By Guest Contributor: Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi)
After seeing Hollywood green-light projects that actively erase Asian Americans from the silver screen (think Emma Stone playing Allison Ng or a whitewashed Doctor Strange) it’s understandable if pop culture watchers reflectively flinch when they hear news of upcoming mainstream film projects featuring characters of color.
That’s also why I did a little squeal of glee in the middle of Starbucks on Friday when I saw the news that Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek was just cast as Freddie Mercury in the upcoming Queen biopic, which is titled Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek’s casting is also hopefully a sign that this movie (which was first announced way back in 2007) is finally on the right track.
I’m going to create a new Tumblr: Weak Sauce Apologies For Racism.
Initial entries would include Emma Stone’s “my eyes have been opened” apology for appearing as an Asian American woman in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha; James Bond writer Anthony Horowitz’s 140-character mea culpa for calling Idris Elba “too street” to play his titular character; and Mark Wahlberg’s request to be pardoned for an anti-Asian hate crime assault.
We can also add another one to the list. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a weak sauce, two sentence apology today, nearly three weeks after it aired a skit during the Oscars that invoked anti-Asian “model minority” and “child labour” stereotypes while exploiting three Asian American children as racial props.
Earlier last week, Cameron Crowe’s Aloha — which opened on Friday to pitiful box office returns — became embroiled in controversy as attention focused on the casting of Emma Stone in the role of love interest Allison Ng, who is described in the script as multiracially Chinese American and Native Hawaiian. Stone is of Swedish, Dutch German, English, Scottish and Irish heritage and has presumably zero Asian or Native Hawaiian ancestry.
I wrote last week about how Crowe’s miscasting of Stone as Allison Ng is part of a far larger pattern of how film mistreats the Asian American and Pacific Islander identities: we are either cast as racial or cultural fetish objects (in Aloha, a prescient storyline recapitulates but also flattens the political tension of Mauna Kea), or alternatively our bodies are rendered invisible (in Aloha, a multiracial AANHPI character is played by a White actress).
One of the frustrations of how the Aloha controversy has played out on the larger social media stage has involved the language that we use to discuss the strange White-washing of Allison Ng. As Sharon Chang has pointed out, outrage has focused on the casting of a White woman to play a multiracial Chinese American character; comparatively little attention has been focused on either the impact of Aloha (or its casting) on either Native Hawaiian indigenous politics, or on multiracial identity politics.
A mere week after I wrote a post swearing off of sharing fan news, the fandom insidiously pulled me back in.
This week, rumours began circulating that Tilda Swinton was in casting negotiations for Marvel’s upcoming Dr. Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role. Swinton is being considered for the role of the Ancient One, a nearly-immortal Tibetan sorcerer who becomes the young Dr. Strange’s mystic tutor and personal mentor.
That’s right. Tilda Swinton — a British actor whose Wikipedia article notes that she can trace her Anglo-Scot heritage back to the Middle Ages and who is about as far from “Tibetan” as one might get — may be cast to play a racebent and genderbent version of one of the few Asian characters of prominence in the Mystic Marvel world.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!