Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Now that Ed Skrein has quit ‘Hellboy’, Gemma Chan must leave ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’

I celebrated the news that white British Ed Skrein discovered his pair after all. Having been offered the role of Japanese-American superhuman Ben Daimio, Skrein finally agreed with what his reflection in the mirror and the rest of the sighted world were telling him, and quit before he made himself look like a twerp. 

I have no doubt about his sincerity in wanting to help the struggling Asian members of his fraternity, and I do agree that ‘Ben Daimio’ is not your typical Japanese-sounding name ('daimyo' 大名 'grandly/greatly named' is a feudal title which is normally translated as 'Lord'). Nevertheless, the problem is not with Skrein, but the indsutry he works in. All those so-called brilliant minds he knows clearly do not understand the meaning of ‘racebending’ and ‘colourblind casting’, and if they do, I think they are trying to dismiss the racism that is so visible in their industry.

The ‘Ben Daimio’ of the comics has always acknowledged his Japanese roots, and has been drawn as such, so when the production team behind the new ‘Hellboy’ insisted on Skrein, they were not colourblind casting, but racebending. 
A similar trick is being played with ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’, a new biopic about Mary, Queen of Scots, starring the very Chinese Gemma Chan as the very Caucasian Bess of Hardwick. Now, I have nothing against Gemma Chan at all - I support her and hope she'll have a long career, and that is why I have to write this - but I just think that it'is not fair that Skrein was put under so much pressure when there is relative silence over Chan.

If this new film about Mary, Queen of Scots were not a biopic but a steampunk story about a time-travelling girl from the present day who swallows The New Caledonian Turnkey Stone by mistake, gets sent back in time, discovers a fellow time-traveller calling herself ‘Bess of Hardwick’ (because it makes her sound fierce) who is spying on Mary in order to get close to Elizabeth I, all the while plotting to steal Elizabeth’s crown jewels and use them and the Turnkey Stone to create a widget in order to teleport herself back home, then yes, by all means, cast Gemma Chan as ‘Bess of Hardwick’, because there is no mention of the race(s) of the two time-travellers, and either or both time-travellers could be of any race. This is colourblind casting.

But Chan’s casting, like Skrein’s in ‘Hellboy’, is racebending. ‘Mary’ is a biopic. Apart from the historical Bess’s relatively small eyes (FFS, some Chinese have big eyes, BTW), there is nothing in any record which suggests that she or her ancestors followed Marco Polo to Italy from China and wound up in England. Every record suggests that there was a 99% chance that Bess was a white Englishwoman.

Until the historical record proves otherwise, Gemma Chan taking on the role of Bess of Hardwick is racebending, pure and simple, and the producers of ‘Mary’ should be ashamed of themselves for treating her this way. The promise of fairness and equality is one thing, but this is not the project to offer it. What they have done is nothing but tokenism and racebending, and both will not give white and Asian actors an equal chance to showcase their acting chops on-screen. Colourblind casting will.

We Chinese are proud, and rightly so, of inventing and coming up with so many things, but being historical wannabe kingmakers in England and the founders of English royal families never did come under our radar, and it would be wrong to take credit for that.  And that Elizabethan look does not suit everyone; just look at Margot Robbie. 

Anyway, I am grateful that Ed Skrein finally did something about the racism in his industry. Hopefully the new Hellboy will be the first of many more, and hopefully, Skrein and Chan will appear in projects which will afford them the dignity and respect they and their fellow actors deserve, and which will be intelligent enough for the rest of us as audiences to enjoy.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

My social media roundup! - updated

I can now count the number of social media accounts I have with more than one finger, so I thought I may as well blog about them and share an observation or two. So far, I am on:

1. Google+, Amazon, Goodreads: Beanie Lei
2. Amazon: Beanie Lei
3. Soundcloud, Twitter: BeanieLei
4. Instagram: beanie_lei

I would like to ask you to follow me, but having had a look at Twitter in particular, I wonder. I have come to believe that if used properly, you can use social media tools to make genuinely meaningful connections with strangers, and as a consequence, I now follow and follow back on Twitter with some caution. It's nice to have the large numbers, but sometimes, it does feel that there is no point in having thousands of followers who do not/cannot engage with you, even when you try and say hello.

There are some extremists and catfishers out there, whether religious or race-based or political, and they  post so much hate-filled/boring rants that I do wonder whether they need mental healthcare or an offline hobby.

