Arts, Culture, & Entertainment

What keeps you entertained? What’s part of your culture?

UCLA Pacific Islands’ Student Association (PISA) hosted its 3rd Annual Polynesian Arts & Culture Night at Ackerman Grand Ballroom on Saturday, March 11, 2017. The evening consisted of an authentic Samoan dinner catered by Kumar’s Island Market/Boutique Samoa Market in Anaheim, Calif. and traditional cultural dances and music of the islands of Polynesia.

Cultures featured during the night included those of Maori, Hawai’i, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, and Tonga.

Students of UCLA PISA and Hui O ‘Imiloa – Hawai’i Club at UCLA performed, along with members from other organizations outside UCLA. Some of these other organizations include Tupulaga (Carson, Calif.), CSUF South Pacific Islander Student Association, and UCR Pacific Islander Student Alliance.

Performance by Tupulaga.
Performance by Amelia Vernon.
UCLA PISA’s 3rd Annual Polynesian Arts & Culture Night.

Informational poster boards on the cultures of the islands represented during the show were also displayed.

Informational board of Aotearoa.
Informational board of Tahiti.

The 3rd Annual Polynesian Arts & Culture Night was hosted by Keali’i Troy Kukahiko, a graduate student in UCLA’s Department of Education. Kukahiko expressed his appreciation of Polynesian Arts & Culture Night as it reflected the growing and thriving community of Pacific Islander (PI) students at UCLA. In contrast, Kukahiko described his undergraduate experience at UCLA as isolating, being one of eight PI undergraduate students.

Although the number of PI undergraduate students at UCLA has grown, the community continues to be underrepresented and underreported. The program for the 3rd Annual Polynesian Arts & Culture Night included a description of UCLA PISA stating that Pacific Islanders make up less than one percent of the student population at UCLA.

On UCLA’s online campus profile, Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities are grouped together, claiming to make up 32.1 percent of undergraduate student enrollment as of Fall 2016. UCLA’s reported facts reflects the problematic data aggregation of Asians and Pacific Islanders that contributes to the masking and erasing of specific issues and challenges that Pacific Islander students face in higher education.

During the evening, Kukahiko remarked that the students in UCLA PISA performing during the night were “not just performers but activists.” In actively serving and building its communities, UCLA PISA outreaches to PI students in Los Angeles schools, helps PI students come to UCLA, provides a support system for the PI community at UCLA, and more.

While Kukahiko closed the show saying that the event “wouldn’t be a culture night without [the audience’s] love and presence,” the 3rd Annual Polynesian Arts & Culture Night would not have been possible without UCLA PISA’s dedication to raising awareness about Polynesian culture through sharing the beauty and resiliency of its communities. 

BY LUCY MA AND VIVIAN LEE

On Friday, March 3, Nikkei Student Union (NSU) hosted their 31st Annual Cultural Night: “Chirashi” in Royce Hall, a reminder of the persecution and discrimination Japanese Americans faced during World War II, with the implementation of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942.

This executive order forced more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent living in the United States, mostly American citizens, into incarceration among ten concentration camps, a process that not only violated personal liberties but also took away ownership of property and tore apart families.

To acknowledge the history of this experience, NSU uses cultural night as a night where, according to their program, “we commemorate the memory of those incarcerated, showcase our talents to the UCLA community, and celebrate the richness of our beloved Japanese American community.”

This year’s title, “Chirashi,” meaning “scattered,” is a Japanese dish usually served with a mix of different kinds of fish and vegetables that are laid together on top of rice.

Chirashi “was a metaphor for the multiple storylines within the drama that conveys the larger theme of acknowledging the variety of motivations that bring people into our community,” said Emiko Kranz, the current NSU president.

We are first introduced to Lynn (portrayed by Stacy Kadomasu), who is somewhat a hot-headed girl. She is followed by Samson (Justin Shinn), who invites her to his staggering family restaurant, Chirashi.

