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When it comes to Marvel, I have a soft spot. My brothers and I, of different ages and interests, never spent time doing something together unless it was “Brother-Brother-Sister Movie Night.” Over the past several years, it had always centered around a Marvel production, but now we’ve found ourselves skipping over it in favor of another film. 

It began with “Doctor Strange,” in which the role of the Ancient One, the mentor of Dr. Strange, shifted from a Tibetan man to a Celtic woman. If Marvel really wanted to avoid racial stereotypes as they’ve claimed in regards to this casting, wouldn’t it make sense then to take away other indicators of Asian culture such as location, dress, and arts?  

When it came to casting a white woman in the role of an Asian man, Marvel claimed this break in source material to be a defiance of racial stereotypes present in the comic; however, when it came to the development of Iron Fist, this did not hold true. 

Picture by Marc Faletti via Flickr Creative Commons.

Created in the 1970s, Iron Fist is about a young billionaire who, after losing his parents, becomes an expert in martial arts and the Iron Fist, which gave him mystical powers when he harnesses his chi. Rooted in this storyline are the controversies of the white savior complex and Orientalist thinking, which resulted in petitions calling for the production company to cast an Asian American actor.  

By casting an Asian American actor in the role, Marvel could have given a chance for diversity and representation by retelling what was an outdated, racist story. Marvel, however, decided to stay true to its source material by casting actor Finn Jones, who pleaded through his Twitter for audiences to give the show a chance before judging it when faced with backlash of diversity.  

So here we are, a month after “Iron Fist” was released on Netflix. Since this release, I have withheld any judgment until I had watched all thirteen episodes of the show.

And painstaking, it was.

For starters, let’s begin with the title of each episode:

     Episode 1- “Snow Gives Way”

     Episode 2- “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight”

     Episode 3- “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch”

     Episode 4- “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm”

     Episode 5- “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus”

     Episode 6- “Immortal Emerges from Cave”

     Episode 7- “Felling Tree with Roots”

     Episode 8- “The Blessing of Many Fractures”

     Episode 9- “The Mistress of All Agonies”

     Episode 10- “Black Tiger Steals Heart”

     Episode 11- “Lead Horse Back to Stable”

     Episode 12- “Bar the Big Boss”

     Episode 13- “Dragon Plays with Fire”

Most of these titles are the names of moves or sequences in Shaolin kung-fu. Never mind that they contributed little to no significance to the plotlines, but hey, let’s just throw them in there because it contributes to the mystic, exoticness of Asian cultures. The rest are phrases associated with Asian stereotypes in speaking in short, ambiguous phrases or proverbs that don’t directly answer the prompt. An example, in particular, is Episode 9, “The Mistress of All Agonies,” which centers on the capture of Madame Gao, a drug lord associated with the Hand, an evil organization. When Colleen addresses Gao’s capture, saying “I don’t understand why we had to bring her here,” Danny replies, “Never let the enemy choose the battlefield. Always work from a position of strength.” Sage advice indeed, Danny.  

But I continued to watch until the last scene of the last episode faded into black, and what I have gathered from the series is that it was laughably bad, cringeworthy, and sad.

Let’s rewind all the way to the first episode, which introduced us to Daniel “Danny” Rand, the Iron Fist, when he returns to New York and runs into Colleen Wing, a martial arts instructor teaching in a dojo. His first interaction with her included him mansplaining to her about her teaching, culture, and martial arts skills. But that doesn’t even take the cake; what takes the cake is his assumption of her identity by speaking to her in Mandarin, to which she tells him to speak English or Japanese, not having spoken Mandarin since she was a child.  

Damn, Daniel (Rand), back at it again with the white guy assuming what kind of Asian you are.  

That’s not even the worst of it; while watching Iron Fist, which Jones lauded for its progressiveness in the diversity of its casting, I realized one big, overarching theme: The Asian characters are overwhelmingly evil.  

