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“Ghost in the Shell” roundup: First negative review, meme-gate & Aoki remix flop


There are several Ghost in the Shell things to catch up on, so let’s get into it.

Last thing to discuss: Paramount has invested in some viral marketing to make Ghost in the Shell a hit with the social media crowd. Their meme website allows anyone to create memes of themselves illustrating why they’re unique. Folks who are upset with this film, like writer Valerie Complex, have used it to showcase their frustration with this film, as well as other pieces of media that use Asian themes without Asian faces, like Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, and others.

She inspired many more to make memes of their own:

Ghost in the Shell’s first 12 minutes premiered for critics, and while several critics are giving the film the thumbs-up, Valerie Complex wrote a different tune for Nerds of Color.

First, here’s what some of the reviewers said about the first 12 minutes:

“It’s hard to tell from these twelve minutes how faithful (or not) this new live-action Ghost in the Shell will be to the manga, anime or animated feature(s). But it does appear to be exploring the same themes of individuality, consciousness, and the intersection between the two. If the rest of the movie is anything like these twelve minutes, Ghost in the Shell may well be the deepest and strangest big budget film of its ilk in quite some time. I, for one, can’t wait.” –Tommy Cook, Collider

“Visually speaking there is much to be impressed by. Sure twelve minutes can’t tell you a whole lot, but it appears that the filmmakers have really tried to do justice to the franchise. From The Major’s appearance to the hustle and bustle of the futuristic city, there is much to admire in the look of the film. When she comes crashing through a window and the shards of glass explode around her, there isa definite energy that is on-screen.”—JimmyO,

Now, here’s what Valerie wrote for Nerds of Color. This is the take you’ll want to grab a seat for.

“The plot of this movie is nothing like anything in the original Ghost in The Shell films or shows. Don’t let a few of the philosophical conversations in the trailers fool you. It’s a hodge-podge of familiar elements from different parts of the series, but the philosophy and exploration of existentialism seem to be missing. Even the trailers denote this adaptation is nothing more than a revenge story. Nothing about the original Ghost in the Shell has been about revenge. Revenge is never a prime theme here.”

As Valerie writes, the film is worse than just Scarlett Johansson playing “The Major,” which is bad enough.

“From the sneak [peek] footage I saw, it looks [like] the Major is originally Japanese. Let me explain. It appears that the character is in a nearly fatal accident. This accident causes her body to be rendered useless, but her brain is the only thing that can be salvaged. So this Japanese woman whose brain is recovered is transferred into a body, or Shell, that just happens to be Scarlett Johansson’s new body. Now her name is ‘Mira.’

This is horrifying.”

We’ll see what the full reviews will be like once the film comes out March 31.

What I will say is that any attempt for anybody to say that the film isn’t aware of its source material’s Japanese roots and that it isn’t whitewashing hasn’t seen this trailer, which literally has Kenji Kawai’s theme for 1995’s animated Ghost in the Shell, “Utai I Making of Cyborg” in it, remixed by Steve Aoki (yet another instance of this film using an Asian face to try to allay fears of whitewashing without actually fixing the root of the problem).

Here’s the real version of that song:

The lyrics from that song, as IMDB states, are written in Old Japanese (like Olde English for us Westerners), steeping it even more in Japanese history and culture. The lyrics are also confusing at first:

When you are dancing, a beautiful lady becomes drunken.

When you are dancing, a shining moon rings.


A god descends for a wedding,

And dawn approaches while the night bird sings.


When you are dancing, a beautiful lady becomes drunken.

When you are dancing, a shining moon rings.


A god descends for a wedding,

And dawn approaches while the night bird sings. (Lyrics Wikia)

But after thinking over what the 1995 film is about and pairing it with what I know about “The Ballad of Puppets” from Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, I’m going to venture a guess that not only are the lyrics referencing something ominous that happen in the film (Spoiler alert: Major Motoko Kusanagi unwillingly merges with the villain of the film, The Puppet Master, hence the line about a “wedding”), but also reference the overpowering might of technology in the Ghost in the Shell world, the technology being referenced as a “God,” and life before technology as the person dancing so beautifully they can make people drunk and make the moon ring. Like “Ballad of Puppets,” the song is sung in an exclusively Japanese folk style called min’yō.

Sidebar: you can read my whole dissertation on the meaning of “Ballad of Puppets” in relation to Japanese history and Ghost in the Shell at Nerds of Color, in which I posit that the song deals with exclusively Japanese themes that subtly relate back to Japan’s existential war with technology invading its memory of the past as well as how it affects Japan’s future.

This point is not even bringing up the fact that the film is flooded with Japanese imagery and Japanese actors playing secondary roles. Secondary roles in their own story. What’s that about?!

What do you think about Ghost in the Shell? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

JUST ADD COLOR’s “Ghost in the Shell” and “Dr. Strange” Online Roundtable featuring Claire Lanay and Keith Chow

Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange are two of the latest in a litany of projects in Hollywood that have whitewashed and otherwise erased Asian identity from film. The films have been an issue for as much as a year in advance (or, in Ghost in the Shell’s case, longer) before their initial releases, meaning worry for the respective studios and mounting anger for fans and moviegoers who want an authentic and culturally respectful film experience.

Each film has its many problems, but to give a short overview of what’s plaguing these films, here are the bulleted points:

Ghost in the Shell

• Scarlett Johansson cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi (now just called “The Major” in the film, possibly the first clue that the film is not only wiping away the main character’s Japanese racial identity, but also the property’s inherent ties to Japan’s post-World War II tech boom).


•According to ScreenCrush’s source, Paramount allegedly hired visual fx company Lola VFX to create a Japanese filter for a character, probably Johansson’s Major. Paramount maintains that the fx filter was for a background character and never for the Major, but the fact remains that Paramount engaged in yellowface, regardless of who the character is.

• Sam Yoshiba, the director of Kodansha’s international business division (based in Tokyo), states that he’s fine with Johansson as The Major and that this is a great opportunity for a Japanese property to make it to the international (i.e. American) market. (which has rights to the Ghost in the Shell property). According to Kotaku, Yoshiba told The Hollywood Reporter, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” Yoshiba also told The Hollywood Reporter that “he was impressed by the respect being shown for the source material.”

• Max Landis, the screenwriter of American Ultra, released a video condemning the casting, but also states in his video (as reported by Entertainment Weekly), “The only reason to be upset about Scalrett Johansson being in Ghost in the Shell is if you don’t know how the movie industry works.” He also stated that outraged fans are “mad at the wrong people,” stating that the problem isn’t with parties such as Johansson, the studio or the director, but with the film industry itself. He also argues a point that many would disagree with—that there’s a dearth of big names in film. “As recently as about 10 years ago, there stopped being big stars,” he said. “There are fewer and fewer stars who mean anything.” Not true.

Meanwhile, the internet took matters into their own hands by fancasting Rinko Kikuchi, from Pacific Rim, as Kusanagi. What’s heavily ironic is that it seems like the costuming/hair department took direct inspiration from Kikuchi’s Pacific Rim character Mako Mori when designing The Major for the big screen.

A video features Japanese participants talking about the Ghost in the Shell controversy. The throughline of the video is that the people interviewed don’t see a problem with Johansson as The Major. But now the video is being used by pro-Ghost in the Shell movie fans to denigrate those, particularly Asian Americans, who are against Johansson as The Major.

•Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu invokes the term “blackface” when discussing the Ghost in the Shell casting controversy, making people upset.

The statement was made during a panel including Wu, Ming-Na Wen, Joan Chen, and Lynn Chen, moderated by Teddy Zee. “It was particularly heinous because they ran CGI tests to make her look Asian,” said Wu. “Some people call it ‘yellowface,’ but I say ‘the practice of balckface employed on Asians’ because that’s more evocative.” She also said the special effects tests “reduces our race and ethnicity to mere physical appearance, when our race and culture are so much deeper than how we look.”

Before the conference, Wen had tweeted about Johansson’s casting, writing, “Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.”

Dr. Strange

• Tilda Swinton is cast as The Ancient One, originally a Tibetian character as well as an antiquated stereotype of an Asian mystic. Swinton was cast as a way to create a more updated, non-stereotypical version of the character, and while casting a woman is a unique decision for the character, the casting also erases the character’s original Asian roots. Check her out in the trailer:

(Personal commentary: aside from Swinton as a jarring Ancient One, hearing Benedict Cumberbatch with an nasally American accent is…upsetting.)

•Swinton tells Den of Geek that when she was approached to do the character, she was never told that she was playing an Asian man. “The script I was presented with did not feature an Asian man for me to play, so that was never a question when I was being asked to do it. It will all be revealed when you see the film, I think. There are very great reasons for us to feel very settled and confident with the decisions that were made.”

• C. Robert Cargill, the co-screenwriter for Dr. Strange, tells his friends, film reviewers and hosts of movie review/comedy show Double Toasted Korey Coleman and Martin Thomas, about the process he took in remaking The Ancient One. In his words, he didn’t want to offend China with a Tibetan character. (Discussion occurs around the 18 minute mark.)