Lynn often worked begrudgingly in the restaurant because she owes Samson a debt, but, through Samson’s cousin June (Emiko Kranz), who is helping with the family restaurant, Lynn learns that Chirashi had been a safe haven for Japanese Americans during WWII — a place where they could be treated like equal human beings.

However, Samson, despite being the current restaurant owner, ran off with the restaurant’s funds, including June and Lynn’s payments. The story later reveals that Samson ran away because his fate was tied to the restaurant, which burdened him.

Samson explaining why he had left the restaurant. Photo courtesy of Brian Kohaya.

As soon as Samson ran off with the money, a contracting firm appears, announcing that the restaurant will be soon evicted.

Meanwhile, Tetsuya (played by Joey Yasuhiro) is introduced as one of the contracting firm representatives, who had a similar experience to June and Lynn. In order to protect his family’s flower shop and his sick mom, Tetsuya joined his uncle’s contracting firm, where he has to evict staggering yet historical and community-centered shops often.

In the end, Samson returned the money to June and Lynn, who then worked with Grace (Kendra Motoyasu), an architect and Tetsuya’s friend, and Noburu (Andre Leite) who quit working at the contracting firm, to restore Chirashi as a place for the community.

Throughout the show, NSU Modern, Odori, and Kyodo Taiko’s performances demonstrated the different aspects of Japanese and Japanese American cultures and reinforced the culture night’s themes by conveying the emotions of the characters.

Performance by Kyodo Taiko. Photo courtesy of Brian Kohaya.

For example, “Tanuki Senbonzakura” by NSU Odori, “Boot Camp” by NSU Modern, and all of Kyodo Taiko’s compositions were military themed.

According to Kranz, “While the drama wasn’t openly aggressive, there was a certain amount of frustration and anger represented by the struggles each character faced whether the battle was internal or external.”

Through “Chirashi,” NSU hoped to communicate the importance of perspective, historical consciousness, and resistance to injustice through their experiences as Japanese Americans.

Today, fear-mongering against the Muslim communities in the United States is perpetuated by the signing of Executive Order 13769 on Jan. 27, following the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

The executive order placed restrictions on refugees entering the United States, targeting  individuals coming from the countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  

It should be no surprise then that the issuance of Executive Order 13769 has spurred many Japanese American communities to stand with the Muslim communities due to similarities of propaganda used to target these groups.

It is through these conditions that the Nikkei Student Union’s Cultural Night serves as a powerful platform to share knowledge about their history to the surrounding UCLA community during these times.  

Regarding the story behind the culture night, Kranz stated that “following the recent events that have affected the political climate such as Trump’s inauguration and the executive orders limiting immigration, we decided to bring in the focus on historical consciousness through the drama.”  

Kranz, a graduating senior and a fundamental pillar in past NSU cultural nights, reflects on “Chirashi” with her hopes for future productions: “The Nikkei community has endured much struggle with the incarceration experience and has fought its way back up in society and I think [the cultural night] is the vehicle by which we can extend our voice to a wider audience and remind everyone how Japanese Americans have made their place here and feel responsible to empower other groups.”

Although the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community is slowly making its way onto the Grammys’ nominations list, the Grammys are best known for its limited representation of ethnic minorities. At the 2017 Grammys award show, about 25 APIDA artists were nominated for their talents and contributions. However, only seven individuals won.

In order to promote the representation of more APIDA artists in the music industry, here are eight mainstream APIDA artists from my personal playlist that I recommend you check out and support:

 

  • Bruno Mars

Born in Hawaii, Bruno Mars, born Peter Gene Hernandez, is of Filipino, Spanish, Puerto Rican and Jewish descent, making him by far one of the most charismatic and multi-ethnic singer-songwriters of this century.  Over the course of his career, the 31-year-old has released three albums and won four Grammys. He is successfully taking over the “post-millennial pop” music industry by storm with over 22 best selling singles.   