Don’t take my word for it; here’s a list of the major Asian characters in Iron Fist and their associations:

     Colleen Wing – evil turned good

     Madame Gao- evil

     Bakuto- evil

     Davos- good turned evil

Not to mention minor characters such as Zhou Cheng, Gao’s henchman, whose actor, Lewis Tan, originally read for the role of Danny Rand.

And that’s the sad thing. In a story heavily influenced by Eastern culture, it’s still not an Asian or Asian American story. Instead, it is a story about orientalizing the East in which the Western male must save the world. While this may have been normalized throughout history in the forms of the Fu Manchu or Dragon Lady trope, it is now the 21st century, where our world has progressed from creating stereotypes to breaking them. Instead, Iron Fist has further perpetuated these stereotypes. What’s sad is that Marvel will most likely blame the poor ratings on the lack of interest in the concept of Iron Fist rather than the poor writing that fetishizes the East.

Marvel, you’ve always prided yourself on the progressive storylines you’ve created, but Iron Fist has failed because of your refusal to do so. And that’s the thing: what you’ve prided yourself in doing was only when it was convenient for you. While casting an Asian American in the role of Danny Rand would have been progressive of you, it was not convenient for you. You almost did, but in the end, you went with what you thought would pull in more viewers.

I have no doubt that you eventually will– when the time is right, when others have stepped to the plate and set a precedent when you have not.  

So while I love Marvel productions, I will not be sitting down for future seasons of Iron Fist; it’s just too infuriating and sad.  

 

On April 16, 2014, nearly 470 passengers and crew rode on the ferry MV Sewol to Jeju Island in South Korea, of which 325 high school students anticipated a weekend of fun. Instead, 250 of them and 50 more passengers and crew were killed as the ferry capsized and sank.

Three years later on April 12, operations to recover the ferry were finally successful, and the ferry was brought onto land. Nine bodies were still considered missing.

Despite the tremendous loss of lives, the tragedy has received very little coverage in recent years, but in 2017, UCLA’s Korean Culture Night aimed to imprint the event onto our memories and memorialize the many victims with “A Passing of Time.”

“I felt like it was very necessary, especially for college students, to hear about people who were their age that passed away in such a tragic way. I think I just used KCN as an avenue to tell that story, to tell the people but in a relatable manner,” said Diane Kim, director of KCN.

At an audience-packed Royce Hall on April 13, we are introduced to seven high school students, each with their own backstory and dreams. We first meet Nari (Eunice Lim), a very studious schoolgirl with extremely controlling parents and dreams of becoming a professional Korean fan dancer, and her dramatic friend, Yeji (Kaylin So), who also wishes to pursue the same ambition. Next, we see Jihoon (Sean Choi), the rich, spoiled kid with uncaring parents, clashing with Jun (Alex Hwang), an outgoing transfer student, for Nari’s love (Jun does win this battle). Jihoon’s clumsy friend, Cheol Su (Andrew Lee), longs to meet his little sister who lives with a divorced parent, and Jun’s friend, Minjae (Kevin Joung), supports his little sister on his own as their parents are constantly working. Finally, we meet recently-fired-barista Jungha (Rebecca Choi), a short-tempered girl with an overworking single mother and an obsession with K-pop band BTS.

Through the students, the audience members were able to relive parts of their high school days: constant studying, underage drinking and clubbing, dealing with parents, longing for parents, guys fighting over a girl, and reaching our goals. We were the students … until the disaster.

The students, along with Jungha and Minji’s sisters, huddled together as the ferry began to tilt. Audio tracks of a ship groaning and an emergency alarm echoed through Royce while Hanoolim’s poongmul team marched around the group playing a macabre beat. The intensity of the traditional drums only increased, overpowering the screams of the group, until complete silence and darkness consumed the stage.

A few minutes passed. Stage lights reappeared, and we came upon a wake. We witnessed parents and survivors in anguish. Mothers and fathers screamed that they could have done more, regretting saying words they should not have or not saying words they should have. Survivors questioned why they could not have helped more during the moment and wondered why such an unfair incident even occurred. Jihoon, one of the survivors, left us with a final soliloquy: People tell us to move on, but “we will always remember our friends. Please do not forget them.”

