The basic concept of the upcoming The Great Wall seems like a Hollywood studio wet dream: the Great Wall of China is reimagined as the frontlines for a fantasy thriller that pits mankind against an army of invading mythical monsters. If one were going down a checklist for making a big-budget fantasy movie guaranteed to make money, this would be it. Fast-paced action scenes? Check. Breath-taking CGI? Check. An opportunity to film in 3D? Check. A stupid movie plot? Check. People armed with a bows and arrows? Check. Check. Check.
In an alternate universe, The Great Wall might have been kind of cool. I’ve long waited for Hollywood to start earnestly exploring movie concepts outside of the Western cultural, historical, and sociopolitical framework. Non-Western and non-White history is flush with great stories just waiting to be told. The Great Wall could have been such an opportunity. In so doing, it could have recentered the camera’s gaze on non-White people, offered a tale of non-White humanity, and told a silly fantasy story about a pretty interesting era of ancient Chinese history.
Indeed, I’m a fan of Chinese blockbuster films, perhaps because films that emerge out of Asian movie houses are refreshingly unbound by American cinema’s racial stereotypes. As a consequence, Chinese cinema accomplishes naturally that which American Hollywood still struggles to do: in Chinese cinema, (East) Asian characters occupy the full range of the human condition. In American cinema, we are always the oddball, the outcast, or the supporting character. In Asian cinema, we are treated by the camera as if we are fully, messily, complicatedly human.
I know I’m about a week late on this news, but I’ve got something really important to say: ScarJo, you look absolutely ridiculous in yellowface.
When the news first broke that Scarlett Johansson had been inexplicably cast in Paramount’s film adaptation of blockbuster anime/manga series Ghost in the Shell, I wrote a scathing post declaring that ScarJo is #NotMyMotoko. Last week, that debate was rekindled when studios released a teaser image of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi. I think we can all agree: sporting a black wig styled into an asymmetric bob, Johansson looks unbelievably absurd in the role of a Japanese cyborg woman who has long stood as an icon of Asian and Asian American feminism, queer identity, and gender fluidity.
This above sentence is not partisan. It is not fantastic. It is not subjective. It is a factual description of the events in Ferguson over the last year.
Yet, this description — which reflects the general coverage of the Michael Brown shooting and its aftermath — seems to bother some within mainstream America. That’s because Michael Brown simply doesn’t fit neatly into one of the several pre-defined tropes available to Black men, or to people of colour, in general.
This description chafes because, to them, there’s no such thing as Black humanity.
Earlier this week, Avril Lavigne — a self-professed “tomboy” who at one time encouraged young girls to feel empowered and reject conventional notions of femininity by embracing their counter-culture side — debuted this recent eyebrow-raising travesty: a music video accompanies her song “Hello Kitty”. And, it’s… well… horrific.
It always surprises me how, even among anti-racist activists (let alone the general population), there is a general ignorance of what Orientalism is and how it contributes to contemporary examples of anti-Asian racism. Recently, I wrote a post about Air France’s new ad campaign “France is in the Air” — which contains images that are both mundane and textbook examples of modern Orientalism — and have since been inundated by many tweets and comments arguing that the campaign is “not racist”.
As evidenced by the repeated reference to the ads as “cliched” or the assertion that the ads are attempting to “honour” Asian culture, most of these comments seem to emerge out of a fundamental misunderstanding of what Orientalism is and how it operates.
And, perhaps that’s not entirely surprising. Although Orientalism has been asserted to be one of the three pillars of White supremacy by Andrea Smith in her seminal paper “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy” — with Orientalism as a separate and distinct logic alongside anti-Blackness and anti-Indigenous colonialism — Orientalism also appears to be among the least discussed and most poorly understood logic of White supremacy even within digital anti-racist spaces: a 30 second Google search on “Orientalism” pulls up only a handful of articles, and my recently published Air France article (which incidentally was written from the assumption that the reader already understands what Orientalism is) appears on the first page. While I have several ideas as to why Orientalism remains so minimally explored among anti-racist thinkers of the digital realm, the recent responses I’ve received to my Air France article suggests that a primer on what Orientalism is, and how it operates as an underlying motivation for anti-Asian racism, is perhaps long overdue.