Having said that, it is great to swear at a public figure online every now and then for expressing something you disagree with. It may be that public figures are like the rest of us, really; they need to let off steam now and then. I wonder if that is what Trump is doing when he tweets. In other words, unlike most of us with an online presence who are online for a purpose, Trump doesn't mean what he tweets, and is tweeting because he is having an attack of verbal diarrhoea.

(Update: Trump has tweeted again since I put this post up. I think that whilst he has the right to hold and express his opinions, his being the US President means that he must make it clear when he is speaking as an individual and when he is representing the US. Whilst I do not agree with his personal statements, I think it is still too soon to pass judgment on whether he is a good president or not. I will say, however, that he is right about America being divided along racial lines way before Obama; I actually had friends who voted for Obama because they were voting for the black candidate as opposed to voting for the best candidate. I am glad to never have had to think that a future leader might be a herald of change simply because he or she is of a different skin colour to me.)

And on the other hand, someone who I suspect is an extreme catfisher is tweeting under the name of a murder victim, which is a shame because they do actually have funny and relevant satirical tweets, but I think they are toeing a very fine line if they are using names and photos without the murder victim's family's permission. It is the family of the murder victim I feel very sorry for, and I really can't understand why this catfisher has to use this murder victim's name and photo when his tweets speak for themselves.

All this has really made me think about the freedom of speech and freedom of criticism and whether there are limits or whether there should be any limits to these, and whether following anyone for the sake of numbers is a good idea. It has also made me think long and hard about social media and how much of it I want in my life. I do think it is here to stay, there's no doubt about that, but using it to replace face-to-face interaction with close friends and family is definitely stupid.

This is it for my Sunday post; have a good week ahead!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A Letter to the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission re The Chinese Labour Corps (CLC)

1. Ms Victoria Wallace, Director General, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2. Mr Steve Lau, Chairman, Ensuring We Remember
3. Ms Anna Chen (Madam Miaow), Author and Broadcaster

Dear Ms Wallace, cc Mr Lau and Ms Chen

The Chinese Labour Corps

I hope my blog post finds you well. I am writing to share six facts from my GCSEs with you to ask you, in your capacity as the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Commission, to consider remembering, on the Commission’s website, the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), even if they were a ragtag motley crew who were not soldiers or fighters of any sort, and non-Caucasian foreigners from a non-Commonwealth country.

At school, GCSE History was effective in helping us to delve into the terrible conditions at Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme, and learning about the sheer madness and awfulness of it all made Wilfred Owen’s words, which we had to learn in GCSE English, clear, even if he was writing from a place and time that we, who were all around his age then, were all fortunate enough never to have been in:

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
-          Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori

Then there was GCSE Chemistry, where we learnt about pleasanter things like the Haber Method, which is a method for obtaining synthetic fertilizer named after Fritz Haber.

And thanks to the National Curriculum, I learned these things.

All my GCSE classes omitted that it was Fritz Haber who ultimately developed chlorine gas as a weapon against British soldiers like Wilfred Owen.

It is only now as an adult that I learned that chlorine was discovered in the 1800s, and I can extrapolate one thing: I am sure Haber knew the damage chlorine gas could do, because otherwise, he would not have worked on it. He knew what his priorities were.

I first became aware of the relationship between the Commission’s website and the CLC from a Twitter exchange involving Ms Anna Chen and Mr Steve Lau. I do not know you, Mr Lau or Ms Chen in a personal or professional capacity; all I am is a follower of Ms Chen’s Twitter account.

Nevertheless, the exchange made me go back to my schooldays, and in doing so, I must ask you these questions.

Why, Ms Wallace, are all British schoolchildren obligated to remember Fritz Haber as a saviour? Why, Ms Wallace, are British schoolchildren venerating someone so amoral? Why should we remember his name when he developed poisons, and he knew and fully weaponised them so that they would kill British soldiers? Why is history being kind to him?

Why, Ms Wallace, are British schoolchildren not told about what really went on in the Great War? Why should decent men who were as naïve about war as Wilfred Owen, who were allies and comrades of British soldiers, who dug their trenches and fixed their tanks, who carried things for them, and who gave them proper burials, and who carefully and painstakingly built such beautiful garden-like cemeteries for them (all right, the cemeteries were designed by other people, but the CLC did the grunt work), despite English not being a language they knew, why were such men not mentioned in any GCSE textbook in this country when I was at school?

Lest we forget, even the Animals of the Great War have a permanent memorial built in their honour and memory in Central London.

I am not asking for answers, nor for a memorial to be built to the CLC; it is unfair for me to ask that of you.

