Tag Archives: Big Hero 6

Something Something Diversity Something Star Wars

There’s a new Star Wars trailer out, this time for Rogue One! Now, when they announced it to be about a ragtag band of Rebels stealing the Death Star plans; that got me excited. I’m all about ragtag teams pulling off heists. But then they announced the cast. We’ve got Felicity Jones starring and, in addition to Forest Whitaker, people with last names like Luna, Yen, Wen, and Ahmed. If there’s one thing I like as much as ragtag teams, it’s multinational ragtag teams (see: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Big Hero 6, X-Com: Enemy Unknown). So I was excited for the trailer.

And it delivered. But, with the second new Star Wars movie in as many years, it also shows a commitment to a new direction being taken by the franchise. In The Force Awakens we had a female protagonist along with a far more diverse cast than Star Wars is known for. Rogue One once again has a female protagonist and what’s shaping up to be an even more diverse group of people.

This is important.

Which is something I say a lot about diversity, but this won’t be beating a dead horse until diversity stops being a special thing that only happens sometimes.

But what’s so wonderful about (the trailer for) Rogue One is how darned effortless they make that diversity. Because yes, diversity is easy, it just requires you to stop and think about it for a while.  Somewhere along the line during Rogue One’s production the decision to bring back a Rebel leader had to have been made. Now, there are a bunch you could have; Jan Dodonna, General Rieekan, Admiral Ackbar, heck, you could even bring back Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa. But instead they went with Mon Mothma, also known as the One Other Named, Speaking, Female Rebel Who Isn’t Leia. It’s a small, almost arbitrary decision, but because of it the trailer just about passes the Bechdel Test, something that the Original Trilogy never did. Is passing the Bechdel Test that big a deal or even necessary? No. But the friggin’ teaser for the new Star Wars movie does what a surprisingly large number of major films fail to do. It’s a small thing (albeit awesome) that really showcases what the new status quo is.

On that note, let’s go back to that cast. Because dude, that cast. Again, the folks at Lucasfilm have made a conscious to ask the simple question of “why not?” when casting. Why not cast Donnie Freaking Yen as the space-samurai? Why not let Forest Whitaker be the guy in the badass bounty-hunter looking armor? Why not have the seemingly lead male character be played by Diego Luna? It’s small, yes, but holy crap is it awesome.

Let’s just look at East Asian characters first, since that’s important to me as that’s what I usually pass as. In the Original Trilogy, literally the only Asian character was a Y-Wing pilot during the Battle of Endor who got two lines and a couple seconds of screentime. The Force Awakens added X-Wing pilot and Admiral to that list. But on Thursday I got to see Donnie Yen, an actor I know from Hong Kong kung-fu ‘flicks, not only in a Star Wars movie but beating up Stormtroopers. It’s hard for me to put into words how freaking cool that is for me. When Big Hero 6 came out I got to see a superhero movie with a protagonist who looks like me. And now there’s a Star Wars movie coming out with a character I could cosplay and not have to add the prefix ‘Asian.’

I’m so psyched for this movie for so many reasons. A bunch of my friends think Rogue One’s looking to be even better than Force Awakens (my jury’s still out). When it comes down to it, though, how often do you get to see the stories you grew up with not just continue but to become as progressive as this?

 

Hey, wanna support diversity and science fiction in student films? Check out the teaser for my new movie here, support me on Kickstarter here, and like it on Facebook here. And tell your friends!

 

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Differently Normal

I’m currently in the middle of my second game of Subterfuge, a wonderful mobile strategy game rife with cunning, manipulation, and, er, subterfuge. Within the game our Specialists, special hires which essentially let you bend the rules of the game. While most everything in the game is depicted abstractly, the Specialists are all given little portraits. And here’s where the game’s art design shines: LOOK AT THAT DIVERSITY! For a wonderful change, ‘white male’ isn’t the default look and no one’s role is limited by their race; the Navigator’s Asian and the Princess is black!

There’s a misconception that making a character not a white dude means having to make it a story about not being a white dude. Which is a real pain. Sometimes it’s nice to get to just be seen, no strings attached.

Look at Big Hero 6, which I liked for a number of reasons, in no small part because I got to watch a movie with a main character who looks like me. Another reason I really liked it was that Hiro’s race was completely inconsequential. Hiro’s half-Asian (like me!) but he still gets to be the everyman. His race has no more to do with his arc than Luke Skywalker’s. And that’s cool!

See, when ‘white and male’ is subliminally registered as the default, chances are you’re going to go with a white dude when you need someone relatively nondescript and ordinary. So when you need an everyman — y’know,  that person who could be anyone — you end up going with a white guy. It’s why Bruce Willis played the ordinary cop who had to save the building in Die Hard. It’s why Bruce Willis played the ordinary cab driver who had to save the galaxy in The Fifth Element. It’s why Bruce Willis played the ordinary driller who had to save the planet in Armageddon.