However, Cargill later clarified his comments on Twitter, since his original comments suggest that he and Marvel were of the same mind about the Tibet-China situation. “CLARIFICATION: that interview answer going around was to a question from a fan specifically about MY JUSTIFICATION, not Marvel’s…FOR THE RECORD: no one at Marvel or with the film ever talked to me about China, so contrary to headlines, I didn’t confirm anything.”

Entertainment Weekly also states that the film version of The Ancient One is now based in Nepal, which makes it even more confusing as to why a non-Asian actress was chosen.

• Marvel releases a statement about their record of inclusion, obtained by PEOPLE.

“Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.”

One could say their statement features many fictional statements as far as their film universe goes, because the MCU is still not diverse enough in terms of race, gender, and sexuality.

These are a lot of moving parts, and there’s a lot to parse through. At first, I was going to write a post providing my point of view, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I, a black woman, might want to sit this one out. I’ve written on entertainment moves affecting Asian Americans before, but let’s be honest; I’m not Asian, and I’m not about to wade in any “honorary Asian” waters, especially with how nuanced the issues surrounding these films have become. Instead, I thought I’d ask some of my online buddies if I could interview them about their opinions on these films.

Keith Chow is the creator and head of The Nerds of Color, a site focusing on the nerdy side of entertainment, but from the perspective of POC and other marginalized peoples. Claire Lanay is the new weekend co-host of podcast Afronerd Radio and CEO of Renegade Nerd Entertainment. I was happy to interview them both via email and break down just what people needed to understand about the lack of foresight and sensitivity that went into the creation of the Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange movies.

What were your initial reactions to the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One and Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi?

Chow: I think like most folks, I was disappointed but not surprised. It’s hard to believe that whitewashing is still considered acceptable practice in Hollywood, and these castings are no exception. But in light of the outrage (and lack of box office) that movies like Aloha and Gods of Egypt engendered, you’d think the studios would start taking the hint.

Lanay: Initially, I was mildly annoyed yet amused by Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One…I tried to play devil’s advocate and ask myself what discussions led to this outcome? Similar to the problems with the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, many of these comic book characters were created several decades ago and are inherently racist.  Other properties were created as a result of cultural appropriation which has now become a recognizable trope in it of itself i.e. White guy learns the ways of the East, masters it in a day and is better suited to unlock the wisdom, magic and skills of these mystic teachings in a manner the savage natives never could – Iron Fist, anyone?

So why switch The Ancient One from a Tibetan man to a British woman? Could the reason have been that without including another female character, the film would look the way most movies, comic book or otherwise, do – a sausage fest?  OK fine.  Let’s make her a woman.

I half-jokingly tell my friends that Hollywood has an unspoken rule about not allowing more than one person per color per movie or TV show (if at all). On the rare occasions there is more than one person per color, they’re usually a minor/expendable character and therefore, the first to get killed off…Unless you’re Empire or Blackish, you can’t have more than one black character…Doctor Strange has Benedict Wong playing the servant.  They have Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Baron Mordo.  So, of course, they most certainly cannot have another POC playing the Ancient One.  Heavens, no! Too many minorities!  I may not like Hollywood’s twisted logic and how they conduct ethnic/gender musical chairs to feign balance or political correctness, but I’ve grown accustomed to it.

Now that they’re saying the reason why the character isn’t Tibetan is because it would piss off China… I’m right back to square one asking “WTF?” Here I was trying my hardest to understand their reasoning and then they go throwing me for a loop with their mental gymnastics in a weak attempt to rationalize whitewashing.  Just because you don’t want the character to be Tibetan doesn’t mean the character cannot be Asian.  Would The Ancient One originally have announced him/herself as Tibetan? If they’re so worried about making all that Chinese dough… why not make the character Chinese? Have him/her speak Mandarin.  Have him/her walk around with a large neon sign that says “Made in China”.

They’re implying that in order to avoid offending other cultures, they have to erase them.  Are they so lazy that they are not willing to put any thought into how they could modernize these POC characters for today’s audience?

As for Ghost in the Shell, here are some thoughts I had in regards to Max Landis’ comments:

To make a blanket statement that there are no Asian A-List actors, well yeah, if Asians are not even allowed to play Asian, then I don’t see how it would be possible for them to be visible enough to become A-list. That’s not by accident, that’s by design.

The other thing that was mentioned was that there are no Asian actors capable of getting a movie greenlit… See the highlighted movies on this list [in this article’s inset]. [Most] fail, flop, bomb.  Yet, nothing changes.  I’m starting to wonder if they ever will…Scarlett Johansson is playing a character named Motoko Kusanagi.  It baffles my mind that there are people who don’t see this as offensive.

Marvel has had a long-standing issue with casting for a certain demo; i.e. casting all male leads except for the Black Panther as a white male (even more specifically, a white male with either dark or blonde hair and a “dudebro”-ish attitude, even if the character wasn’t originally written that way). Marvel has no Asian superheroes, and the chance they could have had to give representation, with Iron Fist, was missed [for more information on Iron Fist and the lack of Asian representation, visit The Nerds of Color and Twitter hashtag #AAIronFist]. With that said, how do you feel Marvel should have tackled The Ancient One?

Chow: The problem is that Marvel, like a lot of people, assume whiteness is the default. So when they encounter tricky ethnic characters (i.e., stereotypes) like the Mandarin or the Ancient One, their solution is to remove that character’s race and think they’re doing us a favor. I said this during the whole #AAIronFist thing, but the way you deal with negative racial stereotypes isn’t to erase race from the equation, just write the character better. In the case of the Ancient One, just make the character not one-dimensional, and he/she could still have been Asian.

I guarantee an actress of Tilda Swinton’s caliber would not have taken the role if it was one-note. So why not afford that opportunity to an actress of color? Better yet, if you had to racebend Ancient One (for fear of Chinese censors or whatever) then don’t cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange! Can you imagine someone like Sendhil Ramamurthy or Naveen Andrews in the role? Hell, I would have been happy with Keanu Reeves (who was rumored). But they cast the whitest man in the world? Come on now.

Lanay: Wasn’t anybody out there the least bit curious as to what George Takei could have done with The Ancient One?  Ken Watanabe?  Chow Yun-Fat?…How about Michelle Yeoh?  Joan Chen?  Gong Li?  Bai Ling?

I’ve had so many heated debates and arguments with people about Iron Fist.  The argument for keeping Danny Rand white is that “it’s what the author intended for how that character’s story should be told”. According to that logic, we should stay 100 percent true to the original cannon and lore even if that means 80-plus years of American comic book history has primarily only given us white male leading characters as the hero and a handful of female/POC characters seen mostly as sidekicks, background or filler.

Recall, if you will, Michelle Rodriguez’s comments after Michael B. Jordan was cast as Human Torch and Jason Momoa was cast as Aquaman – “Stop stealing the white people’s characters and make some of your own”.  As if no one has tried?  Even if I understood why it’s bemoaned when a POC is cast as a character originally envisioned as white, why is it ok to “steal” our characters who were specifically created to be of color?

As much as I like and respect Marvel, I am truly disheartened by their approach to this issue.  They rather avoid it than face it head on.  For a company whose brand is kick-assery and bravery, this looks cowardly. Am I surprised?  No.  Disappointed?  Yes.  Captain America: Civil War will be their 14th film and only now are they barely getting Black Panther and Captain Marvel on the film schedule.

I will say that they do seem to be putting in a concerted effort on the TV side.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the wonderful Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May and Chloe Bennet’s Daisy Johnson (nee Skye) has addressed her bi-racial parentage.  I’m pleased to see that has been acknowledged since other hapa actresses such as Kristin Kreuk have played fully white characters on shows like Smallville.

Dr. Strange, as a comic book series, draws its inspiration from the 1930s radio series Chandu the Magician, which also features a white man receiving mystic instruction from an Asian teacher, this time an Indian yogi. With all of the stereotypical Asian mysticism Dr. Strange is based in, how do you feel the film should have been approached (despite the fact that we haven’t seen the full movie)? With Benedict Cumberbatch playing Dr. Strange and set pictures featuring non-Asian actors in Asian locations and in Tibetian monk-esque clothes, how do you feel about the appropriation factor of the film? 

Chow: It’s the same problem with Iron Fist, Doctor Strange is another example of the white man goes to the Orient for enlightenment trope. It’s so obvious that people’s reaction to the trailer was “Didn’t we already see this in Batman Begins? And I’d answer, yeah, you’ve seen it in every movie! At this point, Hollywood should start casting more POC leads just to stand out from the pack. Studies have already proven those films make more money anyway. But Strange and Iron Fist and even Daredevil prove Hollywood only thinks of Asians as set decoration and not human beings.

