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Mediaversity Reviews: “The Great Wall”

“Matt Damon swoops down on a balloon and saves her with my favorite line of the movie, “And here I am,” with all the non sequitur his very presence in this entire film brings.”

Title: The Great Wall (2017)
Director: Yimou Zhang 👨🏻🇨🇳
Writers: Carlos Bernard 👨🏼🇺🇸, Doug Miro  👨🏼🇺🇸, Tony Gilroy  👨🏼🇺🇸

Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸

Quality: 1.5/5
Jesus, this movie is bad. It’s so bad that it does a 180 and starts to become hilarious, in the vein of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or pulpy, IDGAF films like Snakes on a Plane or Sharknado. So I gave it a half point for accidental comedy and shiny costumes.

Gender: 4/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NO
One name: Jing Tian. She was amazing. I want an entire film with just her being a BAMF. I wish she got to fight more. One of the most anti-climactic scenes involves mounting tension as she finds herself surrounded by aliens. I thought a brilliantly-choreographed brawl was ramping up, as per Yimou Zhang’s previous films Hero or House of Flying Daggers, but instead Matt Damon swoops down on a balloon and saves her with my favorite line of the movie, “And here I am,” with all the non sequitur his very presence in this entire film brings. The meta!! Oh god, I laughed so hard.

Beyond Jing Tian, though, any semblance of feminism drops off a cliff. Literally, the other women are these weird lady killers who jump off giant fans and bounce on strings, poking at aliens with oversized toothpicks. It’s hilarious, but hardly empowering.

Race: 2/5
Yes, this is a White Savior movie. Asian soldiers literally say things like “thank you for saving my life” to Matt Damon. So if you balk at understanding that this is a textbook White Savior film, you need to get off this train and board the next; I have more interesting things to delve into like the historical and modern contexts of this controversy.

A quick note to Matt Damon’s whining that this is a fantasy film: yes, it’s a fantasy film. We’re not idiots, we’re not annoyed because we think Irish people (or whatever that accent was) shouldn’t be in fictional China fighting aliens together. We’re annoyed about what isn’t fictional: decades of Asian actors being deleted from their own stories via:

  • White actors in Asian roles (see: Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, cast as “Major” for the role of “Major Motoko Kusanagi”)
  • Erasure of Asian roles in order to cast white actors (see: Tilda Swinton’s Celtic character in Doctor Strange, originally Tibetan in the comic)
  • Yellow-face (see: Emma Stone in Aloha, playing a half-Asian).

Keep in mind, I only had to think back 2 years to pull up those gems. Now, imagine decades of erasure, and then tell me people of color should take a chill pill with The Great Wall.

Where the film does deserve some lenience is in considering the real-life context of this film. Although the writers were all white men, with illustrious whitewashed films such as The Last Samurai or Prince of Persia under their belts, the director of The Great Wall is about as Chinese as you can get: Yimou Zhang is a beloved director in his country and was even tapped by the government to choreograph the opening and closing ceremonies to the Beijing Olympics. I find it more sad than offensive that the Chinese think Matt Damon’s clumsy injection would endear The Great Wall to Western audiences. I appreciate their risk-taking, as producers experiment with different ways of appealing to China’s increasing market share; however, I can only hope that in the future, film studios find a more elegant way of doing so.

Finally, also in the “Good” category, the film is fit-to-bursting with Asian actors. I am always going to be in favor of something that gives non-white actors the chance to be seen by a large audience, and to get paid for their work.

No representation but too short a program to ding them for it.

Mediaversity Grade: D 2.5/5
Jing Tian slays in the Gender category and I want to watch her anime-character face in everything. Race is not as bad as the trailers make it out to be, especially when considering a Chinese director and mixed group of executive producers were involved in the casting of a white lead. But once you stop making excuses for it The Great Wall is about as literal to the White Savior trope as you can get.