His most recent album, “24K Magic,” has a suave R&B vibe and shares a name with his tour and one of the songs on the album.

 

  • Run River North

Run River North is a Korean American indie-folk-rock band from California that formed in 2011. The band consists of six members: Alex Hwang (vocals/guitar), Sally Kang (vocals/keys), Daniel Chae (guitar/violin), Joseph Chun (bass), John Chong (percussion) and Jennifer Rim (violin). The group has two albums and an EPall available on Spotify.

They are currently set to perform at BottleRock Napa Valley 2017 and at the South by Southwest Music Festival 2017 as part of its first Asian American music showcase.

 

  • Dumbfoundead

Fans of rap may want to look into Dumbfoundead. His real name is actually Jonathan Park and he is a Los Angeles native of Korean descent. He began his rapping career at Project Blowed, an open-mic hip hop collective, where he quickly became a local celebrity and later an online rapping legend who participated in the 2015 King of the Dot rap battle which won him recognition from Drake.

Park has released over five solo albums, available on both Soundcloud and Spotify. One of his singles, “Safe,” received immense support last year from the APIDA community as he blatantly calls out Hollywood whitewashing roles.  

 

  • Joseph Vincent

27-year-old Joseph Vincent is a Filipino American from LA. He started his music career on YouTube, where he quickly gained 559, 000 subscribers. Like many other YouTube musicians, he started singing covers before releasing his first album, “Blue Skies,” in 2012. He has been on The Ellen DeGeneres Show twice, won Kabayan Superstar and was named “YouTube Artist of the Year 2009” by Star Central, an Australian Magazine.

His singles and covers are available on Spotify; he is set to release a new EP this year!

 

  • Auli’i Cravalho

16-year-old Auli’i Cravalho is an Pacific Islander American actress who debuted her career by voicing the new Disney princess, Moana, in the animated film “Moana.” The film received two Academy Award nominations for the categories: Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song for “How Far I’ll Go.” Although “Moana” lost to “Zootopia” and “La La Land,” Cravalho gave a gracefully heartfelt performance.

 

  • Far East Movement

This American hip-hop and electronic music trio (originally a quartet) formed in 2003 and consists of Kev Nish (Kevin Nishimura), Prohgress (James Roh) and DJ Virman (Virman Coquia). They currently have six albums, available both on Soundcloud and Spotify, and “Like A G6” was their best selling single. However, their sixth album, “Identity,” focuses on tracks created with Asian artists in order to unify the identity struggle of being Asian in America.

Far East Movement has performed at prestigious music festivals, opened for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour and collaborated with a vast number of artists ranging from Justin Bieber to Tinashe.  

 

  • Hayley Kiyoko

25-year-old Hayley Kiyoko Alcroft is an American actress, singer and songwriter. Best known for her two singing movie roles, “Lemonade Mouth” and “Jem and the Holograms,” she has released three underrated EPs available on Spotify that introduces a fresh vibe to pop music.

All of her music carries a message to her fans and she dedicates her time in directing remarkably engaging music videos. “Throughout the process, I learned my essence is essentially speaking the truth and writing music that tells stories as well as covers extraordinary, sometimes taboo concepts and themes in pop music,” she explains.

 

  • MILCK

Connie Lim is an LA-based singer, song-writer and musician. According to her website bio, she found herself losing her purpose in music and her life when she first joined the competitive Hollywood music industry. In hopes to rediscover herself, she established a stage name MILCKthat is made up of letters from her name.

“Devil Devil” was the first single she debuted as MILCK and it has served as both tv show and film soundtracks. However, her follow-up single, “Quiet,” elicited considerable support from the nation as she condemns stigmas of abuse and beauty in the song. She performed the song in acapella with 25 other female vocalists, varying from in age and race, at the Washington D.C. Women’s March in response to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. The performance quickly became viral on Facebook and initiated the #ICANTKEEPQUIET  project.      

