural’s minority curse, which will be an upcoming summer post, he said something incredibly poignant at the convention.
Someone asked him “what were some of the changes that came from getting ridiculously popular because of Supernatural”. He talked about constantly going into auditions for “the Asian character”. After the incredible positive feedback from the rabid pack of Tumblr ladies that make up the majority of the SPN fanbase (okay, my words not his), he said that now he gets called for roles without a racial specification which was much more of a rarity. And that meant a lot for him.
Viola Davis said “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” I’d argue the same for Asian leads. Look at Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Steven Yeun, and Daniel Dae Kim and tell me that they can’t hold their own. The “invisible minority” has waited so long for their time to be seen. Let’s shine a light, shall we?
Have I missed your favorite? Let me know
* Trade: Collected volume of comics, usually composed of one story arc (about 4-5 issues). Since I know a lot of my readers are new to lingo, I’ll be putting up a Geek Glossary page soon!