Between bouts of coma-inducing expository about black powder, The Great Wall strings together fun, war-faring music videos set to cool costumes and silly, CGI carnage. Several elements such as Matt Damon’s pseudo-Irish accent, his saving of Asian after Asian, or the breakout roles of magnets and balloons in this film, all combined into one of the funniest things I’ve watched in awhile. I’m not going to sugarcoat it though, the source of much of my incredulous laughter came from a gut-deep place of absurdity as I watched Chinese men get erased, over and over again, both physically on screen by bombs, or by the lifelong media narrative that tells us that at best, Asian guys can be cool and strong but ultimately, it takes a white man to outsmart the enemy. #ThankYouMattDamon

The Stonewall Inn Is Now an Official Landmark

The Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village has been in the news recently, and unfortunately, it’s because of the critically-panned Roland Emmerich film, Stonewall. Mostly everyone who’s seen it has hated it, either for its poor story, its whitewashing of actual LGBT history (which includes people of color at its center) or both. But now, The Stonewall Inn is in the news for a great reason: it’s now an official landmark. 

Racially insensitive casting: Zach McGowan as Ben Kanahele in “Ni’ihau”

Nerdy Asians/Twitter

Another day, another whitewashing controversy. This one has been brewing for some days now, and it involves a historical film called Ni’ihau.

The film is based on a true story of a Japanese WWII pilot crash landing on Hawaii, where he was taken in by local leader Ben Kanahele. Here’s the full scoop from Deadline:

…Shigenori Nishikaichi, an Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilott, crash-landed his Zero on the eponymous Hawaiian island after participating in the attack on Pearl Harbor. [Zach] McGowan will play Ben Kanahele, an island leader who saves Nishikaichi before learning his part in the attack. When the circumstances became apparent, Nishikaichi was apprehended but received assistance from locals, taking hostages and attempting to overcome his captors. Kanahele ultimately killed Nishikaichi and was decorated for his part in stopping the takeover.
The Ni’ihau Incident led to President Franklin D. Roosevelt issuing Executive Order 9066, which led directly to the mass internment of 119,803 Japanese-American men, women and children until the end of the war.

27 Ten Productions’ Ken Petrie said that with this film being a true story, “there is a weight to be shouldered, and the material requires the utmost care and authenticity.” But apparently, we’re expected to accept Black Sails‘ Zach McGowan as Ben Kanahele. Hasn’t anyone learned anything from the outrage seen around the whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell, The Great Wall, Doctor Strange, Alohaand plenty of other films?

Also, it looks like the film is shaping up to be told in a classic “John Wayne film” way. With McGowan playing the heroic leader (similar to how Wayne played POC historical heroes), it seems like the casting will go towards having a Japanese actor to play Nishikaichi, the villain. That way, they can have the white hero killing the Asian antagonist, saving the day and the native Hawaiian population (who will, of course, be played by actual native Hawaiians).

Do I need to talk at length about what’s wrong? It should be clear by now, especially if you read the articles linked above. This kind of ish has got to stop because now it’s getting ridiculous.

I’ll let Twitter speak for me because I’m tired.

Being Asian in Hollywood: Actors, directors, and creators talk representation

(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter,
(Top row, from left) Sinakhone Keodara, Jodi Long, Asia Jackson, Kesav Wable. (Bottom row from left) Quentin Lee, Mandeep Sethi, Kunjue Li, Chris Tashima. (Photos: IMDB, Twitter,

Representation in Hollywood is an issue by itself, but Asian representation in Hollywood is near non-existent. With the state of Hollywood being that black equates to “diversity” (despite there being more types of diversity out there than just being black) and Asian characters are still overrun with stereotypes or whitewashing, Asian actors and actresses have had a tough uphill battle in breaking through the glass ceiling.

JUST ADD COLOR is all about exploring how all types of diversity are showcased in Hollywood, so I thought it would be fantastic to have an ongoing series called POC in Hollywood. First up, the Asian American experience in Hollywood. In this longform piece, we’ll take a closer look at some of the issues and biases plaguing Asian creatives in Hollywood.

This is a longform, so if you’d like to jump to specific parts, here’s the table of contents:

Whiteness as the default


Historically, Hollywood has used Asian locales and people as props, while white characters are given layered characteristics. In short, white characters have been treated as humans, while everyone and everything else are only developed in stereotypes.

The most recent examples of this include The Birth of the Dragon, in which a white character is used to frame Bruce Lee’s biopic, Doctor Strange, which sees Tilda Swinton playing an Asian role and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, which is a white character used to exploit a stereotypical Asian mysticism, Ghost in the Shell, which uses Japanese culture to frame Scarlett Johansson as The Major and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series, which features India as a backdrop for white characters and Dev Patel playing a stereotypical Indian character.