 

First-year students Agnes Bautista and Charlotte Duldulao found a new family at UCLA before they even began attending the university. They were both invited to Bruin Life Weekend, a new admit weekend hosted by Pilipino Recruitment and Enrichment Program (PREP) specifically designed for Pilipino high schoolers to briefly experience college life. The weekend involved campus and housing tours galore and group bonding activities. It was here that Bautista and Duldulao met new and current Pilipino students from all over the globe. When they made the ultimate decision to commit to UCLA, they also joined Samahang Pilipino to spend more time with the people they had met during the weekend event.

First-year Samahang Pilipino members (a.k.a SPams)

First established in 1972, Samahang Pilipino is one of the most active and thriving student culture groups at UCLA, and it has expanded with each coming year. This cultural group’s mission is to be a home away from home for students of Pilipino descent. Not only does the organization provide a close-knit family for its members, but it also serves to educate the Pilipino community off-campus as well.

Samahang consists of three entities that all have their own unique goals. There are SPEAR, SPACE, and SPCN.

SPEAR, or Samahang Pilipino Education and Retention, aims to help Pilipino UCLA students realize their full potential by supplying them with academic resources and counseling. Third-year Benjamin Azul and many other student counselors are assigned to a few Pilipino students to regularly check up on throughout the quarter to monitor the students’ progress.

SPACE, or Samahang Pilipino Advancing Community Empowerment, reaches out to underrepresented Pilipino communities, mainly in the greater Los Angeles area. The purpose of this program is to encourage Pilipino high school and community college students to pursue a four-year university degree. Currently, SPACE interns offer tutoring and advising services at El Camino College, Belmont High School, and Carson High School.

Lastly, SPCN, or Samahang Pilipino Culture Night, is the pride and joy of this organization. Taking place in spring quarter, SPCN features many different performances ranging from Samahang Modern, one of the most competitive hip-hop dance groups on campus, to Tinig ng, a beautiful choir group that sings in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. Many Samahang general members are going to perform in SPCN this upcoming spring. In fact, Bautista and Duldulao will both be performing in dance numbers.

Tinikling performance during last year’s SPCN

There are additional subgroups within Samahang Pilipino such as internship and mentorship programs. There are four different internship programs that educate members about Pilipino history and prepare them to become leaders within the organization. Each internship program deals with varying aspects of Samahang, such as outreach relations or internal community.

On the other hand, the mentorship program (called One Step Ahead) pairs a third-year or fourth-year student with a first-year or second-year student. The mentor shows their mentee the ropes throughout the school year and helps them bond with other Samahang members.

“[The mentorship program] is a great way to meet other people. In SP, everyone knows each other, which is pretty nice,” says Duldulao.

One Step Ahead Mentorship Program ice skating outing

Samahang Pilipino prides itself on being an inclusive cultural group for all UCLA undergraduate students.

“[Everyone was] so welcoming and warm towards me that I knew from that moment on that I found my community here at UCLA, even a family and a home,” says Bautista.

While it seems to be exclusive to Pilipinos only, Samahang Pilipino welcomes all students of any race/ethnicity with open arms. Their general meetings are held every odd week on Fridays from 6-8 p.m. in Haines A2. Anybody can join at any time!

Contributing authors: Cindy Tran and Katrina Galian

“Free Outgoing” by Anupama Chandrasekhar opened at East West Players in Little Tokyo on Wednesday night to an almost sold-out audience. The theater company’s 51st season, Radiant, focuses on featuring stories by and about women. “Free Outgoing” is an intricate play centering around traditional values in conservative Chennai, India.

When teenage schoolgirl Deepa is caught on video with a boy in a classroom, her entire family’s reputation is thrown into disarray. With the aid of mobile technology and social media, the video goes viral all over India. Malini, Deepa’s mother, must cope with each new consequent development as it comes to light, while also trying to protect her daughter from both the sexual double-standards and the prying eyes of society.

