A while back I was browsing through the YA section at Barnes and Noble and a bright red cover featuring Disney’s Mulan caught my eye. The book was Reflection, one of the special Disney-official fan fiction series Twisted Tale that includes spins on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and my girl Mulan. I didn’t end up buying it that day, but I checked it out from the library recently and it was as much fun as I could have hoped Mulan fan fiction––written by a Chinese American, Elizabeth Lim––to be. Continue reading
I saw an early screening and it totally convinced me the hype is valid.
So hardly a week or so ago, I wrote a big think-piece essay blog type thing about how skeptical I am about my expectations for the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians movie. Looking back, I’ve written a lot about this movie: a satirical dream cast, a presentation about the pressure it’s under, and that last post about hyping it on blind faith. Continue reading
I’m looking forward to this movie, right?
Every time I see the movie poster for the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians movie, I have to stop and take a photo of it for the ‘gram. I’ve seen the trailer so many times I know when all the claps happen. While waiting for a flight, I wandered around LAX looking for the special Entertainment Weekly cover with Constance Wu and Henry Golding. I bought the book a second time just for the paperback copy with the movie cover on it.
And I didn’t even like the book. Continue reading
A presentation on the upcoming movie, and the intense pressure around it.
A while back, my friend asked me to give a presentation on anything, as long as it had something to do with books. I had 0 ideas, but got inspired by the special Entertainment Weekly edition of Crazy Rich Asians, so I decided to talk about every reader’s favorite topic: book to movie adaptations.
It went pretty well, and I ended up having a lot of fun making my slides. So for fun, and because I have a lot of thoughts about the upcoming movie, I’ll share them and my speaking notes here.
(I should note that the event was hosted by one of my school’s publishing clubs, hence the literary event references.)
It all comes down to representation. You can read a book and know in your head that this whole cast looks like you, reflects your family and culture. But it’s a completely different experience when you see it, especially in a mainstream format like a Hollywood movie. I’ll let the professionals explain it better:
Plus, all the other major movies with Asian American casts came from books: The Joy Luck Club premiered in 1993. Memoirs of a Geisha premiered in 2005, and it only made the list because it’s one of the few mainstream American movies with an entirely Asian and Asian American cast. The book was written by a white man and there’s a number of conversations about the validity of Memoirs. Not going to lie, it’s pretty problematic, but the movie soundtrack was really good. Fresh Off the Boat aired in 2015, and even though it’s not a movie it was a big deal in recent pop culture. After the second season it split off from Eddie Huang’s life story, and I think it’s become a better show for it. Would not recommend the book, to be honest.
And finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for: Crazy Rich Asians. Release date: August 17, 2018. As the third major movie, and following “Fresh Off the Boat,” CRA has to be a verifiable box office success. Because if it “fails,” studios will use it as an example to affirm all the old stereotypes and misconceptions about casting Asians in movies and telling their own stories.
And if this fails, publishers might not pick up as many books by Asian authors because clearly if Crazy Rich did poorly, there’s no mass market for our stories.
…To be honest, the book wasn’t that good. It switches points of view between a lot of characters, Kwan uses footnotes as personal asides which can take you out of the world he’s writing about, and a lot of the drama is so rich it feels a little unrelatable.
So I’m scared that this movie will be bad — and it can’t afford to be.
I believe that if CRA does well, then that gives the first nudge for others to follow. And there are so many others that can follow. Including 2 more books in the Crazy Rich Asians series! Movies, mini series, TV shows, Netflix originals — we’re at peak media right now, and of course that comes from books leading the way. And no matter what movie comes out, the book is always better, so more movies will lead to more book sales — right? That’s how that works?
And look at this cast! Don’t you want to support this cast?
Forget Ghost in the Shell and read this roundtable.
Surprise surprise: Ghost in the Shell is doing terribly in theaters. And if you, like me, opted out of seeing GITS, then I highly suggest you go straight for the Hollywood Reporter’s roundtable discussion.
THR’s Rebecca Sun invited a group of actresses, writers, and comedians of Japanese descent to watch GITS followed by a roundtable discussion. The result, not surprisingly, is a funny, honest, and cathartic take on a terrible movie and even worse plot twist. The gathered, Keiko Agena, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Atsuko Okatsuka, and Ai Yoshihara (y’know, actually being Japanese and Japanese American actresses and all) provide the most important point of view and will hopefully be heard by the rest of Hollywood. Doubtful, but hopefully.