Lanay: I do not deny they have a very talented roster.  I’m a Sherlock fan, so I don’t doubt Cumberbatch will bring something interesting to the role.  Tilda Swinton also played a role originally meant for a male in the movie Snowpiercer. Her bizarre character was in no way defined by gender or race regardless of the fact the movie was directed by a Korean or that the story was based on a French graphic novel.  Swinton’s look is androgynous, unique and has always benefited her with sci-fi roles.  For all we know, she’ll be utterly fascinating to watch in Doctor Strange.

As for them playing dress up in monk-esque attire?  Appropriation is unavoidable.  I’ll say this – I have a problem with folks using all of my toys but not allowing me to play with them.

Swinton has come out and said that the way she was approached for the role was never under the guise that she was playing an Asian man and that she’s confident in how she’s portrayed the character in the film. How do you feel about her statement? Also, what do you think about the compounded problem Marvel has created by whitewashing a character, yet adding diversity by making the character a woman?

Chow: It could have been a woman of color. Just because they gender bent the character doesn’t give them a pass if they’re still being racist. If they were going to change the character, and not make him “Asian,” then what’s with all the orientalism in the setting? Even then, it’s still wrong because they’ve taken yet another POC character and erased him from existence.

That goes back to what I said earlier, she may not be “playing Asian” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t whitewash the character. They still took an originally Asian character and bent over backwards to come up with a reason for why said character had to be played by a white person. This is the double standard that’s the most frustrating. When I called for an Asian American actor to play Danny Rand, I had to come up with every justifiable reason for the suggestion, how an Asian American would not alter the character whatsoever. But white folks are like “just shave your head, it’s all good.”

Hollywood’s History of Whitewashed Asian Films (as provided by Claire Lanay)
    Fu Manchu in ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’ 1932
    Jade in ‘Dragon Seed’ 1944
    Genghis Khan in ‘The Conqueror’ 1956
    Sakini in ‘The Teahouse of the August Moon’ 1956
    Mr. Yunioshi in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ 1961
    Cleopatra in ‘Cleopatra’ 1963
    Kwai Chang Caine in ‘Kung Fu’ 1972-1975 &
    ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ 1993-1997
    Ben Jabituya in ‘Short Circuit’ 1986
    Ra’s Al Ghul in ‘Batman Begins’ 2005
    Goku in ‘Dragonball Evolution’ 2009
    Dastan in ‘Prince of Persia: Sands of Time’ 2010
    Aang, Katara, Sokka in ‘The Last Airbender’ 2010
    Khan Noonien Singh in ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ 2013
    Tonto in ‘Lone Ranger’ 2013
    Moses, Ramses in ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ 2014
    Ng in ‘Aloha’ 2015
    Tiger Lily in ‘Pan’ 2015
    Set, Horus in ‘Gods of Egypt’ 2016
    Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange’ 2016
    Motoko Kusanagi in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ 2017

Ghost in the Shell is, as Jon Tsuei has written on Twitter, an inherently Japanese story, but now the history is probably getting taken out of the film. Do you think the film is on the path of ignoring some of the historical and cultural elements that makes Ghost in the Shell as provocative as it is?

Lanay: If that’s the case, then why call it Ghost in the Shell?  If you’re going to remove the character’s backstory and culture, then call it something else.  At least Tom Cruise and Doug Liman understood that when they were making ‘Edge of Tomorrow’.  It was an American adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill.  They weren’t going to be idiots and keep the same title, the same character names and the same history.  Would you buy Tom Cruise playing a character named Keiji Kiriya?

The publisher of Kodansha has stated that he sees nothing wrong with Johansson playing Kusanagi, and quite a few Japanese movie goers have expressed the opinion of not going to see the movie anyway. What does this tell you about how the international market, particularly the Asian market, might accept or reject this film?

Chow: The way we view and discuss race in America is very different than how people in other countries view and discuss race. Japan has its own issues with how it views race and ethnicity that is irrelevant to Asian Americans in America.

To be blunt, folks in Japan or China might flock to the movie. Who knows? But that isn’t the problem. My advocating for Asian American actors has nothing to do with Chinese moviegoers, to be honest. China has its own movie industry with its own stars. There are a billion and a half Chinese people in the world. In China, “representation” of Chinese faces isn’t an issue. That is not what’s happening here, however. We [in America] have to move away from this idea that Asians in America are all foreign. Going back to Iron Fist, the whole gist of my original essay was to prove that we too are American. Why does “westernizing” something automatically require casting white people? This is the question I want people to ask themselves.

Lanay: The reason why a lot of folks in Japan are not upset about Johansson’s casting in Ghost in the Shell is because they already have their own media infrastructure.  They already have their own, actors, singers, dancers, writers, producers, directors.  They already have their own content made for them by them.  So they don’t really care about one movie with one white actress.  In this country, Hollywood gives us less than a handful of opportunities to see ourselves represented in movies and television, so of course we’re clamoring for whatever crumbs and scraps are tossed our way.  The rest of the world soaks up our content, but we don’t promote or watch content from the rest of the world.  That makes seeing diversity in American media all the more important to POC in this country because it’s such a rarity.

Do I think it’ll do as well as Lucy? Doubtful.  Do I think a Black Widow movie would be the better option for Johansson?  Absolutely! She’s not hard up for cash or some struggling actress trying to make her big break.  She didn’t have to say yes to Ghost in the Shell.

I want to see Doctor Strange.  Controversy aside, I am a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  I’ll take a look at Iron Fist since I’ve enjoyed watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  Even though the nasty discourse has left a bad taste in my mouth, I’m very curious to see how they build towards The Defenders.  Can’t wait to see Luke Cage!  Will I watch Ghost in the Shell?  Nah, I’ll be skipping that one.

Recently, several actresses of Asian descent have called The Major “blackface,” launching another layer to the outrage. Do you think about the controversy over calling such casting “blackface,” despite the term “yellowface” in existence?

Chow: Yeah, I cringed when I saw that report. I in no way condone the analogy, primarily because yellowface is an offensive and racist enough practice on its own — but I get why Constance felt she had to make it. One of the problems is that most people think race in America is binary. This has always been part of the struggle for Asian Americans when discussing race in that context.

Often in matters of race, Asian Americans are only perceived depending on their relation to whiteness or blackness. But I don’t think that excuses co-opting black struggle to make a point. I think as a community we have to be mindful about how we coalition build and support one another without being anti-black in the process. This is why the backlash against #OscarsSoWhite was disheartening. This was an example of a pan-ethnic protest against the industry’s overwhelming whiteness, but for whatever reason non-black POCs thought their issues were being ignored. It didn’t help that during the telecast aired, Asians were still openly mocked.

So I understand the frustration and feeling like you’re invisible. But we shouldn’t criticize others for not standing up for us if we don’t first stand up for ourselves. This is why I’m working with Ellen Oh (of #WeNeedDiverseBooks fame) to launch a campaign to bring even more attention to the racist practice of whitewashing. We’ll be attempting to take to social media on May 3 with the hashtag #WhitewashedOUT. I’ll have more details on that soon[click here for that information].

Lanay: As someone who was fortunate enough to grow up with friends and influences of all backgrounds… As someone who has so much love and respect for the African American community… As someone who is deeply proud to call many intelligent, creative, beautiful Black people my friends… I’m very troubled by Constance Wu’s choice to use the term “blackface” over the term “yellowface” in regards to what we’re discussing here.  She specifically said “blackface” because she thought it would be more “evocative”.

While I fully appreciate the outrage towards her comments, I have some idea of where she’s coming from. During the Oscars telecast, Chris Rock did a fine job of addressing the #OscarsSoWhite elephant in the room.  So all the more reason people in the Asian community were upset and insulted by three little Asian kids being paraded on stage to make fun of their own kind. Can’t forget Sacha Baron Cohen’s “little yellow people with the tiny dicks” joke.

While I deem her tone to be a little aggressive or hostile, I can understand why Wu and many others were incensed by these jokes during a show that was basically hammering diversity down people’s throats.  Yes, there were no Black nominees.  There were no Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Disabled, or LGBT ones either (as far as I know).

…When I came across the “blackface” comment, my first thought was: “Why all of the sudden, are Asians getting angry now?  Why weren’t they speaking out and standing up when we were getting disrespected or excluded before?”  I was starting to feel like I was the only Asian-American who gave a damn.  Why are the rest of them so late to the party?

…I’m bothered by Wu’s comments because it reinforces the divide amongst POC.  We should be working together.  It’s bad enough that we keep falling into the trap of begging Hollywood for a seat at the table and trying to convince white people of our worth without us turning on each other too.

What do you want Hollywood to learn from these casting debacles?

Chow: Mainly that white people are not the only people in the world. I wan the studios to understand that having non-white people in a movie can actually be a good thing. But mostly, I want there to be more opportunity for actors of color. 

Lanay: The studio executives don’t view these decisions as debacles.  They’re not listening.  They don’t care. They wanted to cast name-actors, so they did.  White is the standard of beauty.  White is the grade for which excellence is measured.  White is the default setting.  Anything outside of that is seen as an abnormality.