“What’s particularly silly about The Birth of the Dragon is that they invented a fictional white character thinking that that would be what North American audience would want,” wrote Quentin Lee, The Unbidden director and founder of Margin Films in an email interview. “The filmmakers obviously fell flat on their faces. Not only it wasn’t historically accurate for the story, the film ended up insulting Bruce Lee and the audience who would support it. It was a creative misfire.”

Chris Tashima, an Academy-winning director for the 1998 short film Visas and Virtue and co-founder of Cedar Grove Productions, wrote that while he hasn’t seen The Birth of the Dragon yet, he found the basis of the film “ridiculous.”

“It’s understandable, why this has been the practice—being that traditionally, decision makers have been white males, and like anyone else, will want to see stories about themselves, and that audiences have traditionally been thought of as young, white males,” he wrote. “However, all of that is changing. It has been changing for a while, and it’s easy to see where it’s going: towards a diverse world. That’s an old practice and you’d think Hollywood would want to project, and put themselves on the cutting edge, and be more inclusive. It’s old, and tired, and more and more, I think audiences will want to see something different, something more truthful.”

“I think the overarching theme that runs through how Hollywood/the West represents POCs has to do with the ease with which they are able to strip POCs of agency over their own stories,” wrote Kesav Wable, Brooklyn-based actor, writer, 2011 HBO American Black Film Festival finalist for his short film, For Flow and Sundance lab short-listed screenwriter for a script about a Pakistani boxer wrongfully accused of planning a terror attack.

“This may come across as a bit exaggerated or radical, but I do believe that there is a link between white imperialist concepts such as ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘white man’s burden,’ which validated a lot of the literal takings from POCs that happened throughout earlier periods in civilized history, and now, in a media-hungry world where information, content, and stories are the most valuable currencies, there is an analogous “taking” of the narratives that POCs have lived through. By depicting POC characters through the lens of a white character, it enables white audiences to keep POCs’ stories at arm’s length, and to not completely empathize with those characters because they are not given the complete human dignity and complexity that is afforded the white character.”

“Perhaps, this, in a way, damps down the guilt that white audiences may feel if the POCs stories/circumstances have to do with the literal takings that were exacted by their ancestors. Or it’s just good for a cheap laugh. The truly insidious effect of POCs being usurped from their own narratives is that, even many of us POCs begin to start viewing things through a white lens and stop questioning whether these stories truly represent who we are because of how pervasive white-controlled media is.”

Wable used the upcoming film Happy End, which is about a bourgeois European family living amid the current refugee crisis. “Granted, I haven’t seen the film, so it’d be presumptive of me to conclude that refugees are not conferred with dignity/complexity as characters, but the very thought that French filmmakers think that shining a light on a bourgeois family with the refugee crisis as a ‘backdrop’ can be instructive about their world, speaks volumes about what it is white people are most interested in; themselves,” he wrote. “In this case, apparently, the context is a rueful rumination on their own blindness to the refugees’ plight. Somehow the irony of the very film’s existence as a manifestation of that blindness seems to be lost on them.”

Mandeep Sethi, filmmaker and emcee, also discussed about Hollywood’s tendencies to erase non-white people from their own stories. “I think centralizing POC stories around white characters is Hollywood’s way of taking a black or brown story and making it about white people,” he said. “Our culture is full of amazing stories and histories and Hollywood loves to cherry pick what they like but leave out the real nitty gritty including the people who created, interacted, and setup that story.”

Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)
Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB)

Sinakhone Keodara, founder CEO of Asian Entertainment Television and host of Asian Entertainment Tonight, wrote that Hollywood’s penchant for using whiteness as a default is “a heinous tradition that is long overdue for a change.”

“Rather than trying to normalize Asian presence on screen to a wide American audience, Hollywood often goes the tired, well-worn and ‘safe’ route of using a white character in an attempt to more easily relate the character to a majority white American audience.  It’s cheap and unnecessary, because the proper and more effective way of relating a character to an audience is writing a character with emotional depth,” he said. “Ethnicity informs and colors our individual and community experiences, but emotion transcends ethnic boundaries.  With political correctness aside, Hollywood needs to stop engaging in a form of neo-emotional and neo-psychological colonialism against people of color, especially Asians by injecting whiteness into our stories.”