After extensive characterization and humanization of our beloved characters, we reached the climax of the show. The sinking of the Sewol ferry was not just about a captain abandoning the ship, a ferry capsizing, and people dying. It was about lives that could have been, dreams that were to be fulfilled, people like many of the individuals at UCLA that had names and are children to parents. Regardless of the passing of time, these people meant something to us and others, and as such, they should always be remembered, even though they are no longer with us.

Executive producer of KCN Eddie Kang expressed, “I hope [the audience] will leave knowing more … about this incident that happened three years ago, and that they’ll go back and just remember the people who were lost in this tragedy.”

 

My mom is Taiwanese and my dad is Chinese, but many people only see me as Chinese. This was more of an issue when I was growing up than it is now, but usually when I tell someone in the U.S. that I’m Taiwanese and Chinese, they reply with, “Oh, so you’re Chinese, right?”

As a child who did not know any better, I learned that it was simply easier for me to introduce myself as Chinese, and before long I identified as Chinese American.

It was not until I visited Taiwan at eighteen, met my extended Taiwanese family, and fell in love with the country and culture that I fully embraced my identity as Taiwanese.

In contrast, I do not have the same relationship with China or the Chinese side of my family. It was easy for me to “drop” my identity as Chinese and instead identify as a Taiwanese American.

In community college, one of my white professors was talking about the importance of recognizing multiple identities and asked for students with more than one race or ethnicity to share their identities. When I offered mine, she laughed at me in front of the class, asked me, “Aren’t they the same thing?,” before following up by telling me that she always thought I was Korean based on the way I look.

It’s really confusing, okay?

At 18, embracing my Taiwanese identity meant dropping my Chinese one. To me, China and Taiwan were different enough that I knew that one did not equal the other, but similar enough that I thought it would be redundant to mention both.

I held this “either/or approach” until a few years ago, when one of my best friends came back home for winter break and told me that she was, “done with halves.” She told me that she was going to start owning both her White and Chinese identities.

Being biracial/biethnic does not equate to simply being “half-this” and “half-that,” because that implies that you aren’t wholly anything.

Whenever my friend told anyone that she was Asian, people would often tell her something along the lines of, “But you’re only half-Asian,” as if her identity as an Asian is something that they knew more about than her.

Identities are not fickle things to be discredited and taken away if the “math” doesn’t add up. It is due to my friend that I really began to think critically about what it means to have multiple identities and identified as both Taiwanese and Chinese.

In embracing both of my identities, I found that I had a new problem.

At conflict with my Chinese identity is my identity as Taiwanese.

Although I am no more Taiwanese than I am Chinese, I sometimes find myself thinking and acting as if I were not Chinese at all.

When I was visiting Taiwan last summer, I found myself picking up on the anti-mainland Chinese sentiment that people I was spending time with shared.

I began to feel annoyed by “those” rude Chinese tourists, as if I were not Chinese myself, and as though I was somehow better than them.

At other times, I found myself strongly identifying as Chinese. When I re-watched “Mulan” last weekend, I felt pride in the fact that a Disney heroine was Chinese.

Similarly, a few years ago, I learned that the first anti-immigration and anti-miscegenation laws in the United States were aimed at the Chinese, I felt pain and anger for my ancestors.

For me, part of self-care and self-love is awareness and acceptance of who I am. I do not want to only choose to identify as Chinese when it is advantageous and disown it where it is disadvantageous.

The question has moved beyond what I identify as to how to manage my identities.

China and Taiwan have been in conflict since the 40’s, so how can I reconcile these two identities and love for them both? Just because these two countries are in conflict with each other does not mean that my identities need to be that way.

In a sea of Southeast Asians on campus, I am a minority. I am underrepresented. I am Laotian.

Oftentimes, people misidentify me as Vietnamese. While I do not find that to be an insult, it functions as a reminder that I am not able to relate or identify with a cultural group on campus.