Rinko Kikuchi is an academy award-nominated actress for her role in Babel.  She’s already in the nerd-sphere starring in projects like Pacific Rim.  Tao Okamoto is a supermodel in Japan.  She was in The Wolverine and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I bet you anything, these women weren’t even considered.  I bet you no Asian actress was considered for Ghost in the Shell.

There have been plenty of white-starred movies that have failed.  There have been plenty of diverse-starred movies that have succeeded.  Hollywood learns nothing.  The outliers who take risks and go against conventional wisdom are the ones who will instill change… eventually.  I hope I’m still around to see that change.  Scratch that.  I am going to be part of that change. ♦

The controversy surrounding these films are needed, and the conversations they’re starting are necessary. If Hollywood is really going to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to proper representation, two of the first places to start are finally ending the practices whitewashing and yellowface. When a group of people grow up hardly ever seeing themselves on-screen, that causes serious psychological, social, and cultural repercussions. Ending these practices and representing people fairly on-screen would allow for everyone to feel accepted and like they are a valued part of America. Lanay states this point best:

“For a long time, I hated being Asian.  I hated the way I looked.  I hated not getting the auditions I wanted.  I hated not being taken seriously.  My mother would always tell me not to make waves.  With all due respect – F*ck that sh*t! I’m making some damn waves!  Nobody should feel like they were born in the wrong skin.  Nobody should feel ashamed for being what they are.”

Other articles to check out:

#S4MBlerds: Dear Hollywood, whitewashing doesn’t make better movies|Blavity

Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and How Hollywood Keeps Giving Asian Roles to White Actors|Complex

6 Japanese Actresses Who Could (and Should!) Replace Scarlett Johansson in ‘Ghost in the Shell’|Yahoo

Hollywood’s glaring problem: White actors playing Asian characters|L.A. Times

N.O.C. One-Shot: Whitewashing in Black and Yellow| The Nerds of Color

Some Thoughts on Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell|The Nerds of Color

Hollywood’s upcoming films prove it loves Asian culture – as long as it comes without Asians|Media Diversified

What a Shitty Week to be an Asian American Woman in Hollywood|The Nerds of Color

Constance Wu And Ming-Na Wen Protest Hollywood’s Whitewashing Of “Ghost In The Shell”|Buzzfeed

Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?|New York Times

A #GrantRose Valentine’s Day: A meditation on “Mr. Robot” power couple Whiterose and Grant

The illustration features a still of White Rose and Grant in a cemetery. The picture is set in a red heart frame surrounded by the outlines of white roses. The background is white and red HTML on a dark grey computer screen.

It’s Valentine’s Day, everybody. Everyone’s got their obligatory Valentine’s Day post, but I’m going to do things a little differently. You might say, I’m going to hack Cupid’s Day and inject a conversation about one of the breakout couples from Mr. Robot, Whiterose (BD Wong) and her loyal assistant/lover Grant (Grant Chang).

I finally had a chance to catch up on Mr. Robot a few months ago, and I realized how it slyly stacks its deck full of characters on the sexual spectrum. Tyrell (Martin Wallström) fell into the fanatical side of love with Mr. Robot, and while the show never portrayed Mr. Robot as purposefully leading Tyrell on, fanfiction writers could certainly find moments within the show to insert an alternate narrative of Mr. Robot using Tyrell’s fanaticism to Mr. Robot’s advantage.  Darlene (Carly Chaikin) slept with FBI agent Dom(Grace Gummer) to try to help Elliot reverse the damage Mr. Robot’s caused. In previous seasons, Trenton (Sunita Mani) showed feelings toward Darlene and Angela (Portia Doubleday) has an intense makeout session with Shayla (Frankie Shaw).

All of those portrayals of sexual representation are cool in my book. But my favorite coupling out of everyone is Whiterose and Grant. Their time together evolved in this recent third season, culminating in Grant having to make the ultimate sacrifice. Technically, though, Whiterose decided his fate for him, citing Grant’s unchecked jealousy surrounding Whiterose’s interest in Elliot as an element that would get in the way of future plans. 

Season 3 was basically a vehicle for Whiterose and Grant’s storylines. One of the consistent parts of the season was that it was literally not about Elliot; every other main character rose up to compete for the title of main character, and honestly, any character on the show could easily have their own spinoff. Whiterose and Grant certainly took this season and ran with it, and I was ready to go on their ride towards world domination. There large chunks of the show where I was actively rooting for them to win, to be honest.

I wanted to see what a world would be like under Whiterose’s thumb. Technically, if the season’s allusions to Whiterose’s influence in our presidential election are any indication, we already are living in Whiterose’s America. But while it’s hell living in it, it’s fun to see society from her lofty, expensive perch, where she’s outfitted in the finest of Rich Aunt fashions, drinking her champagne in the fluted glass handed to her by her one and only Grant, who’s dressed in the finest suit Tom Ford can muster. It’s a dream world of excess and financial debauchery, and in these times, which resemble the 1980s in terms of the juxtaposition of wealth in the media (like Dynasty and Dallas) amid rising costs and and an impending deficit, it’s a relief from our economically poor lives to watch how the other half lives (and makes life terrible for the rest of us). It’s a perverse fantasy, but it’s a fantasy nonetheless, and Whiterose and Grant sold it in spades.

It’s also a great character touch to show how devoted and in love Grant actually is with Whiterose, and the show makes our voyeristic time as viewers even better by showing that Grant’s love is not one-sided. Despite Whiterose’s ultimate dispatching of Grant, we do see how she does truly care about him. In Whiterose’s world, a world in which she gets rid of anyone in her way regardless of their station or their worth as a person, it means something to see her shedding tears and saying her final goodbyes (albeit while relaxing in her bubble bath with champagne) to a man who has meant so much to her. She has narcissistic tendencies, sure. But no one can say she didn’t actually love Grant. The only wedge between them is her greater love for her ultimate mission; to take power from Evil Corp’s Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) and destroy him where he stands. 

As far as character development goes, Whiterose and Grant are about as enigmatic, engaging and fun to watch as you can get. Again, you really want a show just about them and their machinations. But of course, just because I love their characters, that doesn’t mean I’m not without awareness of the thornier aspects of their representation, Whiterose in particular. Whiterose is probably a cause for contention among trans viewers, since Whiterose is identified as transgender, yet she’s played by a cisgender man.

Wong himself said to Vulture’s Matthew Giles how he initially resisted taking the role, not wanting to take the role from trans actors. He also didn’t want the character to be another stereotype of an “evil trans person.” According to Wong, he was told creator Sam Esmail did meet with trans actors, but didn’t hire any of them, wanting Wong instead. As Esmail himself told Buzzfeed’s Ariane Lange, Wong was his first choice for the role.

For Esmail, stated Wong, the character opportunity Whiterose presents is a chance for Esmail to show the dynamics of the gender power struggle in business.

“There’s a great challenge in being a powerful woman in a powerful white man’s world,” said Wong to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Chris Gardner. “I think that it’s part of his choice to make her a person who needs to be gender fluid to get what she wants.”

To his credit, Wong doesn’t give himself a break when it comes to the type of role he’s playing. “There’s a lot of things we can discuss that are connected to it. There’s also the casting of me in this part, which is not cool to trans people,” he said. “Like Asians, trans actors don’t get a lot of opportunities. There are arguably mitigating factors in this particular role because there is gender fluidity and she has to interface as a man and as a woman.”

Pajiba’s Riley Silverman rightly takes Wong and Esmail to task for utilizing a cis male actor for a transgender part. For Silverman, the role of Whiterose smacks of cis-privileged hubris and appeals primarily to cisgender viewers, like Silverman’s friend.

“I no longer blame my friend for being so excited about the character. Or for applauding. I feel like that was exactly what creator Sam Esmail was going for,” wrote Silverman. “He wrote Whiterose as the kind of character who with-it cis viewers would pump their fists at and say yeah, just like I imagine he did himself when he was writing her.”

But while citing the holes in both Wong and Esmail’s rationalization of a cis male playing a trans woman, Silverman still has sympathy for Wong and the real reason he took the role, which he explained in Vulture.

“I feel kind of like, as a minority with limited opportunities, I did not have the luxury of being able to turn down this role based on my wish that in an ideal world a trans actor could illuminate this part with ‘authentic trans insight.'” he said. “I will also add for whatever it’s worth that Whiterose does have both female and male personae. So I did basically cash in that chip I got as a minority at the beginning of the game, decided to accept the role, and I also accept the responsibility and consequences of that.”

“In this, I do legitimately feel empathy for BD Wong,” wrote Silverman. “He’s not Scarlett Johansson, who could have simply turned down Ghost in the Shell. He’s an actor who is successful but still likely needs to take most jobs that come his way, aware that even if he’s working steadily now that tap could be turned off at any time. But I also legitimately wonder whether he would accept that same excuse from someone like me if I were cast as a radical reimagining of Song Liling in a new adaptation of M. Butterfly. And I wonder, if that happened, if I would take that part.”