“I think that centralizing PoC stories around white characters is always going to happen as long as the people telling these stories are white,” wrote Asia Jackson, an actress, model and content creator. “What Hollywood needs is not only diversity on-camera, but to also make greater efforts to allow filmmakers of color to tell their own stories.”

Jodi Long, an actress who was a castmember of the first Asian American TV sitcom All-American Girl and member of the actors branch of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote that while whiteness as the default is the reality in Hollywood, a study shows a much needed change in film. “I just saw a new study The Inclusion Quotient done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media where the reality in terms of box office is changing, where women and diverse actors in lead roles are now performing extremely well,” she wrote. “Money talks in Hollywood but we still have to get beyond the implicit (unconscious) bias that factors into which projects get greenlit based on outmoded ways of thinking.”

Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)
Scarlett Johansson as The Major (Major Kusanagi) in Ghost in the Shell. (Paramount)

Kunjue Li, Ripper Street actress and founder of China Dolls Productions Ltd., also addressed how money rules Hollywood, despite Hollywood not making the audience demand actually work for them financially. “I don’t think [whitewashing] is the right thing to do, and second of all, I don’t think it’s very commercial,” she said. “…[I]f they want to sell to Chinese audiences, which is the second biggest film market, then they need to tell a Chinese story…I think you have to tell a Chinese story [with] a Chinese cast.”

“If the film [was] an an American-Chinese co-production, [it would] actually help with the film itself because then it doesn’t have to go through the quota system…which means that only 30 percent of foreign films are allowed to show in China markets every year. If they do it as a co-production, then they get 1/3 of Chinese funding, but they have to have 1/3 of a Chinese [cast]. They’ll have one-third of Chinese funding, they’ll have domestic showings, they don’t have to go through the quota system, it’s much more feasible. Commercially, [whitewashing] doesn’t even work. I don’t understand why people keep doing that.”

Next: The pain of exoticism

3 Ways the Live-Action “Mulan” Film Could Be a Hit, If Disney Listens to the Advice

Disney (Twitter)
Disney (Twitter)

Disney is continuing its live-action bent by making the rumor of a live-action version of Mulan movie true. The studio officially announced that the film, based on the studio’s animated 1998 hit, is in the works. Cue the anxiety, and rightfully so; Asian characters are the least showcased group in movies and in television. The penchant for Hollywood to not only showcase Asian characters, combined with their penchant to whitewash and cast white actors as leads in movies with mostly Asian casts, such as Matt Damon’s The Great Wall, has many people already upset at the prospect of Disney ruining a live-action Mulan film.

To that end, nearly 90,000 people have already signed a petition asking for proper casting when making this film. Social media reacted to the news of the film and the petition like this:

The petition and the sheer amount of signers will hopefully get Disney’s attention. To go along with that, here’s some free advice to Disney when creating this film.

1. Actually cast Chinese and Chinese-American actors. Specifically Chinese and Chinese-American actors.

This seems like it would be common knowledge, seeing how the film’s story is one from Chinese legend. But you never know about Hollywood; they cast Scarlett Johannsson as The Major in Ghost in the Shell after all.

It’s also heavily important that Disney specifically hire Chinese and/or Chinese-American actors. Hiring Asian actors who aren’t Chinese reinforces the idea that the pan-Asian experience is an interchangeable one, when it’s not. Korean culture isn’t the same as Japanese culture, which isn’t the same as Chinese culture. Also, interchanging one Asian actor with another is quite offensive: many Japanese were offended when 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha cast its main leads with Chinese actresses—Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Li Gong, Tsai Chin. There’s also quite a number of other non-Japanese Asian actors in a film depicting a Japanese story.

Folks on Twitter have given tons of free casting advice to Disney:

It would behoove Disney to actually look at the suggestions and cast accordingly.