Free Outgoing” is directed by Snehal Desai, who is currently in his first year as Artistic Director of East West Players. He is the first South Asian Artistic Director at East West Players. Prior to the Los Angeles production, “Free Outgoing” played at Boom Arts in Portland, Oregon in March 2016 with the same director and four of the same actors.

Chennai-based playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar is currently the first international artist-in-residence at the National Theatre in London. We were very fortunate to speak with her last week at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo as she spent preview weekend working with the East West Players cast and crew.

Anupama Chandrasekhar on the gorgeously detailed “Free Outgoing” set at East West Players. Image courtesy EWP.

May Zeng: Deepa and Jeevan, the two in the video, are never shown in the play. Can you tell us about your choice to omit those characters?

Anupama Chandrasekhar: The primary reason why I omitted Deepa from the play is that I wanted to focus on the repercussions on the society by this act of sexual indiscretion by a teenage girl. [It’s] not so much on if you’re throwing the pebble into the water, but the ripples the pebble created. The best way I felt that I could do that was not to have the girl on stage because if I did have the girl onstage than the question would be, “was she right or was she wrong?” That was not my intention to question this girl’s morality. It was for me a way to look into society and the double standards of society.

MZ: You were living in India when the Delhi Public School MMS Scandal happened in 2004. What was that like?

AC: It was the beginnings of the mobile revolution. It was also the beginnings of the media revolution. Television was just starting to take off in a huge way and the kind of coverage that the family was getting it just exploded something small into something that captivated an entire country. I was watching in horror what was unfolding day after day, minute after minute, and the poor girl was vilified all across the news channels. For me, what was disturbing was how the boy was going scot-free and the girl was being vilified. That was what prompted me to start the play.

MZ: What kind of parallels were there of the things being said about the girl in the DPS MMS Scandal in comparison to the things that were being said about Deepa?

AC: I’ve used a lot of my own imagination [in creating the reactions in “Free Outgoing”]. A few months after the MMS incident, a Tamil actress wrote in her column that women should practice safe sex [to prevent HIV/AIDS], and again, that just exploded way out of proportion. The general public thought she was promoting premarital sex. With both these incidents, the aspects of female sexuality were clearly disturbing the Indian community. So the question regarding female sexual rights was something on my mind when I was writing it. I mean, do girls have right to their bodies at all? Do girls have sex? That was something that was playing all in my mind when I was writing this play.

The play takes place inside of the family's living room. Set photo by Katrina Galian.
The play takes place inside of the family’s living room. Set photo by Katrina Galian.

Cindy Tran: How did the reactions to the play differ in the different countries that the play was performed?

AC: Different countries, different reactions. Sometimes same reactions too. I did not expect the kind of positive responses from the western world because I always thought, “Why would the West be interested in an Indian play?” and what I’ve discovered is that the motivation of parents are the same across the world. They want their children to be better than they are. They want their children to succeed. They want to protect their children. I’ve found that perhaps the Western world is not as different than the developing world that I had imagined; that people in the Western world too have a concern about the role of technology and teenagers’ sexuality and sexual lives. It’s a concern that is still being explored and discussed even now when you’re talking about cyberbullying and about sexting.

What was also sad was a few months before the play opened in Canada in 2014, there were two separate incidents of young teenage school girls who were [cyber-bullied and committed suicide], So cyberbullying was very much in the full front of public consciousness when the play opened in Canada. There was an added layer of relevance when the play opened. So [the reaction was] extremely positive, extremely touching responses from the audience.

MZ: How do you think the climate in Chennai has changed since 2007, when the play was written? Is it still a very conservative city?

AC: I think it has become more conservative in the last ten years. And often there is a question of “what constitutes Indian culture or Tamil culture?” and the way a good Indian girl should behave. And I find those discussions regressive and very Victorian in the way they think – society thinks – the way women should behave. Whereas technology is ensuring that people progress in a certain direction, you have a very conservative society trying to go in the opposite directions. It is a play about the conflict between the old and the new. between technology and the conservative society.