Ai Yoshihara: Major’s backstory is white people trying to justify the casting.
Okatsuka: And they f — ed up in the process because now it looks even worse. The text at the beginning of the movie explained that Hanka Robotics is making a being that’s the best of human and the best of robotics. For some reason, the best stuff they make happens to be white. Michael Pitt used to be Hideo.
Agena: That was the other cringe-worthy moment, when they called each other by their Japanese names. We’re looking at these beautiful white bodies saying these Japanese names, and it hurt my heart a little bit.
Okatsuka: It’s not even about seeing me on the screen as a performer. It’s a bigger concern. It’s 2017 and I don’t know why these representation issues are still happening. It’s overwhelming. This means so much to our community but is so on the side, still, for a lot of people.
Kato-Kiriyama: It’s dispensable. We still feel dispensable.
Agena: …But as a fan, as a human Asian-American, I want to see that star being born. That was the part that hurt. This is such a star-making vehicle. And they can find people. They found that wonderful girl [Auli’i Cravalho] that played Moana. They found the guy that’s gonna star in Crazy Rich Asians [Henry Golding]. Yeah, it’s hard. But they can be found, and this could have made a young, kick-ass Asian actress out there a Hollywood name and star.
Kato-Kiriyama: And they know it, too. They know that they had that kind of power to change someone’s life.
Yoshihara: Yeah, a bunch of the Asian people got killed. All the minor roles are Asians who didn’t have lines. But all the core characters except Beat Takeshi and the mother were mainly white.
Kato-Kiriyama: The question itself has to be challenged. Why are you trying to drum up examples of people of color or specifically Japanese who are OK with it? Is it so you feel justified in maintaining your norm? Don’t you want to know why people are hurt? Aren’t you curious, as an artist? Isn’t there anywhere in your progressive, liberal mind that’s curious about the people that are feeling hurt?
Kato-Kiriyama: It’s trying to get the conversation away from race yet again. Sure, it’s a great role for women. I don’t know if kick-ass white woman action stars is such a void, but even that aside, it’s trying to step over the dead body. That’s fine when there are empowered characters who are women, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re actually talking about race. Can we just stay here for a little bit?
Okatsuka: When white feminists don’t know what to say about race, they go for the feminist thing. That’s what happened with the Women’s March. When women of color were like, “Will you be there, though, for the next march, when the next black kid gets shot? Will you be there when women of color need you?” they were like, “Wasn’t it great for women all around?”
Agena: That’s what’s so exciting about this time. There is a Master of None, there is a Fresh Off the Boat, there is a Get Out. I love being alive at this point, and that’s why I’m just waiting for the thing that’s not this movie. The thing where we can go out not as five women sitting there chewing our teeth through this movie, but five women going, “Yeah! Let’s go see this movie because we’re celebrating it!” I want that experience.
This whole conversation is everything the top decision makers at Paramount — or really anyone who gave this movie the go-ahead — need to hear right now, tomorrow, and every day. Kato-Kiriyama, Agena, Yoshihara, and Okatsuka were really able to break down what many Asian Americans were feeling as they watched the movie, from the first announcement of ScarJo two years ago to its premiere a few days ago. They understood how hard it was to watch this whole project get further through the process, green light after green light, and feel like all our voices and concerns were completely ignored. And then to watch (or hear about) the movie and know our voices had been ignored.
When Asian Americans are going to the movies more often than most other communities of color, why aren’t we seeing ourselves in our own damn roles? It’s been amazing to see that we’re barely four months in to 2017 and we’ve already seen “Ghost in the Shell,” Netflix’s “Death Note,” and Netflix’s “Iron Fist” (not doing great Netflix. Try harder buddy.) I’m not sure how we got to a media landscape where I can list off a handful of amazing AAPI representation accomplishments in media — “Power Rangers” “Andi Mack,” “Moana”— and a whole series of disappointments in one breath.
A few days ago the studio finally admitted that maybe casting Scarlett Johansson as The Major wasn’t the best move. It’s a shame that it took a dollar amount to show them what most of what the AAPI community had been shouting for months. Too little, too late, seeing as the movie is now out and everyone’s been paid. But I am hopeful for the future of Hollywood what with “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Mulan” in the works. Well, hopeful and a little (a lot) scared.