But you can shake things up and make, say, a woman the chosen one. Or a black dude the guy who decides to try and fight for something more. And a Latino the ace fighter pilot. Guys, I really like The Force Awakens. But it’s important, because it — and this is crucial — means anyone can be anyone.

I’ve been watching The Expanse later, because I’m a sucker for spaceships with excellent worldbuilding and interesting politicking. What’s also caught my attention is the show’s bent towards inclusiveness. Most obvious is the Undersecretary of the UN who’s played by an Indian woman — and dresses the part. She’s hardly a simple ersatz Gandhi, though; Chrisjen Avasarala is afforded the same complex goals and characterization of Cersei in Game of Thrones. In The Expansive we find an Indian character with depth and complexity well beyond what’s usually afforded non-white characters in Western media. There’s more, too! In one episode we hear reference to the Captain of a Martian warship. When we meet her, she’s Captain Yao, a small Chinese woman who’s first name is essentially ‘Captain.’ That is to say, her identity as ship’s captain is in no way impacted by her race: she’s not a Chinese captain, she’s a captain who happens to be Chinese. The distinction here is crucial, it means that these characters’ identities can be defined more by their jobs and personalities rather than the color of their skin.

Look, there’s a time and place for stories about race. But if the only stories about people who aren’t white is about being non-white, it’s just another form of discrimination where only caucasian people get to be ‘normal.’ We need more Hiros and Avasaralas, characters who get the depth and complexity no matter what they look like. Let’s make the everyman anyone.

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Representation, Big Hero 6, and Me

I saw Big Hero 6 last Saturday, a couple days after Interstellar. They’re very different movies, different beasts. I’m not sure yet which one I like more, but there’s one thing that makes Big Hero 6very special.

But first let’s talk about me.

I’m one of those weird people who can claim two races. No, not the mix of mayonnaise and sour cream that is the 1/4 Irish, 1/4 German, 1/8 Polish, 1/3 English, 1/24 Swedish mixes, I’m Asian andAmerican: my dad’s from Singapore, my mom’s from the US. My heritage is Chinese and Norwegian and I put “Other: Sino-Nordic” on those surveys I fill out for money. I get called white in Singapore and Asian in the States. Go figure.

So growing up I was a bit of an ethnic oddity. I, as is probably evident from this blog, consumed a lot of media. I read mountains of books, watched as many movies as my parents took me to (which was no small amount, thanks Mom and Dad!), and played as many video games as I could on the weekends when I was allowed. But no characters were like me. Sure, Power Rangers had the token Asian and white people are ubiquitous, but half-and-halfs were unheard of. The closest character in my media was Balto (Mom would later compare me to Spock, but that was after I’d graduated high school).

Fast-forward to now and Big Hero 6 is topping the box office. And the main character, Hiro Tamada, is mixed like me. Now, I’m basing this off the fact that he’s clearly East Asian and his aunt is white, because not only is Hiro biracial, but he’s biracial like me: his mother is white, his father not. As someone who’s spent most of the life as a racial rarity, it’s wonderfully refreshing, hell, it’s exciting to see someone like me the star of a Disney movie.

But it’s not just Hiro. The titular 6 are surprisingly diverse. Besides Baymax the fluffy robot, there’s only one white guy: Fred the definitely-not-a-stoner-but-certainly-not-a-scientist comic relief guy. The other three? GoGo is an Asian woman, Honey Lemon is also a woman who seems cut out to be the cheerleader type except she’s an incredible chemist, and Wasabi is a black man. They are all scientists and engineers, students of a field notoriously underrepresented by minorities. Here’s a movie saying “Hey, you can be a scientist even if you’re not a white dude!”

Now, I think it’s easy to get hung up on representation. The Avengers isn’t a lesser movie because the majority of the characters are white men and Big Hero 6 has a solid story with plenty of heart to complement its diverse cast. Praising a movie simply because it’s diverse, or feminist, or ‘Christian’ is patronizing and doesn’t help. I don’t just want more movies with minorities, I want more good stories about everyone. That’s part of the reasons I’m so excited for Black Panther and Captain Marvel (that and, y’know, the fact that Captain Marvel is getting a movie); Marvel has a reputation for telling strong character driven stories.

So I’m glad Big Hero 6 is doing so well and receiving such warm reviews. Because that means people will notice and, hopefully, means we’ll get more films like that. But more than all that, even more than the implications for the industry and the hope for growingly diverse casts, I’m excited that a character like Hiro Tamada is the main character of a movie. Because somewhere there’s an eight year old kid like me who got to see someone like him as a superhero.

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