It’s an interesting conundrum when the actor knows their presence as the character is problematic. But it’s equally problematic that there aren’t enough complex roles for everyone in Hollywood. The drought of meaningful roles forces some actors to take roles they’d rather not, such as Wong taking on this role. I’m sure he saw it as a once-in-a lifetime opportunity; there aren’t too many times you can play a character on a critically-acclaimed show that premiered at SXSW of all places. But, as Wong well knows, accepting the role takes an opportunity away from a trans actor. What could a trans actor have added to the role if given the chance? Why didn’t Esmail reconsider the ramifications of casting a cis male in the role, especially after he saw trans actors for the part? I don’t have the answers; we need to ask Esmail these questions. Thankfully, the character of Grant is devoid of these serious representation discussions, seeing how he’s played by a cis male.

While Chang doesn’t say much as Grant, he emotes through his body and especially his eyes, giving Grant a quiet sturdiness, a sense of patience that–while worn thin sometimes from Whiterose’s deliberate nature–is built from his trust in Whiterose. He also commands the presence of a leading man from midcentury leading men like James Shigeta as well as an undercover machismo that he sublimates for the sake of Whiterose’s dominant personality. But on occasion, it comes through, like when he wants Whiterose to just act instead of monologue and plot, or when he convinces Whiterose to finally let him take the reins of a mission, asserting his more traditionally masculine personality when it comes to romantic societal norms. However, despite his simmering frustration at not being able to assert his masculinity the way he’d like due to Whiterose’s position as the mastermind, he still finds power in letting her lead. He’s a man’s man in some ways, but he’s also highly attracted to strong, take charge women.

When it’s all said and done, Whiterose and Grant were, for me, the most engaging part of Mr. Robot Season 3. It was the first time I could have done without Elliot’s storyline, since in some ways, he was actually slowing things down. For the latest season, the drama was centered around Whiterose’s next move, and how she’d employ her best guy to carry out her deeds. But that doesn’t mean I’m avoiding the conversation to be had about Wong playing a transgender character, something he feels quite uncomfortable about, despite agreeing to take the role. As Wong said to Vulture, Whiterose acts as an opportunity to open dialogue on transgender characters and trans representation in the media. However, one element of that conversation should include if the conversation can be advanced if cisgender actors keep shutting trans actors out of roles, effectively shutting them out from their seat at the table.

What do you think about Whiterose and Grant? What do you love about them and how do you feel about Wong taking the role of Whiterose? Give your comments below!♦

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Ed Skrein shows how easy it is to stand against whitewashing

Ed Skrein has done what we’ve wanted other filthy rich movie stars who can afford to miss a whitewashing role to do—he turned down a whitewashing role, and offered a quick primer on whitewashing to the folks who might not get it.

Skrein was supposed to play Ben Daimio in Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. In the comics, Ben is a Japanese-American character. However, Skrein clearly isn’t and he was roundly criticized for accepting the role on social media. According to his explanation, he didn’t even know the role was whitewashed when he took it.

Here’s his statement in full:

Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and David Harbour, who is taking over the Hellboy role from Ron Perlman, have put forth their votes of approval:

What’s interesting is that Skrein notes that he himself has a family of mixed heritage. Skrein, who is of Jewish Austrian and English descent, states his own background has made him more aware of these representation issues, and this propelled him to take the right step and give up the role so the casting folks can rightfully cast an actor of Japanese heritage (or, as casting folks are wont to do, cast any East Asian person) for the role.

What Skrein’s done is basically show actors who have taken on whitewashed roles that there was no reason for them to accept those roles, especially (such as the case with Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange, and Death Note) if the roles have already been clearly established in pop culture as Asian characters. Skrein—whether he knows it or not—has also laid down the gauntlet for other stars who take on whitewashed roles. They can’t use any excuses now—if they get wind of controversy and they stay in the role, then they have to make a choice to either stay in the role and actively deny visibility to a people, or to take the grander moral gesture of bowing out of a role and making way for someone who should have gotten cast in the first place.

While Skrein’s decision is something to clap for, remember that this is the only actor so far to do this in the entire whitewashing controversy that’s taken its toll on several films this year (and will continue to do so next year with Alita: Battle Angel, which Skrein is ironically a part of). It would be great if more actors could do this—instead of looking for their pocketbook, which is already lined to the hilt, it’d be nice if more actors used their high profile for good and give deference to underrepresented POC actors who are struggling to get the breaks white or white-passing actors get.

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2018 Film Forecast: Looking Into the Abyss

It’s time to look to the near future of film. Just like how the fashion industry has become an industry that relies on trend forecasting, let’s utilize the same concept when discussing what kind of mood the country will be in when we decide to sit in the theaters next year. From where I’m sitting, 2018 is going to be a year of contemplation, a year of gathering one’s bearings after a tumultuous 2017, and overall, a year of figuring out where we in the U.S. and, indeed, the world, are going if we keep on our path towards destruction.


The color story that seems to be going on in 2018 is muted blues and black disrupted by explosive, fiery colors–dark red, orange, and gold. My using the word “explosive” is meant in both a descriptive and literal sense; there is a very real sense of literal explosions in our daily life at this point in 2017, what with the threat of North Korea, the growing Cold War-esque tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and the country’s own political explosions with mounting evidence that showcases President Trump and the administration under the sway of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s power.

The end of 2017 will see dark red come into play as we transition from this year into the next. Check out these Star Wars: The Last Jedi posters from this year:


Dark red is the dominant color, painting each of the characters to show that no matter what side you’re on, everyone’s going to be affected politically, socially, and personally by the upheaval that will happen in this next part of the saga.

All of this year’s colors are featured in The Justice League, which is coming out late 2017. The Zack Snyder-led DCU has been consistently moody, with blues, reds, oranges, and blacks making up the color palette. Perhaps it’s because of this big tentpole that we’ll see a lot more films take on a more Snyder-esque palette for their promotional material. What’s funny is that as much as people have derided Snyder for his bleak palette, 2018 will be the year that we as a culture actually feel it reflected in our collective mood. Maybe Snyder was onto something the whole time.

Red, gold, orange, neon blue and muted blues make their way into several of next year’s movies, both in their posters and in the trailers themselves. The throughline seems to be that humanity wants to find the balance between war and peace, technology and human experiences, existentialism and optimism. The importance of neon blue definitely shows itself in the more futuristic films; in these films, humanity on the precipice of extinction–or at the very least, fighting for some kind of co-existence with a more dominant species– is the main plot point.

ORANGE: Power, the unknown, disturbance

(featured: Proud Mary, Alpha, A Wrinkle in Time, Blade Runner: 2049)

NEON BLUE: Technology, mechanical coldness, human advancement (not always for the better)

(featured: Pacific Rim: Uprising, Ready Player One, Black Panther, Blade Runner: 2049)

RED AND BLACK: Ominous threat, fright, fight for survival

(featured: The Predator, Early Man, Blade Runner: 2049, Pacific Rim: Uprising)

NAVY AND MUTED BLUES: Contemplation, the dark side of technology, lurking threat, existentialism

(featured: Pacific Rim: Uprising, Blade Runner 2049, A Wrinkle in Time, Ready Player One)

GOLD AND BLACK: Personal strength, inner power, intelligence, new beginnings

(featured: Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Blade Runner 2049, Alpha)


Movie studios will still be making reboots, remakes, and sequels. However there seems to be an even clearer note of nostalgia with some of these films in 2018 aside from Hollywood trying their luck with any book or older film property.

Nostalgia, particularly nostalgia for the ’80s and ’90s (a time when a big chunk of the most catered to media demographic, young people 18-40, were kids or teenagers) will be apparent in 2018. Of course, Blade Runner: 2049 is a big send-up to the ’80s, but there’s also Ready Player One, which will have properties that span the ’80s and ’90s making cameo appearances (such as The Iron Giant, featured above). Other films such as Goosebumps: Horrorland, The Predator, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom keep up the nostalgic ’80s and ’90s trend. Even horror is getting on the bandwagon with the resurgence of killer doll Chucky and Halloween‘s Mike Myers.

Other films, like Barbie, Peter Rabbit, S.C.O.O.B. (a new live-action iteration of Scooby-Doo) and Mary Poppins Returns show that childhood memories from any era are back in play. Overall, the nostalgic trend showcases the longing everyone has to go back to a time when they didn’t have to worry about the fate of the world every. single. day.

A big example of the ’80s trend in mainstream tentpoles is Thor Ragnarok. 


Thor isn’t a legacy property the same way Barbie, Peter Rabbit, and Mary Poppins are. But, as was apparent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the late ’70s and ’80s are a big influence on Marvel’s intergalactic adventures. I mean, it’s not accident that Bruce Banner shows up wearing a shirt featuring Duran Duran’s RIO album cover, or that ’80s genre it boy Jeff Goldblum is part of the main cast. The bright colors, bombastic feel, and Valkyrie showing up with a fleet of warriors on winged horses smacks of 1970s and 1980s heavy metal, Philip Castle airbrush art, as well as 1980s candy-coated cartoons, which also delved into their share of metal inspiration via He-ManShe-Ra, and ThunderCats. Even the ship that is felled by the fireworks display behind Valkyrie (below) seems to pay homage to the spaceship iconography apparent with the band Electronic Light Orchestra, aka ELO.

