Tag Archives: movies

Doctor Strange, Whitewashing, and Missed Opportunities

Whitewashing has been understood to mean film/tv producers casting white actors to portray minority characters — especially Asian American roles.

Doctor Strange, a highly entertaining and well reviewed new movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stirred up heated discussion earlier this year over its casting of Tilda Swinton, a white actress to play The Ancient One, an “Asian” character from the comic books series.  Given the exaggerated, stereotypical, and exoticized portrayal of the original The Ancient One, it is important that the character undergoes modification and updating to reflect more contemporary and progressed mindset.

However, Marvel definitely did not hit the mark this time.

doctorstrangeposterThe Marvel Studio, a superpower in the entertainment business these days, could have easily corrected the issues from the original comics (like they did with Wong’s character) to create a respectable, mysterious, powerful, and also flawed character.  The Stuio would have then become a strong leader in providing Asian American actors better opportunities. Instead, they went with a casting choice that, after viewing the movie, I found completely unnecessary.  The Ancient One stands mostly still to deliver lines in slightly archaic language and manners.  I do believe that most working actors would have been able to give a solid performance given the script.  Having one line stating, “Oh, she’s Celtic” and yet still set most of the movie in Asia (Kathmandu and Hong Kong) with much of the “training” in some composite Asian Martial Arts style is completely inadequate in their attempts to combat the original stereotypical rendition (as a statement defending the casting choice from the movie’s creative team) of The Ancient One.

I believe that most of the people (I imagined a mix of White and no-White folks) working on this movie did not mean to actively marginalize Asian American actors with any sort of ill intent. However, in their decision (casual or deliberate) to not cast an Asian American actor or actress in this role, they perpetuate the systemic oppressive practice of taking away opportunities from working Asian/Asian American actors and thus effectively further the marginalization of such group.

What a shame! What a missed opportunity!

Here are some other articles circulating online that just came out after the movie’s release:

‘Doctor Strange’ is a really fun, whitewashed ride! by Gene Park, from The Washington Post.

Doctor Strange ‘whitewashing’ row resurfaces with new criticism of Swinton casting by Alan Evans, from The Guardian.

‘Doctor Strange’ Director Owns Up to Whitewashing Controversy by Jen Yamato, from The Daily Beast. 




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Hunger Games – the Movie

Hunger Games movie: seen. Liked it a lot. I was impressed by the book-to-screen adaptation. Very faithful (except that the deaths in the books have stronger impacts and gorier and the eyes of the mutant beasts were made to look like the dead Tributes, which was a shame) and to me, at least, there is an added bonus:

My gripe of the first book was always about how limited a view seeing through only Katniss’ eyes and I desperately wanted to see the audience reactions and the game-making. Seeing Rue’s father and District 11’s reaction on the big screen and all the high-tech wizardry in the control room of the Arena was really satisfying. (I would have liked a little more of the Capitol residents’ reaction when young people died in the Game.)

It’s also great that the soundtrack was used sparingly — so much of the movie was quiet with dialogue or without. Jennifer Lawrence shows the world of a young heroine’s nerves, toughness, and inner conflicts so well. And it’s great that she’s not your pretty-faced or stunningly beautiful traditional movie-star. She feels real and I can see how young girls/women all feel that they can step in Katniss’ shoes.

And of course, I really enjoyed being in a theater with 9 screens showing the same movie at once (from 12:01 to 12:09): the costumes and the excitement before AND after the movie added to the whole experience. Didn’t hurt to go with some teens who all wore the side braids and even came with home-made Mockingjay pins (well done!) and arrows tucked in their boots and waist bands.

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Percy Jackson on the Silver Screen

What worked for me and Lily (age 11, and big fan of the series):

We thought that for the most part, the casting worked.  Although we did not LOVE the fact that all the kids are older and some more romantic tension was thrown into the storyline, we accepted it as a necessary choice and it did not totally change how the story plays out.

Uma Thurman as Medusa, with or without her body attached, is quite effective.  And we stayed until after the credit to see the very satisfying scene of Gabe vs. Medusa’s-head-in-the-fridge.

The special effects that show Percy’s command of water are cool to watch and thoroughly enjoyable.  And we appreciated that the humorous tone is still present in the movie, although not as palpable as it is in the book.  (Remember those funny chapter titles?)

We couldn’t quite understand why

1. Percy’s mom has to accompany him to Camp and why she was there when they went to Mount Olympus.

2. That Camp Half-Blood looks so much LESS impressive, LESS fun, LESS like a camp that we would love to spend our summers at.  We both imagined that the Camp, as such an important place for important people, would have been on a much grander scale, the training ground would have looked less like the Disney’s Camp Rock campus, but more like one might find in Ancient Greece or the “real” Mount Olympus with each House resembling a temple with columns, carvings, and statues.  We both decided to re-read the descriptions in the book to see if our recollections are faulty.

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Kung Fu Panda and Wuxia

Let me just come straight out and state that I really loved Kung Fu Panda, one of the summer’s animated family movies set in a non-specific Chinese village, featuring all animal characters, ranging from Rhinos and leopards to pigs and praying mantis. Oh, and, a Giant Panda whose father, unfathomably, is a duck who is a chef and owns a noodle shop. I know that upon close examination, many people might find the story a bit superficial, and superficially mystical: about finding oneself and having faith in one’s abilities and the whole “mystical” notion of fulfilling one’s fate. It might be an outsiders’ view of what Chinese martial arts world is all about but the creators of the movie did their homework and pay a lot of homage to the wuxia tradition.

Wuxia can be loosely translated to “martial arts knights” but the notion of WU is larger than just the practice of martial arts; it’s a mind set and a way of life. So is the notion of XIA — it often is not simply a person who has demonstrated talents in the arts of WU but also someone with great integrity and compassion, one who will help the less fortunate, and fulfill one’s duty to the fullest. Wuxia Xiaoshuo (Wuxia Novels) has been a uniquely Chinese popular literary genre for the 20th and 21st centuries. A little more detailed explanation of general themes can be found on the wikipedia article on this topic.

One of the most fascinating elements, for me as a reader of wuxia xiaoshuo (I read wuxia most ardently during high school and college years) is the training processes of the protagonists. These tend to be unrealistically super-human — one might learn to “walk on the top of grass” or to “defeat a dozen enemies barehanded and blind-folded,” etc. That’s why in my mind wuxia is closely resembling the western Fantasy novels. The creators of KFP definitely captured this aspect when Shifu (literally: Teacher/Master) figures out how to train Po and the audience is treated to a fantastic sequence of training sessions.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack and gorgeous background artwork. The calligraphy is not only beautiful but accurate. However, in most wuxia stories, you will find people using many different kinds of weapons: from swords to spears, with “hidden weapons” such as small needles (sometimes dipped in poison) and poisonous powders. Weaponry and the inventiveness of such are also what the readers/audience tend to appreciate in a work of wuxia. Maybe the sequel will feature more than just body-combat and using random objects (bricks and firecrackers, for example) to fight.

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