‘Big Hero 6′ shows that an Asian American cast can top the box office

Big Hero 6 stars (L to R): Hiro Hamada, Baymax & GoGo Tomago. Source: disney.wikia.com

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American:

 

This past weekend’s box office numbers are in, and Disney’s latest project Big Hero 6 stands soundly on top. This might not come as a big surprise, considering that Frozen-fever is still holding every auntie’s TV hostage – but the film still breaks ground, especially in the scope of Asian Americans in cinema. And Hollywood should take note.

 

Daneil Henney (left) and Ryan Potter (right), co-stars of Big Hero 6. Source: sanfransokyo-bae.tumblr.com (yes, that's a real URL)

Daniel Henney (left) and Ryan Potter (right), co-stars of Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is a robotic sci-fi tale that revolves around Hiro Hamada,  Disney’s first explicitly mixed-heritage protagonist. Hamada is voiced by Ryan Potter, who is of Japanese and Caucasian descent himself. In fact, the entire film is placed in a “Hapa environment” of sorts, set in San Fransokyo, an architectural and cultural hybrid of the cities the name references.

Casting Asian Americans isn’t new to Disney, whose Mulan in 1998 was voiced by Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong and George Takei, among others.  Still, the studio has been inconsistent when it comes to this matter – the lead role in Lilo & Stitch wasn’t voiced by a Hawaiian (or an Asian Pacific American, for that matter), and we’d have to go as far back as Aladdin or even The Jungle Book to locate another Disney animation starring characters from a broader Asian origin (let’s pretend the Siamese Cats from Lady and the Tramp never happened).

Among those mentioned films, the only voice actor of Asian descent was Lea Salonga for Princess Jasmine’s singing parts. So while Big Hero 6 is a fictitious metropolis which never reveals what country it’s actually in, its cultural mash-up of settings, characters and themes means it could very well be Disney’s first Asian/American film that actually stars Asian American actors.

Hollywood’s reputation for placing white actors in Asian roles is a tale as old as time – from Goku in Dragonball: Evolution to Aang in The Last Airbender, glossing over the past century of Asian roles in American film would show little progress since Paul Muni and Luise Rainer donned yellowface in 1937’s The Good Earth. The track record for animation hasn’t been fantastic either, with white actors playing the lead roles in both Avatar series’ and the English dubs for Dragonball Z and Pokemon (I just ruined my childhood going through those links, BTW. You’re welcome).

 

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’m not the only one who has been griped by this cinematic phenomenon. When 2010’s The Last Airbender revealed an all-white cast (minus Dev Patel as the villain, of course), it caused such an uproar that an entire website called Racebending was launched against the production, and multiple petitions continue to call for a reboot of the franchise. Director M. Night Shyamalan, who’s Indian American himself, seemed aloof about the matter, insisting that the diversity of the cast and crew was on par with the United Nations. Those who have tried to actually find logic in prioritizing white actors in these roles have eluded to Asian and Asian American actors having less audience appeal than white actors, despite the fact that these films have failed among critics and fans alike.

Enter Big Hero 6, adapted from an obscure Marvel series about a Japanese counterpart to the Avengers. Unlike other Marvel titles like X-Men – which has an existing fanbase, or other Disney films like Maleficent – which is based on a childhood classic, Big Hero 6 relies on Disney’s promotion engine and, more importantly, its characters and storyline. Merely being a Disney film hasn’t always been a shoe-in (anyone watching The Rescuers: Down Under tonight?), but critics and audiences have been singing this one’s praises since it opened at the Tokyo International Film Festival late last month.

 

A night view of San Fransokyo, the make-believe home of the Big Hero 6. Source: disney.wikia.com

 

Debuting an awesome cartoon about Asians in the land known for cranking out awesome cartoons about Asians is a tough job for anyone, but Big Hero 6‘s ability to exhibit cultural tropes between America and Japan without being overly cheesy or offensive was impressive even to a cinema Grinch like me. Sure, I scoffed a bit at the pagoda-topped Golden Gate Bridge, but I also couldn’t help but feel validated to hear someone on the big screen say “red bean paste” as casually as one would say “hot dog.” The cast is diverse enough to make me suspect at least one member of the talent scout was a former member of the Third World Liberation Front – Potter, along with Daniel Henney, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr. and Génesis Rodríguez make T.J. Miller and Scott Adsit’s roles the only two not filled by an actor of color.

 

"Big Hero 6" © 2014 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

 

I must say that I left the film with a bittersweet feeling, as I was disappointed when I didn’t see any Asian American names in the credits among the top-level crew – this is a testament to the fact that much progress is yet to be made. But where Big Hero 6 does succeed is that it actually tried what many of us knew would work all along – make characters that reflect the audience, and hire actors who reflect those characters. So if anyone else in Hollywood is still wondering if our audiences are ready to see more Asian Pacific Americans in the big screen, I’ll leave you with yet another box office dominator:

therock

 

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Walking Dead: No More Asian-American Male Stereotypes

 

Walking Dead

Liberty Voice:

 

Walking Dead‘s Glenn Rhee, played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun, is not the stereotypical Asian-American male in most Western mainstream media. He is just a former pizza delivery guy from Michigan who is pretty good at stabbing and stomping zombie brains. His love and devotion to his wife, Maggie, and his bonding with group in the prison are no different from most men of other cultures. Glenn does not use any mathematical genius to calculate the time it takes for the group to travel from one place to another, nor does he use any special kung fu kicks or ancient Chinese secrets to overcome ravenous zombies or sociopathic tyrants and bandits. For example, in Season 3, a simple headbutt was his response to Merle’s snide comments about his wife. No karate chop needed.

There has been much discussion about the lack of legitimate film and TV roles for Asian-American men in a predominantly “black and white” entertainment industry in the United States. Not only are Asian-American portrayed as shy and somewhat anti-social nerds, martial art masters, or bumbling immigrants who speak with a heavy accent, they are sometimes substituted by White actors to play Asian roles. Examples of this can be seen in the movies 21 and The Last Airbender and in the 1970s TV series Kung Fu, starring the late David Carradine.

The stereotypes among Asian-American males did not stop Yeun from flying to L.A. from Chicago to star in The Walking Dead. He was nervous about what is expected of him during the initial wardrobe fitting, and he tried not to think about who he looks like. “They put me in these clothes that made me look like Short Round,” Yeun said, referring to the sidekick who screamed, “You call him Doctor Jones!” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He bit his lips and told himself to not to worry about his appearance or what others may think of him.

Yeun’s character fulfills roles that can be played by anyone. Of course, there are a few times when Glenn’s race and Korean heritage are mentioned, such as in Season 1 when Daryl referred Glenn as a “Chinaman,” in Season 2 when Maggie’s father, Herschel, asked where he’s from, and in Season 3 when Merle remarked to Daryl that he “damn near killed that Chinese kid,” in which Daryl corrected, “He’s Korean.” These are very minor details that can be changed or omitted according with the character.

Before the Walking Dead star became a familiar face on prime time television, Yeun had worked briefly in theater in Chicago and had turned down a gig. He thought that would be portraying the negative stereotypes among Asian-Americans. The producers of the gig asked him to do an eighties monologue, and Yeun opened one from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. After that, they asked him if he could do an Asian accent. Yeun turned skeptical. What the producers really wanted to see was Yeun playing the character Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. “After that, they wanted to book me and I just refused,” Yeun said.

The Walking Dead is not the only show that portrays more variety among Asian-American male actors who are playing roles that are not dictated by stereotype, race, nationality, or accent. These actors including John Cho from Harold and Kumar, Daniel Dae Kim from Hawaii 5-O, and C.S. Lee from Dexter. However, the pioneer to resisting Asian-American male stereotypes should be accredited to George Takei, the famous helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original Star Trek series who proved that Asians can drive.

 

Check out this link:

 

Walking Dead: No More Asian-American Male Stereotypes

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Prophesy author Ellen Oh on girls, heroes, and Nickelodeon’s ‘The Legend of Korra’

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Check out this interview with Ellen Oh, author of Prophesy, as she discusses why the Nickelodeon animated series, The Legend of Korra is vital in bringing gender equality to our culture.

Sexism is deeply rooted in our culture, something that is ingrained in both men and women. We live in a world where a mother of teenage boys will write condescending blog posts chastising teenage girls for their choice of clothing and not realize how offensive that is in a society where rape victims are blamed in court for what they wear… “Oh,” I said. “So The Hunger Games is boring?” Immediately, the entire [class]room shouted “No.” “What about The Legend of Korra?” I asked. The room exploded with excitement. Everyone loved Korra. Even the boy reluctantly agreed. “Ok, then,” I said. “So girl heroes are interesting, right?” While the entire room was in loud and vigorous agreement, the boy was determined to have the last word. “Yeah but, there aren’t a lot of them, are there?” I nodded. “You’re right, but isn’t it time to change that?”

And this is exactly why I love The Legend of Korra so much. A room full of young boys and girls, all of them diehard fans of an animated series with a girl lead; all able to agree that Korra is a great character. An entertaining cartoon fantasy television show that is doing more for girl power than all the Gender Studies programs in all of our great universities. Why? Because it is reaching the very audience for whom these types of characterizations are most important. Our children.

Like the Last Airbender series before it, The Legend of Korra is set in a world where girls are equal to boys in every way. They can be like Korra, the Avatar, the most powerful bender in the world, or they can be Lin Beifong, a powerful police chief. But even better, they can be Asami, an ordinary girl with no magical powers who still kicks serious butt. Shows like The Legend of Korra makes the television landscape a better place. And if you roll your eyes at that statement, know that I have three young daughters and I’m also Asian American. Why is this relevant? Because not only is Korra a female lead character, but she is also a person of color. So yeah, I think The Legend of Korra is the best thing on television since I Love Lucy.

Check out this link:

Prophesy author Ellen Oh on Nickelodeon’s ‘The Legend of Korra’

THE LEGEND OF KORRA