(featured: scenes from Thor: Ragnaork, Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, Philip Castle airbrush artwork, ELO spaceship artwork)

In short, film studios want those of us in our 20s and 30s to feel like we did when we’d stay up to watch TGIF or when woke up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons. That feeling of nostalgia is going to be used as a buffer and distraction from the scary times we have yet to enter come 2018.

While we’re all pining for our worry-free childhoods, we’ll also be taking stock of our place in the universe and whether we can keep our planet going for another couple thousand years. Quite a few films will focus on the world at its bleakest and most depleted as well as the world when it was fresh and new. Alpha, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, is set during the last part of the Ice Age, and Aardman’s Early Man will have its protagonist, a Bronze Age man (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), on a journey to save his beloved city.

On the extinction side of things, Ready Player One takes place in a near future in which Detroit is inundated with trailer-home skyscrapers called The Stacks and Mortal Engines, based on the popular book series by Philip Reeve, shows an earth that is desolate after the “Sixty Minute War,” with cities roaming Laputa-style, attacking and eating smaller cities in its path to replenish supplies. Extinction, which will feature Michael Peña, Mike Colter, and Lizzy Caplan, will see our current world invaded by aliens.

Sci-fi in 2018 will be almost exclusively about the world’s dire straits and how we humans can protect ourselves and the world from becoming extinct. One of Dwayne Johnson’s many projects next year, Rampage, is based on an ’80s video game (yes, nostalgia again), but it’ll be a more serious take on the game, which involved monsters wreaking havoc on cities. In the film, the monsters are animals (endangered or vulnerable animals, no less) that have been mutated by a mad scientist to destroy humanity. Pacific Rim: Uprising continues the story of a world that is constantly at war with underwater aliens, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes the dinosaurs out of the park and into the metropolis, creating yet another version of Godzilla. (Also, don’t forget about the sequel to Godzilla, coming in 2019, which will continue the environmentally-conscious trend in sci-fi films).

So why do sci-fi films seem to have a lot of power when it comes to this environmental message? Well, one of the cornerstones of sci-fi film is to discuss our culpability in our own demise and whether we’ll have the smarts to right our wrongs. And while we’ve been fantasizing about aliens wiping us out, the real threat has been us all along–we’ve mutated as many animals and destroyed as much wildlife as any alien in sci-fi has. So the alien threat in most of these films has become nature itself. When there is actual science to back up your sci-fi–yes, the earth is heating up and we’re destroying the ecosystem at all levels and perhaps we’re making our own grave if we don’t invest in sustainable methods of living–then sci-fi’s environmental message becomes that much stronger.

(featured: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Rampage)

It’s a little early, but I’ve been looking at the 2019 slate as it stands right now, and it would seem that some more optimistic films are on the horizon after 2018. Perhaps the film industry is banking on us getting out of our present political and social state (we will be getting closer to Trump’s end of his first–and hopefully final–term) and we’ll finally have reason to celebrate. Let’s hope so. But in 2018, we’ll be in the existentialist thick of figuring out how we’re going to keep this world spinning.

We’re at odds with Russia, and more and more people believe that the Russian government has injected itself into our politics and in the country’s presidency. More insidious is the probability that Trump is willingly under Putin’s thumb. We haven’t faced such times as these since President Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the Cold War, which lasted from the lasted from the late ’40s to the ’80s (again, there’s a hint of ’80s nostalgia there). So naturally, 2018 will see an increased focus on ’70s and ’80s politics, the Cold War, Nixon and Watergate, and new interpretations of those themes in present-day stories. Films such as Red Sparrow and Finding Steve McQueen are directly related to Russian/American politics, both in the 1970s and today. The interest in Russia has already in TV, with Channing Tatum’s Comrade Detective and HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 (I’ll get to TV in another post, so don’t worry, I’ll get to the TV trends too). That trend is also already coming to film with this September’s The Death of Stalin, chronicling the days after the Joseph Stalin’s death.

(featured: Red Sparrow book cover, The Death of Stalin, Finding Steve McQueen, The papers set photo)

The Papers is another film that’s about the 1970s (and late 1960s), but it’s handling public distrust of another kind. The Papers is all about the discovery of The Pentagon Papers, which showed that President Johnson lied to the public about the nature of the Vietnam War. While this isn’t directly about Nixon or Watergate, it’s still showing that the film tide is turning towards investigating a lack of trust in authority, particularly in a “post-truth” society.

Eventually, the focus that is beginning to be applied to Russia and the Cold War of the ’80s will also rope in North Korea as well. With North Korea becoming more and more of a nuclear threat each day, screenwriters will no doubt want to turn their attention towards the Hermit Kingdom, and studios will also probably want to capitalize on some of the properties that are already out that focus on nuclear threat. (A possible resurgence of Watchmen, perhaps? Just spit-balling here).

As you can see in this Oceans Eight first look image, women are going to be in power in all kinds of ways. From robbing folks to executing hits to owning stardom, women in unconventional and/or powerful roles will be all over 2018. Some of the films we’ll see next year are Battle Angel AlitaA Wrinkle in Time, Mary Poppins Returns, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, The Nightingale, Red Sparrow, Tomb Raider, Crazy Rich Asians, Proud Mary, Widows, Ant Man and the Wasp, Life of the Party, The Papers, Winchester, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Annihilation, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, to name a few.

(featured: Rosa Salazar cast in Alita: Battle Angel, Meryl Streep in The Papers, Taraji P. Henson in Proud Mary, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon in A Wrinkle in Time, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson in Annihilation, Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider)

Several of the films mentioned have women of color at the forefront, and two such films, like Widows and Proud Mary have black women (Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson, respectively) taking on roles that require their characters to exact deadly revenge, a micro-trend by itself. Alita: Battle Angel, based on a popular anime and manga about a cyborg brought back to life, stars Rosa Salazar amid a multicultural cast, and Crazy Rich Asians finally ends the drought of a lack of a pan-Asian presence on screen. Zazie Beetz (seen below) will become the first lady of Fox’s Deadpool franchise and, of course, all of that is rounded out by the introduction of Storm Reid in A Wrinkle in Time and the big screen debut of ballerina (or as I like to think of her, my ballerina Barbie come to life) Misty Copeland in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. (As a huge Nutcracker fan, I can’t wait to see the film’s costumes. Here’s hoping they live up to my expectations.)

The tide has been turning for women in film, what with the outcry of several actresses about the lack of meaningful roles for women, the financial gain studios have seen from hiring women for action and bawdy comedy roles (such as Girls Trip, which became the highest-grossing live-action comedy in 2017), and movie-goers’ own demand for actresses getting equal treatment next to their male counterparts. This has led to the portrayal of women who aren’t just boobs and butts with mouths for male pleasure; Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider isn’t the busty woman of the past (who still kicked butt, by the way); she’s now a slimmed-down, more athletic-built woman who is on an existential search for herself as well as she finds out the truth about her father. Meryl Streep plays a newspaper titan who is out to get those Pentagon Papers. Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson are scientists studying another world, with no men in sight.

But, as you can probably infer from the high gross from Girls Trip, that there’s also a racial element at play, too. It’s not just that women as a whole are getting more roles, it’s that there’s slowly more equity for women of color to be seated at the table as well. While women in general don’t have as much play as actors, white women still had the lion’s share of the roles. Technically, they still do, but thankfully, with directors of color like Ava DuVernay and actresses of color-turned-producers like Queen Latifah taking the reins, we’re finally beginning to see films starring actresses of color play in roles that were strictly relegated only to white actresses. Would we have seen Mindy Kaling and Oprah play interdimensional beings if it weren’t for another woman of color like DuVernay? I’m sure someone would have done it, but it wouldn’t have happened so soon, I’d think, and it might not have been done with the same intention of equity. Ditto for A Wrinkle in Time featuring an interracial relationship and what looks like a blended family (from the trailers, it’s seems like Storm’s character has a white brother, leading me to think that it’s her stepbrother).

Is Hollywood really “woke” by including more people of color and more of an LGBT focus in its movies? Let’s just say this is Hollywood’s first dip of its big toe in the water of being “woke.” However, this is still a huge push forward in 2018, with a bigger number of films showcasing either all-POC or mostly POC casts.

Of course, there’s Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians and A Wrinkle in Time, but there’s also, Triple Threat, starring Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Tiger Chen and Uko Uwais, and The Predator, which stars Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn and Edward James Olmos.