2. Hire Chinese consultants (and actually listen to them)

From my cursory research, it is unclear if Disney actually used consultants adept in ancient China, particularly the Tang Dynasty (one of the dynasties it’s believed the Legend of Hua Mulan comes from, as it’s not exactly clear which dynasty the story originated). But if going by this portion of the film’s Wikipedia page says anything:

In its earliest stages, the story was originally conceived as a Tootsie-like romantic comedy film where Mulan, who was a misfit tomboy that loves her father, is betrothed to Shang whom she has not met. On her betrothal day, her father Fa Zhou carves her destiny on a stone tablet in the family temple, which she shatters in anger, and runs away to forge her own destiny…In November 1993, Chris Sanders, who had just finished storyboard work on The Lion King, was hopeful to work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame until Schumacher appointed him to work on Mulan instead…Acting as Head of Story, Sanders grew frustrated with the romantic comedy aspect of the story, and urged producer Pam Coats to be more faithful to the original legend by having Mulan leave home because of the love for her father…This convinced the filmmakers to decide to change Mulan’s character in order to make her more appealing and selfless.

It’s that they either didn’t have consultants or decided against learning from their counsel.

Also showing Disney’s lack of trusting consultants is how dangerously close the “matchmaker” makeup looks to Japanese geisha makeup, as well as the fact that Disney had also hired consultants for their 1995 hit, Pocahontas. However, they didn’t actively use the consultants to make a more historically-accurate film. To quote The Los Angeles Times back in 1995:

“This is a nice film–if it didn’t carry the name ‘Pocahontas,'” says Shirely Little Dove Custalow McGowan, a key consultant on the movie who teaches Native American education at schools, including the University of Virginia. “Disney promised me historical accuracy, but there will be a lot to correct when I go into the classrooms.”

Sonny Skyhawk, founder of the Pasadena-based Ameriacn Indians in Film, is peeved that the film’s producer ignored his offer of help. “With few exceptions, the movie industry hasn’t got it right,” he explains. “And Hollywood has a long track record of not letting us see the product until it’s too late to make a difference.”

If Disney wants a live-action Mulan film to become a success, they should heed the word of Chinese consultants who will be able to steer them in the right direction. Just because Disney is the most powerful studio in the country, if not the world, doesn’t mean it knows everything.

Related: Recapping #WhitewashedOUT and the excitement for “Crazy, Rich Asians”

3. Take the Disney-isms out of this film

This sounds pretty pointed, but all of the quirks that Disney puts in its films need to be gone from Mulan. Disney consistently works from the viewpoint of middle-aged, straight white men “old boys club.” This point of view is something that ailed PocahontasThe Princess and the Frog, and in some ways, Mulan itself, even though they thankfully had the ability to see that Tootsie was not the right way to go with Mulan. To combat this, Disney needs to wake up and see the world outside of its mouse-eared tower. Disney needs to get in the trenches with this film, and make not a Disneyfied version of China, but a family-friendly tale that still adheres to its traditional Chinese roots. Basically, Disney just needs to do its best to make a faithful representation of a centuries-old story that also highlights a well-rounded representation of an often-stereotyped and underrepresented group. It isn’t a lot to ask, in all honesty. The commitment to do this, though, is what’s often the toughest thing for studios to adhere to.

BONUS: Address Shang’s sexuality

We gotta talk about this. When did Shang fall in love with Mulan? She wasn’t ever out of drag for long in the movie, so by just timing alone, it would seem that Shang fell in love with Mulan as Ping. Am I right or am I wrong? Can we ask B.D. Wong, Shang’s voice actor, this question? In my headcanon, Shang is either gay or bisexual. That’s the only way the love story can make sense to me.

Related: Queer Coding: Shang (Disney’s Mulan)

What do you think about the live-action Mulan film? Give your opinions in the comments section below! Also, if you like what I’ve had to say about the importance of consulting, sign up for notification of my upcoming character consulting service, Monique Jones Consulting!

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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3 of the most jaw-dropping moments from the “All the Stars” music video

A closeup of Kendrick Lamar sitting in a red tailored suit among brightly-dressed men in a shanty town at sunset.

It took me a full day, but I’ve finally seen the music video for SZA and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther song, “All the Stars.” As someone who saw Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” music video when it premiered during primetime television back in the ’90s, I thought I’d never see a music video rival it as the most unapologetically black music video ever. While Beyonce might have won 2016 and 2017 with her Lemonade visuals and Southern Gothic aesthetic, I think “All the Stars” tops it and even “Remember the Time” as the most awe-inspiring music video I’ve seen in years. Marvel, you’ve completely undone yourself with this entire Black Panther franchise; I hope y’all at Marvel understand exactly why the outpouring of creativity and love is overflowing for this movie.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I implore you to drop everything you’re doing and watch it right now. Real talk: this music video just might make you cry.