Laos is located in Southeast Asia between Thailand and Vietnam. My parents, like most of the Lao population in the United States, sought refuge in America from the war over communism. I am a first-generation college student in my family and according to the Center of American Progress Asian American Pacific Islander data, one of the 13 percent of Laotians pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Within the Southeast Asian community, Laotian, Cambodian and Hmong individuals are less likely to be financially successful. According to The Washington Post, “the experience of refugee populations such as Hmong, Lao, Cambodian and Khmer groups continue to fall below standard markers of achievement.” The reasons for this ranges from lack of personal motivation and familial support to complete higher education to gang involvement and traditional values that apply patriarchal beliefs.

There are plenty of APIDA student clubs and organizations at UCLA—Vietnamese Student Union, Association of Chinese Americans, Hanoolim (Korean Cultural Awareness group) and even the Association of Hmong Students and United Khmer Students of UCLA—but not one exclusively established for the Laotian community.

Imagine my shock, coming from San Diego—a culturally diverse city with a large Lao population—to UCLA. Approximately 31.2% of undergraduate students identify within the  APIDA community as of Fall 2016, but this campus still lacks a Lao student organization. Which brings me to the question—where is our representation?   

College seemed like a place for me to bridge the gap between my identity and heritage because as a teenager, I neglected to fully embrace my culture.

Participating in every religious ceremony and regularly attending temple allowed me to possess an adequate understanding of both Buddhism and Lao customs. However, I long to be more immersed and enlightened.

I regret not appreciating my culture throughout high school and did not realize how much of an impact my lack of traditional involvement and understanding had on me until the college application period of my life. Months of self-reflection for personal statements led me to realize that my perception of my own identity was unstable due to a deficiency in Asian American representation in the media and culture that I was exposed to.

A few months at UCLA did not solve my internal conflicts, but directed me towards valuable resources. For instance, I involved myself with  an APIDA Newsmagazine called Pacific Ties that allows me to be part of the news media presence that I wish I had growing up. In addition, my involvement in Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention (SEA CLEAR) connected me with two amazing Lao graduate students at UCLA, one of which includes my current mentor. Although I am still in the process of getting to know both of these individuals, I already feel supported, understood and a lot less alone.

However, I cannot help but imagine how wonderful it would be to have more cultural clubs and organizations centered around the minority groups of the minority groups. It is crucial to establish more clubs that emulate SEA CLEAR’s mission to “increase graduation and retention rates” and “nurture students to embrace their identity by exploring Southeast Asian history, culture, and politics.” Adopting these crucial principles will provide a safe space for students who identify as minorities of a minority group, as well as provide outreach opportunities to their ethnic communities to encourage Southeast Asian high school students to pursue higher education at UCLA.

With this representation, we can disillusion the Asian stereotypes that continues to overlook the struggles of the minorities within the community. Creating more cultural clubs and organizations on UCLA’s campus would grant the ethnic groups a chance to both genuinely represent themselves and to strengthen their community.

We’re all tired of whitewashing.

We’ve seen it before, and we’re seeing it today. From John Wayne’s portrayal of Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror” (1956) to Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko in “Ghost in the Shell” (2017), we are not strangers to the common practice of Asian and Asian American roles being handed to white actors/actresses.

Despite the minimal Asian American representation in Hollywood and in movies in general, Asian Americans receive an even shorter end of the stick in another medium: video games.

In 2016, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), an annual conference showcasing the latest and upcoming video games, revealed billion-dollar hits, such as “Battlefield 1” and “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition,” but many lacked the presence of Asian Americans.

Even highly anticipated games, like “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Death Stranding,” predominantly cast white actors and actresses as the lead and supporting roles.

This does not mean we should immediately boycott game companies. We should recognize some of their efforts, including the award-winning games “Mirror’s Edge” and “Sleeping Dogs.”

“Mirror’s Edge” is a first-person parkour game starring Faith Connors (Jules de Jongh), a half-Japanese, half-British female. The game was published by Electronic Arts, one of the more prominent publishers in the industry.