As mentioned before, Annihilation stars Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, and several movies, including Deadpool 2, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Skyscraper, Gringo, Creed 2, Mary Poppins Returns, the currently-untitled Han Solo Star Wars filmThe Alchemist, Aladdin and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom will prominently feature POC characters. Just take a look at this compilation of actors:

(Featured: Lin-Manuel Miranda in Mary Poppins Returns, Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok, the cast of RampageJurassic World: Fallen Kingdom‘s B.D. Wong, Star Wars Han Solo film’s Donald Glover, J.A. Bayona in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, the cast of The Predator, the cast of Aquaman and director James Wan, Crazy Rich Asians‘ Henry Golding, Aladdin‘s Mena Massoud)

It also doesn’t hurt that there will be some big films directed by directors of color. DuVernay has been mentioned, and James Wan is in charge of Aquaman. Taika Waititi is behind Thor: Ragnarok and Steve McQueen is behind Widows. Jon M. Chu is bringing his directorial vision to Crazy Rich Asians.

There’s also Simon vs. the Homo-Sapien Agenda, which will be the live-action adaptation of a novel focusing on a high schooler taking coming out to his classmates in his own hands.

With all of this progress, there are still some indications Hollywood isn’t as woke as it’d like to be: at least two of the movies on the current slate feature Asian themes (specifically Japanese storytelling) without Japanese characters. As mentioned already, the Alita film adaptation will feature a multicultural cast with a non-Japanese POC lead, and Isle of Dogs will feature a mostly-white, if not all-white, cast (including Scarlett Johansson, whom people still haven’t forgiven for her role in Ghost in the Shell). We’ll see how these films are handled as we get closer to their releases. Also, Simon vs. the Homo-Sapien Agenda is currently the only high-profile film focusing on a gay character. We’ll see exactly how many LGBT characters and stories are a part of 2018, but it looks like Hollywood is, once again, lacking in this area. There’s also no clear word on how disabled people will be represented either. Seeing how disabled people have been represented this year, there’s no reason to think that 2018 will showcase anything different. But we can hope.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned every film coming out in 2018 (partially because not every film has released its promotional info) and, like with anything, there will be outliers that are hard to put into any category. But these are my general thoughts on 2018–an overview, if you will. What do you think 2018 holds for us? Give your thoughts below!

Being Latinx in Hollywood: Media creators talk representation

Latinx representation in Hollywood is something that seems to be suspiciously under the radar, even though it’s highly important, as the Latinx identity is one that is diverse and multifaceted. Despite characters like Sofia Vergara’s Gloria in ABC’s Modern Family and the casts of Lifetime’s Devious Maids and TNT’s Queen of the South existing in the media, there’s still more that needs to be done in Hollywood, such as focusing more on darker-skinned tones, racial diversity, and whitewashing. For every Gloria onscreen, there’s only one April Sexton, Yaya DaCosta’s Afro-Brazilian role on NBC’s Chicago Med, or Carla Espinosa, Judy Reyes’ proud Dominican character on NBC’s Scrubs. Even the roles like Vergara’s role—which is a “sexy Latina” stereotype—need work in order to exist outside of the stereotypes that have been wrongly attached to Latinx characters and actors.

Two of the latest instances of Hollywood’s failure at Latinx representation are X-Men Sunspot and Dr. Cecilia Reyes. The Afro-Latinx characters, which will be part of the new X-Men film The New Mutants, will be played by Henry Zaga and Alice Braga. Zaga is Brazilian, but he isn’t black or biracial, which removes much of the context from Sunspot’s character, as his characterization stems from the racial issues he’s had to face as a biracial Afro-Brazilian. Alternatively, Braga is Afro-Latina, but being light-skinned, she’s able to exhibit a privilege that the original, darker-skinned actress up for the role, Rosario Dawson, can’t. Again, it takes an important piece away from a character that is not just Puerto Rican, but defined by her place in the African Diaspora.

Throughout this year, I spoke with several Latinx creators about how they feel about Hollywood’s Latinx representation and what can be done to make it better. This is a longform piece, so I’ll break this up into several sections:

The roles afforded to Latinx actors in Hollywood

Diego Luna in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (Lionsgate)

Latinx actors, like many POC actors, are offered less than their fair share of meaningful roles. When they are offered roles, they’re often racist.

“When Latinx actors do get roles, I feel they’re oftentimes stereotypes,” wrote Desiree Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant for Lion Forge sci-fi comic book Catalyst Prime and writer for Women on Comics and The Nerds of Color, in an email interview. “The Spicy Latina, the Buffoon, the Tough Chick Who Dies, the Sexual Exotic Fantasy, the Drug Dealer, the Gangster, and so on.

“…What I find frustrating is when Latinx actors do get roles, it’s a struggle and they are locked into stereotypes,” said Rodriguez. “I’m a huge fan of Diego Luna, but the first role I saw him in he played a Cuban – when he is Mexican – man who was basically the exotic fantasy for the white female lead in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. This isn’t even getting into how Afro-Latinxs, Asian-Latinxs, and other mixed raced Latinxs are barred from roles because they don’t fit Hollywood’s pre-packaged idea of what being Latinx looks like.”

“I think currently, while we are seeing more visibility, the current roles that are offered or available to Latinos are the role of a servant position, like a maid or something that falls in line with the stereotypes people have about Latinos, like maybe a sidekick or a criminal,” said Janel Martinez, founder and editor-in-chief of Ain’t I Latina, a site celebrating Afro-Latinas and Afro-Latinx culture.

“For example, in Orange is the New Black, a lot of people were hyped about the fact that there was a great representation of Latinas in the actual show, which is awesome, but when you look on the flipside of that, this is a show about women in jail,” she said. “Also, Devious Maids, [co-produced by Eva Longoria], it’s a full cast of Latinas, two of them identifying as Afro-Latina, and they were maids. I think people are seeing the visibility, people are excited to be able to say if you’re watching the show, you’re seeing our representation…but I think it’s still in a very limited scope. I find that it’s not just a Carrie Bradshaw or just someone who happens to be a Latina but maybe they’re the magazine editor in the movie. Their identity, while it’s important, isn’t in line with stereotypes and then manifested in the character that they essentially embody.”

“Typically, I see lots of immigrant, day laborers and criminal roles going to Latinx actors,” wrote Gerry Maravilla, Head of Crowdfunding at Seed and Spark and writer-director of Cross, in an email interview. “I think this comes from often lack of interaction on behalf of writers and filmmakers with Latinx people in the real world. As such, they rely on what they’ve already seen in films or what they see from the vantage point of their more insulated experience.”

“By ‘insulated,’ I don’t mean that they live secluded or antisocial lives, but rather the lives they lead don’t actually include Latinx people in any meaningful way,” he said. “Instead, they see the Latinx peoples working in roles like day laborers or think about Latinx gang culture because of its coverage in the media.”

I think the most important thing to remember about stereotypes is how detrimental they are to Latinx actors who are trying to be cast in roles that are meaningful [as well as] to creators and consumers as a whole,” said Kimberly Hoyos, filmmaker and creator of The Light Leaks, a website designed to support, educate and empower female and gender non-conforming filmmakers. “As a Latina creator, I’m not going to write a character that I wouldn’t personally maybe want to act as. I wouldn’t create someone who is my ethnicity that doesn’t represent something larger as a whole. As a consumer growing up, that’s what I would see, maids and…anything that was oversexualized or overcriminalized. I think that in part pushed me to be a creator so I would be in charge of what was being produced.

Amy Novondo, singer and actor, said that several people she knows are frustrated with the lack of quality roles.

“[Hollywood] thinks of that over-dramatized telenovela atmosphere and [they think that] Latinos are only capable of that kind of acting their minds,” she said. “I know a couple of Latinos who are really mad about this because we barely get a chance to get into the audition room and when we do, we’re stereotyped right out of the box. It’s like, come on—I want a little more than that.”

Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Why have these stereotypes stayed around, and why have they kept their power? The answers lie in the pervasiveness of media itself, wrote Rodriguez.

“Media has a lot of power. The images we see, coupled with the words we read or we hear imprint on us however subtly,” she wrote. “It’s something of an irony that the Latin Lover trope can be attributed to Rudolph Valentino’s – a white Italian man – performance in 1921’s The Sheik, while stereotypes like The Domestic – where Latinx characters are gardeners, maids, etc – are perpetrated by popular, well known Latinx actors like Jennifer Lopez. And in Lopez’s case, we have an instance where Hollywood shows how deeply entrenched it is with its discomfort and ignorance dealing with the Latinx identity.”

Rodriguez references The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, which exhibit Lopez in two roles that reinforce racial and ethnic hierarchies.

“In The Wedding Planner, Lopez plays an Italian woman who is, for all intents and purposes, highly successful and comfortably well off. In Maid in Manhattan, Lopez plays a Latina woman who works as a maid in an expensive hotel, just scraping by as a single mom, and only finds success after she falls in love with a white man,” she wrote. “This creates a distorted image. As an Italian woman, Lopez’s character is an independent and successful career woman who eventually finds love. As a Latina woman, Lopez’s character is a single mom (enforcing the idea that Latino men are absentee fathers/bad family men), working as a maid until a rich white man “saves” her; then and only then does she find success.”