The backlash against the new Ghostbusters showed the double standards for female comedies.
I loved the new Ghostbusters, and when it came out on DVD recently I had to watch it again. And yep, still a good movie. So the hate and backlash it received — before it even came out — was completely unwarranted, creating an unfair expectation for what should have been an average screwball comedy.
I get this reboot had a lot to live up to, and wasn’t as iconic or hilarious as people were expecting. It’s not The Big Lebowski or Bridesmaids, and it never had to be. It didn’t even have to be the original Ghostbusters because obviously that task would be impossible. Regardless most people believed in this Ghostbusters to buck all the nay sayers given the super talented cast, director, and modern premise. But like in any movie, when someone asks “How can this go wrong?” something very bad is hiding just around the corner.
In Ghostbuster’s case, the terrifying monster was misogyny. Anti fans tried to claim that their anger was at the reboot of a sacred franchise, however as the Atlantic points out, this is the only female-lead reboot in the long series of the current remake trend. No matter how the “critics,” mostly comment sections, YouTube videos, and Twitter trolls, tried to insist otherwise, their vitriol was based in unfounded sexism. The official trailer became the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube, over 1 million at the time of this writing.
Looking back now it’s admittedly not a great trailer, but at the time it originaly came out the dislikes were an organized protest. “The thumbs down votes aren’t organic, they’re part of a coordinated attack on the film by people who are opposed to its very existence.” Screen Crush reported. The website broke down the ratio compared to other disliked trailers, like Captain America: Civil War (5,237 likes to 1 dislike) and noted most of the videos on the YouTube most disliked list featured women from pop stars like Taylor Swift to “Let It Go” from Frozen.
“Here are just some of the major franchises Hollywood has rebooted in the last decade: Batman. Superman. Spider-Man. James Bond. Star Wars. Planet of the Apes. Halloween. Friday the 13th. The Evil Dead. The Thing. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Robocop. Every Disney animated classic, starting with Cinderella and continuing with The Jungle Book this year. The list could go on endlessly, even without counting TV spinoffs.” from the Atlantic.
Now Ghostbusters faced two challenges upon its release: it had to make a lot of money to prove female-lead movies were financially viable, and it had to be really funny. Anything less proved critics right: women weren’t marketable or funny. It immediatley set up the movie for disappointment because suddenly it went from a remake of a goofy comedy to the next iconic comedy of the 21st century. Ghostbusters can’t have greatness like that thrust upon it, no matter how many SNL cameos you throw at it, not when certain audiences were never going to give it a chance to begin with. The 2016 Ghostbusters was only meant to be a fun comedy retelling an old favorite with a new, all-female cast. But of course when you announce an all-female anything, there’s no way in hell that it can avoid becoming a political lightning rod.
Ghostbuster’s very existence meant discussions, think pieces, panels, and round tables debating its merit and role as commentary. How is it a a feminist piece? To many, it was not all that it could have been. The Washington Post’s columnist Alyssa Rosenburg lamented how this screwball comedy became a new feminist icon saying, “But they’ve succeeded in creating an environment in which this anodyne bit of corporate recycling gets positioned as daring, and where its box-office success or disappointment may have meaningful implications for other, more truly innovative, more explicitly feminist and certainly more funny movie projects.”
The movie also faced difficulites from viewers who felt that Leslie Jones role as Patty Tolan, the only non-scientist on the team, continued stereotypes against black women and perpetuated white feminism. It’s a fair argument because as Janessa E. Robinson pointed out in the Guardian, “This limits her character to an academically aloof, street savvy black woman who is apparently only allowed in the crew (and in the film) because of her familiarity with New York City.” Jones responded to these concerns on Twitter (which would become its own battleground later) and said she was happy with her role.
In an environment like this, Ghostbusters hardly stood a chance. From the moment it was announced, this movie had to be too many things in 105 minutes. With all the conversations about this movie, and it did start very important ones, I feel like people stopped watching it. The original Ghostbusters is remembered for being a ridiculous romp through New York City, and in that regard 2016’s Ghostbusters delivered. You can be disappointed in the movie for what it lacks as a symbol of feminism, POC character development, or reboot of a sacred franchise. Or you can sit down with some great salty parabolas and watch a damn movie.
Unrelated, here’s a great behind the scenes video with the cast: