PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, STORYTELLING

Irresponsible “Chi-Knees” Joke is Racist

This is not funny, nor should it have made it through the editors or producers of Monster Hunter. How disappointing that in this day and age a movie-maker would think it appropriate to release a movie that had a scene where a childhood racist taunt makes it to the big screen.

An article from The Guardian states: “The controversy highlighted the difficulties for entertainment companies in navigating sensitivities in the enormous Chinese market, while also navigating the country’s strict censorship laws.”

I’m sorry, but this is NOT about the country’s strict censorship laws. To mix the two issues is irresponsible and frankly quite insulting. Censorship is about a country controlling content that they deem inappropriate to their population. For some, it can be political, for others, it is about ethics and morals. Regardless, navigating a country’s censorship law is just par for the course in doing business, much like learning about their tariffs or trade regulations that protect their local businesses.

This is about the responsibility of story-tellers to keep up with reflecting the societal issues of our times, if not get ahead our times and challenge us to be better. I completely understand that no one can manage to know or understand the traumas of everyone else. However, this was a taunt that many young Chinese-Americans have had to live through and pretend didn’t bother us. Some of us learned to joke about it beforehand so that they couldn’t get to us, because we got to ourselves first. Many of us decided at a young age that we didn’t want to be Chinese and escaped from Chinese school or speaking Chinese with our parents.

When I was a kid in California, I was desperate to not look or sound Chinese. I had other kids tease me about my knees and ‘these”. It was a racist taunt and it was meant to hurt us.

Film-makers: Do better.

STORYTELLING

Being Asian in a Western World

Like the Joy Luck Club 25 years ago, Crazy Rich Asians is one of very few mainstream movies depicting a primarily Asian montage of characters. We aren’t just sidekicks with funny Fu Man Chu Ching Chang Chong accents. Shows like Fresh Off the Boat or Kim’s Convenience have proved that we too can flaunt our Asian culture profitably for the money guy in the studios and networks. While I love that other people can watch shows about people who look a lot like me or have many of the unique problems we face as Asians (with conservative Asian parents), I’m also keen to see us just be mainstream in general. I’ve watched Friends, Frasier, Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones, The Office… and they don’t have a lot of Asian people on their roster of regular cast members. And yet I can relate to most of the people in different ways. (Maybe not Phoebe, Rachel and Monica as much, but definitely women in the workplace Pam, Kelly and Angela or even reluctant hero Jon Snow or geeky Leonard Hofstadter.).

Margaret Cho, Constance Wu, John Cho, Ken Jeong have had to evolve Asian roles from primarily martial arts types (Bruce Li, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yan Fat) to real flushed out people with love interests or motivation other than redemption and revenge. I loved Margaret Cho in Drop Dead Divas. It wasn’t an ‘Asian’ role. She happened to be Asian; her Asian-ness was never an issue in the show. And Michelle Yeoh’s impactful role in the most recent Star Trek Discovery series, too, she was an anchor character who could have been from any background. Her martial arts came in handy for the fight scenes, but her Captain Phillipa Georgiou would have been badass no matter what.

I spent a lot of my young adulthood escaping my Asian background. If you heard me over the phone, you’d be surprised to see my round bespectacled Chinese face looking at you when you came to my office. If you looked at my career in North America, you would see that I didn’t really benefit from my bilingual background or Asian experience, I don’t get ‘cast’ for something because I’m Asian or speak Chinese. I’m 12-hour time difference from my birthplace; it’s as far as one can move away from one’s heritage.

On the one hand, I’m really excited about movies like Crazy Rich Asians (even though it doesn’t quite reflect my socioeconomic background), on the other, I also want to see a richer diversity of people at every level, in every organization, in all industries. Let being Asian be like a trait that is a bonus (horseback riding, dancing, singing, archery, speaking French)… let’s not define and label people only in that way, because it then limits what they are allowed to do.

Being Asian in a Western world means being able to slide in and out of being Asian as the need arises. Like my negotiation tactics, managerial style, or analytical skills: a part of me and in my back pocket if I need them, but not defining who I am.

This makes it interesting to parent my mixed race kids, who are half Chinese. Clearly there are values that I bring with me from my Chinese cultural childhood, but we definitely relate to each other in a very Torontonian/Canadian way.