Asian Girl Problem #138: Never Been A ScarJo Fan

A lot is going on in the world. Prince died and everyone wants to tell their personal story of how the legend influenced their lives. As usual, I’m silent on social media (mostly because I’m over most platforms) and have no childhood memory of the musician. My parents played communist music from a cassette until I was old enough to commandeer the radio, and I stumbled across pop culture making arbitrary connections with whatever resonated.

As with Bowie, Prince appeared on my radar well into my 20s, through a combination of oldies radio, karaoke and movie soundtracks. Both seemed like artists in the purest definition—visionaries who made their fresh perspectives accessible to the masses through constant output of impeccably-honed skills and substance. It’s nice to see people sharing and reminiscing, even though I’m yet again a bystander. But honestly it’d be cool if no more famous people died for a while—it’s making me realize that 30 is just around the corner.

28 is supposed to be a big year of change for me. Yep, I decided that when I was 21 and in graduate school, because 28 was the average age of my classmates, and they were miles ahead of me in terms of accomplishments and maturity. The guy I had a crush on was also 28, and he would assure me that my anxieties would chill the fuck out once I got to my late 20s. So I’ve essentially been seeing the past several years as the last gasp of my youth and forgiving myself for all blunders and neuroses because there would be an end date to it all.

This sounds like the part where I debunk this whole philosophy and realize no one ever grows up and it’s ~just a number~ but actually, I do feel more mellow. I do have simpler pleasures, and I do have a stronger self-identity and values less prone to compromise. So yay for that. I’m starting a new job soon, which has been a priority since I got back from China. I hope to see the effects of this inner calm on a professional level.

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Now that it took me four paragraphs to clear my throat, I wanted to mention something in the media that I do feel compelled to sound off on, which is Scarlett Johansson’s leading role in a movie based on a Japanese manga. This happened a week ago, hence already a passé topic, but the fact that the story’s publishers recently strongly defended the casting decision and was proud to get the “chance for a Japanese property (the manga story—not ScarJo) to be seen around the world” makes me feel even more hopeless for cultures to represent themselves in mainstream media.

Essentially, his comment shows that a decision-maker is choosing Caucasians instead of reps from his own race under the assumption that a story resonates more when presented through someone who is more approachable, profitable, relatable, whatever to the people who matter in media. Way to keep the system chugging. If he doesn’t even have the faith to give badass Japanese roles to Japanese characters, how does that bode for all the “little people” who fight every day to get a modicum of realistic representation on the screen?

Up until I was 12, all I saw around me were white (and a few black) people. I wish I could say that race wasn’t a factor and I was colorblind, like we were taught to be (which was problematic but the best people could do at the time). But worse than that, I thought of myself as white, because that’s what I spent 95% of my day seeing. The other 5% was reserved for my two parents, and my own reflection, which I avoided because it jarred me out of the comfort of my white mindset.

Twenty years ago, and that message seems to be going strong—someone who looks white is going to elicit a deeper response than someone who looks like an other. Everyone else should get used to remarkable, laudable stories being told from a white mouthpiece because even a great story runs the risk of being looked over if told by a fresh (different) face. Keep the Asian actors for the uber-Asian stories and indie movies that only draw an Asian crowd, anyway.* Forget authenticity for a big budget films, even when an Asian actor just makes fucking sense. Instead, choose an actor who literally plays the same character in every movie.

*While I enjoyed all the movies I saw at CAAMfest, I walked away wishing there were more stories that didn’t solely focus on ~being Asian~ but rather on great characters and plots that could transcend culture. The kind of movies usually only reserved for white actors.

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