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.
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.