Amer­i­can pop cul­ture bridges Sino-US gap

In July, the first Chi­nese Superman will ap­pear, the lat­est ex­am­ple by pro­duc­ers of Amer­i­can pop cul­ture to fea­ture Chi­nese and Chi­nese-Amer­i­can char­ac­ters, in re­sponse to grow­ing mar­ket de­mand, re­ports Amy He in New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

A-list Asian ac­tresses who can sell the movie.

“White­wash­ing is re­ally point­ing out that Hol­ly­wood doesn’t see Asian Amer­i­cans as leads, to the ex­treme where even Asian char­ac­ters are not be­ing played by Asian actors,” said Bi­ola’s Yuen. “I think con­cep­tu­ally they just don’t think that Asian Amer­i­cans can carry a film or a show. But that’s from their lim­ited per­spec­tive — that’s from a West­ern per­spec­tive, from a white per­spec­tive, re­ally.”

“I think there are plenty of movies that star white stars that are A-list — for ex­am­ple The Hunts­man, it just to­tally flopped at the box of­fice, and that had three ma­jor white stars that you would say are A-list,” she said, re­fer­ring to the newly re­leased film star­ring Chris Hemsworth, Char­l­ize Theron and Jes­sica Chas­tain.

“I think that they see peo­ple of color as rep­re­sent­ing all of their race, whereas for ex­am­ple with The Hunts­man, peo­ple are say­ing it’s be­cause Kris­ten Ste­wart wasn’t in the film, not be­cause white peo­ple can’t carry a film. They have in­di­vid­ual level ex­pla­na­tions for failed white films, but they have gen­er­al­ized, racial­ized ex­pla­na­tions for films that fail when they fea­ture Asian Amer­i­can ac­tor or an ac­tor of color,” she said.

Some say that de­spite the in­tro­duc­tion of a Chi­nese Superman into comics, stu­dios might rush to bring it to the big screen be­cause au­di­ences may not wel­come a non­white Superman, a char­ac­ter who has had such important cul­tural cache in Amer­ica.

“Things can change on one hand, and still be [the same] on the other. Un­for­tu­nately the world doesn’t just move for­ward pro­gres­sively al­to­gether. While there can be im­prove­ment in some ar­eas, other ar­eas may still be the same or worse. That’s the cyn­i­cal per­spec­tive, but I think the fact that there is an in­creas­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Asian Amer­i­cans in Amer­i­can me­dia is an im­prove­ment,” said Aynne Kokas, me­dia pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia. “I think there are still se­ri­ous blind spots and there’s also progress hap­pen­ing at the same time.”

With the new Chi­nese Superman, nov­el­ist Yang said that there was im­mense in­ter­est at DC to ex­pand the Superman fam­ily and to ex­plore the uni­ver­sal traits of the char­ac­ter within the con­text of Chi­nese cul­ture.

He told China Daily that he wants to ap­proach the story as an out­sider to Chi­nese cul­ture, and ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and the US, which he thinks is one of in­ter­de­pen­dency, de­spite de­pic­tions of the two coun­tries as ri­vals.

The story line

Yang said that the story of the New SuperMan will ex­plore how he in­her­ited his Superman pow­ers and his up­bring­ing in China.

“I also think that as a Chi­nese Amer­i­can, within my­self there’s a di­a­logue be­tween Eastern and West­ern val­ues. I think that di­a­logue is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing both on the Amer­i­can and the Chi­nese side. There’s a lot of talk about how do we take the best from the East and the West and in­te­grate it into some­thing whole,” said Yang, who grew up in Cal­i­for­nia and is most known for his graphic novel Amer­i­can Born Chi­nese.

Yang said that he has vis­ited China two times and is do­ing research on China in prepa­ra­tion for writ­ing the new comic strip.

Some feel that DC’s in­tro­duc­tion of a Chi­nese it­er­a­tion of such an iconic Amer­i­can char­ac­ter is no co­in­ci­dence be­cause live­ac­tion adap­ta­tions of comic books have brought in ma­jor rev­enue for movie stu­dios. Many of th­ese comic genre movies have done well at the Chi­nese box of­fice as well.

Nancy Wang Yuen, a scholar on race and eth­nic­ity in Hol­ly­wood, said that char­ac­ter may have to do with con­sid­er­a­tions of the po­ten­tial Chi­nese mar­ket, cit­ing Yang’s trep­i­da­tion in writ­ing about a place that he has vis­ited a cou­ple of times in his life.

“I think that if it were just to in­crease the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Asian Amer­i­cans, the char­ac­ter would have been set in the United States and writ­ten as an Amer­i­can,” she said.

“It’s ac­tu­ally smart of DC to cap­i­tal­ize on both the Chi­nese and US mar­kets given that the comic se­ries will be writ­ten in English and that the superman story has al­ways cen­tered on an im­mi­grant experience, which will speak to the Amer­i­can au­di­ences of color more. But by set­ting it in Shang­hai, it can reach the Chi­nese mar­ket,” added Yuen, who is also a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Bi­ola Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia.

Yang said that he has not been in­volved in dis­cus­sions about mar­ket­ing the new comic book, and DC Comics said it could not com­ment on any film ini­tia­tives.

Kokas sug­gested that there are even dis­cus­sions about a Chi­nese su­per­hero be­cause there may be po­ten­tial to sell him to a Chi­nese mar­ket sug­gests that a lot of the mo­ti­va­tions aren’t be­cause peo­ple are just all of a sud­den now in­ter­ested in rep­re­sent­ing more com­mu­ni­ties, and that it may be for more fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

“So it’s an im­prove­ment, but for what rea­son?”

Con­tact the writer at amyhe@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com.

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