Anil Kumar as Ramesh (Malini's awkward co-worker and friend), Anna Khaja as Malini (Deepa's mother), and Kapil Talwalkar as Sharan (Deepa's older brother). Photo by Michael Lamont
Anil Kumar as Ramesh (Malini’s awkward co-worker and friend), Anna Khaja as Malini (Deepa’s mother), and Kapil Talwalkar as Sharan (Deepa’s older brother). Photo by Michael Lamont.

MZ: Can you tell us a little bit about your transition from journalism to playwriting? Does your journalism background influence your playwriting?

AC: When I was a journalist, I didn’t think of playwriting as a career – it was not part of my agenda at all. I just kind of accidentally got into playwriting. I studied journalism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). There was one particular program that I was absolutely fascinated with and that was long-form journalism. The art of literary journalism is similar to the art of creative storytelling, except it is completely dealing with facts. [Literary journalism taught by Professor Walt Harrington] was one of the most inspiring classes that I’ve been in. I’ve often found that in researching my stories for my plays, I am using techniques that I have learned in that class. How do you ask questions? How do you get the details? That sort of thing.

Television news here and in India are not that dissimilar in that a fact is often exaggerated in order to get television ratings. So you find a space that has been left vacant by this new journalism, the television journalist. I find that some questions aren’t being asked, and I think the role of playwright now is to ask those questions. We [playwrights] are not hampered by facts, but at the same time we can get to the truth of the matter by looking at the gray areas, by looking at how people behave in certain circumstances. I think our job and the jobs of journalists are very much similar. and somehow now I am finding that a lot more playwrights are occupying the same space that journalists once had.

MZ: Why is water constantly mentioned in the play?

AC: I come from Chennai, the southeast coast of India, and we have a perennial water problem. The year I started writing “Free Outgoing,” we had the most severe drought. We really had to literally run down from our flats with buckets in our hands when the water comes to our street. The water was being rationed by the government, and we would hear the lorry (truck) water tank in the beginning of the road because he would honk, and we all rushed down stairs with our buckets. Because our flats didn’t have lifts, we had to take as many buckets of water as possible because this was the water we used for cooking and washing purposes. Because we lived on the coast, our wells have been corrupted by salt water so potable drinking water that particular year was very difficult to find. As I was writing, you start to look at the type of pressure a family can face and the first question I had to ask myself was “What happens if there is a lot of crowd in an apartment complex?” and “How does that affect a community?” At that point [the water crisis] would have been the primary problem that we [were] facing. Water becomes a metaphor for time. Time is literally running out for this family – so is the water – because of the act of indiscretion by the child – this 15-year-old teenage girl. It’s a family in crisis, in tremendous crisis.

Anna Khaja as Malini, who is shaken after fighting her way through the crowds that gather outside of her flat after the video leaked. Photo by Michael Lamont
Anna Khaja as Malini, who is shaken after fighting her way through the crowds that gather outside of her flat after the video leaked. Photo by Michael Lamont

CT: What does the title of the play, Free Outgoing,” mean?

AC: In 2007, mobile phones had just started to catch on, so companies were offering free outgoing calls to families. But it’s also, in a way, about Deepa. She was free, she was outgoing, but obviously she becomes less free and outgoing by the end of the play.

I would say that in a conservative society, often it is the free, outgoing girls who are brought down. And I’ve noticed that somehow a good girl is a girl who is silent, or who is quiet, or who does not cross the bounds of society.

MZ: What is the importance of Tamil culture in this play?

AC: I mention the bounds of society and those are bounds that are etched really deeply in Tamil society. We are far more conservative than say, Bombay or New Delhi. You are looking are a very conservative society, a very traditional society, a culture that is proud of its [classical] art forms, its conservative nature, but then you have to watch the full play to understand how that particular society functions.