“Sleeping Dogs,” which was published by Square Enix, another prominent company in the video game industry, starred Wei Shen (Will Yun Lee). The game was praised for its near-accurate depictions of Hong Kong, Cantonese voice acting, and dynamic portrayal of Wei Shen, according to reviews by Imagine Games Network and GamesRadar.

What about the “Final Fantasy” series? And “Street Fighter?” Those have many Asian and Asian American characters.

Yes, they do, but many of these characters are heavily stereotyped. “Street Fighter” characters are only known for their martial arts. They are bland, flat characters. “Final Fantasy” characters are not necessarily stereotyped, but they are portrayed as more white. They possess pale complexions, sharp jaw lines, and natural non-black hair.

final fantasy
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
street fighter
Photo courtesy of Flickr.

So, what does this mean for us and big video game companies?

Well, video game companies should start casting more Asian Americans in lead roles. Bethesda Softworks, the company responsible for publishing “Fallout 4” and “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” is already taking the lead by starring the character Morgan Wu in the highly anticipated “Prey” (2017). Other companies like Electronic Arts and Bungie should follow suit.

As for us, we should continue lobbying for representation as usual. We need to fight for accurate representation and dynamic portrayal of Asian and Asian American characters not only in films but also in video games. We are a diverse community, and, at the least, we should be seen as such.

In four short weeks, America has undergone a drastic change. To some, these four weeks have been an overwhelming wakeup call and to others, just a numb notice of what they already knew was going to happen. Either way, the majority of Americans are now taking part in what I’m calling the “Cheeto Nazi Resistance”. For those of you who are feeling helpless in a time when support is so desperately needed, here is a list of things you can do right now to take part in fighting back, as well as various ways to practice self care.

  1. Donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Council on American Islamic Relations, NAACP or Everytown for Gun Safety (Here is a complete and thorough list of other places you can donate).
  2. GO to Planned Parenthood and get your yearly physical done or birth control. Take care of your body! Available for men and women!
  3. Boycott certain products and stores.
  4. But also remember to treat yo’ self to a shopping spree if that’s what you’re into.
  5. If you really haven’t done so already, register to vote and then ACTUALLY go vote. Project Vote Smart and Vote 411 are great places to get bipartisan information on candidates and ballot propositions.
  6. Meet likeminded people and volunteer at a local campaign. There will be special elections across the country for certain public offices in 2017. Find a campaign to work on here and here.
  7. Sick of seeing his face? Download this chrome extension that will replace pictures of him with cute kittens.
  8. Donate old books you may have lying around to the Prison Book Program.
  9. Get out of the bubble and take a hike or explore a national park near you.
  10. Stay informed and download BBC News or NY Times on your phone and allow notifications for news alerts.
  11. Adopt or foster an animal; they need love during these times too!
  12. Write an Op-Ed for your local newspaper, or newsmagazine.
  13. Be a millennial and learn which photos you should share.
  14. Participate in a local march and show solidarity for the issue at hand.
  15. Don’t completely spiral — keep a sense of humor. Luckily the internet is the best place for that.
  16. Run for office. No seriously, there are tons of local elections that will be coming up and the best place to make change is at that level.
  17. Find your Zen and try some yoga to take care of your mind and body. Many studios offer free trials.
  18. Attend town meetings of your local representative or senator! Not sure who your rep is? Find them here.
  19. After you do that, make sure to sign up for their email list so you can stay informed on what they’re doing in Congress as well as upcoming events where they will be present.
  20. Pretend to be Picasso and dabble in some adult coloring books.
  21. Protect our access to free press and give to National Public Radio.
  22. Remember that change happens at a local level, so stay informed of your State Legislature. Track what bills are being brought up. Support the ones you want, and fight the ones you don’t!
  23. Unplug from social media and delete your most addicting apps for a day or two (Yes, scary but 100% possible).
  24. Make sure you’re carrying a government issued photo I.D. with you at all times.
  25. Keep your calendar cleared for April 15 and be prepared to march.
  26. Remind yourself that this won’t last forever.

 

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