If there’s a way to frame an entire music video and put it on my wall, I would. This music video is not only gorgeous, but it’s a love letter to Africa–a homage to the continent’s rich past, vibrant present, and a future filled with possibilities. It, like Wakanda, shows a glimpse into an Africa the West hasn’t seen; an Africa that is seen without the lens of colonialism and imperialism.

I might have had my DNA test done to reveal exactly what parts of Africa I come from, but at the end of the day, I’m still an African-American who is divorced from many of my ancestors’ cultures, so unfortunately a lot of the references in this video have gone over my head. Thankfully, my DNA test has allowed me to start researching my various peoples and their cultures and, particularly for this video, there are posts outlining many of the video’s cultural elements. But even with my limited knowledge, there were three moments out of the many that stood out the most to me.

1. The ocean of hands

Kendrick Lamar stands amid a stormy backdrop on a boat that sails on a sea of hands ushering him to Africa.
Kendrick Lamar stands on a boat that sails on a sea of hands ushering him to Africa. (YouTube/screenshot)

There was something so eerie, haunting, and strangely calming about this opening scene featuring Lamar on a raft in the middle of a sea of black arms and hands. What I immediately thought of was the Atlantic Slave Trade, which trafficked at least 10 to 12 million Africans from their homelands to the New World. That stretch of sea is filled with the ghosts of my ancestors, and to see Lamar riding the waves of their hands reminded me how even in death, they made it possible for me to survive.

I also saw the haunting sea in reverse; it was as if those same souls that were lost centuries ago were able to find their way back home in the afterlife. Despite their tribulations on earth, they were able to find peace. From that point of view, it’s as if those same souls are guiding Lamar back to the lands of his ancestors. There was so much said in that scene without Lamar ever saying a word.

2. The Dandies

Kendrick Lamar sits in a red tailored suit among brightly-dressed men in a shanty town at sunset.
Kendrick Lamar sits in a red tailored suit among brightly-dressed men in a shanty town at sunset.(YouTube/screencap)

I’d written about the political importance of Africa’s dandies before in my Black Panther fashion post, but to keep it brief, the dandy movement is one that reclaims African pride by turning Western/colonial fashion inside out and repurposing it as both a form of wearable protest and a sign to the world of Africans’ humanity. To see the dandies put on display like this warmed my heart–the sartorial excellence of course is fun, but showcasing movement’s political relevance in this way has only made the dandy movement stronger, and as far as I’m concerned, that can only be a great thing.

3. The goddesses

Kendrick Lamar stands on the flooded floor of a golden room looking up to four gigantic women, the goddesses of the temple.
Kendrick Lamar stands on the flooded floor of a golden room looking up to four gigantic women, the goddesses of the temple. (YouTube/screencap)

The final shots of the music video have Lamar in what looks like an temple comprised of imagery and symbols of several African cultures  standing in awe of giant women clad in gold. Clearly, these women are the goddesses of old, and Lamar is paying his respects to them. For me, these women represent the lost goddesses of African religions. When I say “lost,” I don’t mean they’re lost to the world; there are many who still worship the gods and goddesses of the Yoruba and Igbo people, for instance. What I mean is that they’re lost to me. The slave trade made us African-Americans lose everything, including our religions, and seeing these women act in place of those goddesses made me realize that the music video was, once again, bringing us black viewers–and Lamar–back in touch with our roots. These goddesses act as messengers to the rest of the world that Africa is the motherland; Africa is meant to nurture, to uplift, and be respected and honored. Lamar seemed like he got the message. But if it still wasn’t clear to some viewing, the music video cuts to SZA’s hairstyle, which is in the shape of the entire continent. It was a stylistic and elegant version of a mic drop.

Overall, the entire music video left me feeling hopeful and, honestly, a little misty-eyed. This is the Africa I’ve always wanted to see portrayed. This is affirming on a gutteral level, more than I thought a music video could ever be. I’ve come away from it feeling like I’ve retained a chunk of my cultural identity that had been lost. As much as it is a cliche to type, I can honestly say I feel seen. This music video is definitely 2018’s version of “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

How did you feel after watching the music video? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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