MZ: What would you want young adults, such as college students, to get out of in this play?

AC: I wrote this play about Tamil society but it could well be about the society you come from. Be aware of the sexism and misogyny in your society. Sometimes you are so used to it that you take it for granted, that it is how our society is. But it shouldn’t be, and there has to be a change. So I hope that by watching this play, youngsters would be aware of the sexism that a lot of girls are facing across the world, and also be aware of how our technology can take control of a person’s life.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

If you are interested in learning more, check out the “Free Outgoing” study guide compiled by Nightwood Theater, where the play was premiered in North America.

“Free Outgoing” 90 minutes

East West Players, directed by Snehal Desai

Runs February 15 to March 12, previews February 9-12

David Henry Hwang Theater in the Union Center for the Arts

Single tickets $35 – $50

Pay-What-You-Can night Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 8PM

$5 discount for students with valid ID and senior citizens, $10 off for UCLA Asian Pacific Alumni members

Netflix released a trailer and a sneak peek for its upcoming “Iron Fist” series last week, sending Marvel fans into a frenzy. While the trailer introduced viewers to the show’s plot and characters, the sneak peek focused on Colleen Wing.

Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, is a gifted martial artist who appears to work with Danny Rand, played by Finn Jones.

Of the three notable Asian characters in the show, Wing is the only one so far who seems to not be evil. Lewis Tan’s Zhou Cheng and Wai Ching Ho’s Gao seem to be villains. In a show that uses Asian cultures as its starting point, this is especially frustrating. Marvel has not only ignored calls for Danny Rand to be Asian American but also purposefully placed Asian actors in villainous roles – in November, Tan revealed that he “almost” played the main hero, but was instead made into one of the bad guys.

“Iron Fist” perpetuates a narrative that Asian peoples do not own our own cultures; rather, our cultures are backdrops to make white characters more interesting, relatable, or “exotic.” This narrative is not only Orientalist but also racist and harmful, even if it seems harmless.

Journalist Hoai-Tran Bui explained the harm in an article for USA Today last year: “Insert a white male protagonist in a foreign story to make his journey more relatable, while appropriating the more attractive parts of their culture … it’s also a way of taking away Asians’ place in pop culture, by emasculating them and replacing them with a whiter, more capable face.”

The suggestion that white people are more “capable” or “better” than people of color is a facet of white supremacy. In this way, one could argue that “Iron Fist” perpetuates racism.

At the same time, “Iron Fist” has given jobs to Asian actors – so how do we move forward? Should we boycott the series, as activists pushed for regarding “Dr. Strange”? Or do we support three Asian actors and try to ignore the harmful and Orientalist narrative that “Iron Fist” perpetuates?

One potential middle ground between boycotting the series and ignoring its negative impact is media literacy. Media literacy emphasizes thinking analytically about and evaluating the media that we consume. Through media literacy, we can also examine shows like “Iron Fist” with a critical lens that takes into account race, class, gender, ability, and other markers of marginalization.

But while we watch and think analytically about shows like “Iron Fist,” we still contribute to the coffers of people who refused to change the show’s Orientalist origin story. Does the economic impact of deciding to watch the show negate our critical thinking?

Even while we cheer on the three Asian actors in “Iron Fist,” we can look at the need for representation as a marker of racism: that even having three Asian actors is seen as an impressive feat and that there is a need to support these actors. Until Asian and Asian American representation is commonplace, this demand for support will continue. Until Asians and Asian Americans are seen as universally human, we will feel like we have to support one another.

This is not to say that all our decisions reinforce white supremacy. However, it is important to consider the limitations of consumer activism. Putting our money where our mouth is only goes so far.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive “right” or “wrong” answer to how to move forward with “Iron Fist.” Oppression is complex and multifaceted, and our responses to oppression might be, too. If anything, the way “Iron Fist” places Asians and Asian Americans between a rock and a hard place has demonstrated just how complex our responses can be.

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