Arts, Culture, & Entertainment

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

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American actor in the role, Marvel could have given a chance for diversity and representation by retelling what was an outdated, racist story.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.”

 

Established in 1994, the Association of Hmong Students (AHS) hosted its fourth annual Hmong Awareness Day (HAD) event at UCLA on April 5th, 2017.

To second-year AHS Secretary, Paja Thao, “HAD is an opportunity to make people on campus aware of my identity, where I’m from and who I am. It is a very important day for me because I’m able to immerse my friends on campus on what my culture has to offer and what my experiences was as a Hmong-American.”

The Hmong are an ethnic group from China, Laos, Thai, Vietnam and Myanmar.  

The UCLA community were welcomed with the opportunity to fully immerse in the Hmong culture through sensory, educational stations that included history, art and food.

The Hmong history station demonstrated a timeline of political events surrounding the Vietnam and Secret War that affected the Hmong people and pushed the population to disperse and find refuge in a number of Southeast Asian countries and throughout the United States.

The arts section included language, clothing and dance.

Third-year AHS External Vice President, Linda Moua, taught students the phonetic Hmong alphabet along with a few common terms like greeting words and pronouns.

AHS also showcased traditional Hmong clothing at the event modeled on its organization members.

Hmong garments are either handmade or bought from a seamstress at the annual Hmong New Year celebration that begins in November. The clothing typically responds to the two main dialects: white and green. White dialect speakers wear white skirts, whereas green speakers wear colored skirts. However, traditional Hmong clothing has evolved to accommodate a modern generation within its cultural group.

Keeping consistent with the visual presentations that the event is predominantly revolved around, AHS incorporated a traditional Hmong dance tutorial. With Hmong music in the background, interns taught enthusiastic spectators a short snippet of a full routine.

 

Interns Michelle Vang, Grace Yang and Mai Nhia Xiong

The UCLA community was also presented with a selection of Hmong dishes, including white rice, boiled salt and pepper chicken and Asian sausage, to relish. The Hmong dishes are heavily influenced by the other Southeast Asian cultures they are surrounded by. However, the one thing that distinguishes Hmong cuisine from neighboring cultures is its traditional religious beliefs regarding chicken. Postpartum, Hmong women must have a boiled chicken diet for a month to help their bodies heal and recover faster.

AHS External Vice President Linda Moua serves Hmong food to a UCLA community member.

Despite having a low number of participants compared to other cultural groups, AHS’s main objective is to establish and foster cultural awareness and identity, to provide a safe space on campus for Hmong students and student allies, and to encourage its members to become conscious student leaders for the Hmong community community.

AHS provides a support system and mentorship for its members through open discussions revolving around identity during its weekly meetings. In addition to weekly meetings, the AHS community challenges and provides opportunities for its members to gain leadership experience through various programs like its annual Higher-education Movement: Our Next Generation (H.M.O.N.G.) high school conference that will take place April 28-30.

“I continue being involved with AHS in hopes of providing a support system for lowerclassmen the same way AHS has done for me. I also believe in the work that AHS does, such as bringing awareness of the Hmong people to UCLA,” says Linda Moua.

With a welcoming environment for students to engage in the Hmong culture, “AHS is dedicated to upholding the voice of the Hmong community through advocacy for higher education and addressing community issues that are overlooked.”

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.      

 

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