“This is, perhaps, a cynical viewing of what are two separate, and admittedly tropey romantic comedies. But again, media has power. Consciously or not, there’s a negative message to be had in the fact that Lopez’s Latina identity was erased in favor of an Italian one in The Wedding Planner,” she wrote. “By erasing our Latinx identities in favor of white ones, either by erasing the very existence of our Latinx identities or whitewashing them with white actors, media contributes to misinformation about what being Latinx is. Who we are as a collective culture and people – which is highly diverse and layered. Yet these stereotypes are upheld by this continued enforcement of ignorance and whitewashing.”

“[Stereotyping is] very, very detrimental and limiting because when you think of Latin America, we’re talking about over 20 countries and yes, we’re talking about Spanish [as a language] there are other languages [as well]…so I will say that when it comes down to not just representation, but inclusion in Hollywood, a person has to be invested in learning about the culture because there’s so many different moving parts,” said Martinez. “You can be Latino, Latina, Latinx, but you can be black, you can be Asian, you can be white and Latino. There has to be a great understanding of the culture.”

“…I think the work that is needed to really depict a Latino hasn’t been done and I think, specifically, when it comes to the representation, a lot of times they don’t even specify the nationality of the Latino [character]. …[Viewers] don’t even know if this person is Ecuadorian or Puerto Rican or if they’re from Honduras or Nicaragua or wherever because whoever wrote the role[.]”

Martinez also talked about how the different languages, slang words, and other cultural identifiers that make up Latin America aren’t taken seriously as characterization tools.

“When we see the portrayals on our screen, those things are not necessarily taken into account,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a strong grasp on what it means to be Latino, either Latino in America or Latino abroad.”

Jennifer Lopez and Tyler Posey in Maid in Manhattan (Columbia/TriStar)

Hoyos said that stereotypes are at their most insidious when people don’t even recognize them as such.

“I think the most dangerous thing about stereotypes is that to the untrained eye, they’re not seen as anything negative…To the average viewer, if they see one crime movie with Latinx as they gang members or the thugs, they may not even call that movie racist,” she said. “They might be like, ‘Oh, other movies do that.’ It becomes a normalized thing, and I think that’s why need to educate ourselves as a whole. I think a lot of that goes to correcting others when we see problematic media as a whole.”

Maravilla echoes this point by examining the news’ portrayal of Latinx Americans.

“I think these stereotypes originate from a similar place as the kind of roles that go to Latinx actors. They come from an isolated or insulated experience from Latinx people that prevents them from seeing or understanding them as complex, three-dimensional people,” he wrote. “When you look at other films, Latinx people are often criminals, immigrants, blue-collar people, and when they look at news coverage, this is also typically our depiction.”

“As filmmakers try to balance telling an engaging and affective story, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of making a narrative work at a story level, he wrote. “Because their focus or interest isn’t necessarily on accurate cultural representation, they rely on stereotypes to satisfy their story needs, but end up not fully realizing (and in some cases just not caring) about the harm these stereotypes are doing.”

Next: Whitewashing and brownface in Hollywood

Racially Insensitive Casting: Peter Dinklage as Hervé Villechiaze (HBO’s “My Dinner with Hervé”)

Hollywood continues to mystify the masses asking for proper (keyword: proper) representation with HBO’s upcoming project, My Dinner with Hervé, detailing a moment in time with Fantasy Island star Hervé VillechaizeAccording to The A.V. Club, HBO’s project supposedly recounts “‘a life-changing’ encounter Villechaize…and a struggling journalist in 1993, the year the Fantasy Island star killed himself at the age of 50.” HBO has released the first image the TV movie starring Jamie Dornan as the journalist in question, Danny Tate, and Peter Dinklage as Villechaize.

If the image looks weird, it’s because Dinklage, unfortunately, pulling a brownface moment. In real life, Villechaize was half-Filipino and half-English. Dinklage, on the other hand, isn’t.

What was the thought process behind this casting decision? More importantly, what was the thought process behind Dinklage, who understands the annoyance of playing stereotypical roles, taking it?

Dinklage, who has achondroplasia (one of the common causes of dwarfism), has been very outspoken about the types of roles he feels are stereotypical for actors with dwarfism. As he told The New York Times in a 2012 interview, he acted onstage and would refuse to book commercial jobs that would have him playing leprechauns or elves. As the article quotes Dinklage as saying in past interview to a theater website, “What I really want is to play the romantic lead and get the girl.”

Even though Dinklage’s defining role as Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones turned out to be the best of all possible worlds as far as a role goes, Dinklage was initially hesitant about it because of his hesitancy about playing dwarves in fantasy in general, particularly after just playing dwarf character Trumpkin in Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, in which he acted under a huge beard. He wanted to make sure the character in Game of Thrones wouldn’t have a beard or pointy shoes.

“Dwarves in these genres always have this look,” he said. “My guard was up. Not even my guard—my metal fence, my barbed wire was up. Even The Lord of the Rings had dwarf-tossing jokes in it. It’s like, Really?

Of course, as we know now, Tyrion Lannister is nothing like a stereotypical fantasy character, which led to Dinklage signing on.

With Dinklage’s clear awareness at the issues facing actors with a disability such as his own, why choose this role, which is essentially taking an opportunity from someone else who needs a big break and could crush it? It seems like the answer lies in one main issue: the lack of roles that are available to actors with dwarfism–in other words, the pervading practice of ableism as the code of business for Hollywood casting.

At the risk of sounding like I’m giving Dinklage an out (I’m certainly not), a role like Hervé Villechiaze doesn’t come around everyday—a role that specifically highlights an actor with dwarfism in an attempt to show the human behind the limiting role he played on television. The casting process, being what it is, was probably HBO making a beeline to Dinklage’s agent, since Dinklage is practically the only hot actor who can fill the role and bring an authenticity to it. With the role being what it is, it’s not a surprise that Dinklage would take it. In all of these films with whitewashing, it’s never a surprise as to why the actors take it—with roles in “swords and sandals” movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings or sci-fi films like Ghost in the Shell, the draw is money, higher star wattage, and more big roles down the road.

However, while Dinklage will most certainly bring authenticity to the role from his experience as a person with dwarfism, he clearly can’t bring authenticity to it as far as racial experiences go, and biracial experiences to be specific. If you have to darken your skin because the person you’re playing is a person of color, it’s clear you probably shouldn’t be playing the part.

As a whole, Hollywood isn’t a place that utilizes lateral thinking often; it might seem like Dinklage is the only game in town, but there are, in fact, tons of actors with dwarfism who have been playing fantasy dwarves and dehumanizing roles for years who could also be just as good as Dinklage in this role, if not better. Take for instance, Ronald Lee Clark, an actor who appeared alongside other veteran character actors with dwarfism like Martin Klebba, Danny Woodburn, Mark Povinelli, Joe Gnoffo, and Jordan Prentice in Mirror, Mirror. While Clark might not be Filipino, he is actually Asian, which for Hollywood standards would be a step in the right direction. If Clark was given the chance to audition, who’s to say he wouldn’t have aced it? At the very least, the makeup team wouldn’t need to commit the movie-making sin of brownface.

Also, if I could find Clark by utilizing my memory and an IMDB search, couldn’t the casting office have done the same? Specifically, couldn’t they have scoured Hollywood for an actor who had dwarfism and was also Filipino? Of course, if they actually wanted to. Sure, they wouldn’t get a “big name,” as it were, but arguably, Dinklage himself wasn’t a super big name, even with the Chronicles of Narnia credit, before he was given a chance with Game of Thrones. His role could have easily gone to another actor of typical size who’d be willing to play smaller with the help of movie magic. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, with Gary Oldman playing a dwarf in the film Tiptoes, a film where Dinklage himself played a family friend (as referenced in the New York Times interview).

For this article, I reached out to Vilissa Thompson, disability advocate and owner of Ramp Your Voice!. Her take expresses much of the same confusion and irritation about Dinklage being cast as a disabled person of color.

“Authentic representation of disabled people, whether fictional characters or real-life persons, is hard to come by due to many factors, such as cripping up, stereotypical portrayals, and a resistance to show diverse disabled perspectives,” she said. “What occurred with the Peter Dinklage situation is upsetting because we finally have a role that a disabled person should be casted in, and even that was done incorrectly by the whitewashing.”

“This is classic Hollywood, but it’s perplexing to me how you get one aspect of the casting correct (hiring an actually disabled actor) and not the whole thing (hiring a white man instead of an actor of color),” sie said. “It’s disappointing that Hollywood continues to not support disabled actors of color. What a missed opportunity for little people of color to be represented fully. Hollywood has a #DisabilityTooWhite issue when it comes to disabled people of color and media representation – this adds to it. Not only do we not see our stories on the big and small screens; now we have to be concerned about being whitewashed, too?”

It would seem that fear of whitewashing is yet another hurdle disabled actors of color and audience members of color alike have to face when it comes to proper representation. Time will tell if My Dinner with Hervé will get the same social media treatment Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange, and Iron Fist received when it tried to pass off a white actor as an Asian character.