But we can make a start in what we teach our future generations. For example, I am sure there are other ways to make fertilizer!

Last but not least, I am writing this letter for Jim Maultsaid and his granddaughter Barbara McClune (@starshell208). I don't know them at all, but I think they deserve a holla for their sterling work.

With kind regards

Yours sincerely
Beanie Lei

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Learning to be a Twit, Part 3

In the wake of the Manchester bombing, words swirled around me in the miasma that is traditional and social media, and they made me angry. Angry, and upset, at seeing how a vile, cowardly scumbag had used the precious, bright life he was given to pick on those who were younger and weaker than himself; angry, and upset, that he had robbed others who were living and enjoying a pop music concert of their lives; angry, and upset, that he saw fit to vent such hatred and cruelty onto his fellow human beings who had not done anything wrong to him.

And for a moment, I was so angry that I wanted to Do Something. So, I went onto Twitter.

Two days before, I had started getting hundreds of followers who tweeted in Arabic, and I followed them all because that is what you do when you are not famous and want more Twitter followers fast. I admit that I did not actually read their tweets, or their profiles.

In the wake of my anger, I started reading tweets and profiles. Some tweets made me uncomfortable, and I unfollowed them.

In the heat of the moment, I then began to look out for, then unfollow, every one with the word 'Allah'. That turned out to be practically every new follower, even the ones who had photos of non-religious subjects. I had had it up to my ears with the Abrahamic religions at that point, so I also unfollowed the ones who tweeted in English and other languages that they followed God. Then I decided to not follow anyone religious, so that meant looking out for Shiva/Ganesh etc...

And as I unfollowed, I started to actually see a glimpse of who my followers are. It was then that I took a closer look at the Arabic-language DMs some of them had sent me.

A quick look on Google Translate informed me that a plumber was asking me if I wanted plumbing done. So I Googled on, and learned that while in English, you would tweet something like, 'Thank you for following me. Have a lovely day', in Arabic, what I got was sort of like, 'may the sun shine always when you are out and may roses grow under your feet and may the scent of a thousand blooms accompany you as you walk and may Allah bless your day.'

Although I still am still happy with my beliefs and religion, I was unsettled at how frightened I had been by my followers' Arabic-looking tweets, even the silly, innocent ones, just because they were in a script that looked Arabic. Some of them were not even tweeting in Arabic, but languages like Farsi and Urdu. And all this, because of something I had read and heard over the telly.

So I tried to refollow the followers who did not tweet about misogyny and ethno-religious-nationalist shite (it is obvious when you use Google Translate, even if it is slightly silly), but then learned that Google only allows 1000 follows a day, and that in every few hours, one may only follow a few hundred people.

So what have I learned from all this?

I have learned that words hold much power, especially if one enjoys using a platform to proclaim them. I have also learned, however, that it is actions which have power over words. I may not be able to control others (I do not understand why some of them followed me), and I have no wish to control them, but I can control myself. I can decide what I do and say, and therefore, it is my responsibility to ensure that I do not do or say anything impulsive, especially in a fit of anger.

All I did was try and cut people out on social media. Now imagine if I had tried to do that in real life, in a place like the UK, where there aren't that many Chinese people. I'd be Billie No Mates, really. 三思而后行 'Think Thrice Before Carrying Out an Action' has never been more apt.

I am going to continue following my followers who tweet in a different language to mine while taking care to read Twitter bios and tweets carefully first. You should do the same, too. You never know, you might end up with millions of Twitter followers.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Here's a gift from me to celebrate getting 1000+ Twitter followers!

I was stunned to wake up to find that I now have 1000+ Twitter followers! Thank you,  شكرا, , sağolun,Спасибо, gracias, grazie, merci beaucoup, どうもありがとうございます, 대단히감사합니다, 谢谢for following me.

To celebrate, I have made this free ringtone/message alert ringtone called 'Rainforest Bird' for everyone to enjoy and use; you can preview it on Soundcloud and download it from  here.  It is in mp3 format and is 7 seconds long.

'Rainforest Bird' is a recording of a bird (of the feathered variety) which I had heard, but did not see, when I was on holiday in Southeast Asia. The house I was in happened to be next to a jungle, the last vestiges of a rainforest that was slowly being cleared to make way for housing. The sounds of that jungle enveloped the house every morning and night, and one day, a bird started chirping, distinctively and loudly, next to my window. It stayed long enough for me to make a recording of its chirps. Back in the UK, I amplified these chirps and shortened the gaps between them to make a viable ringtone/message alert ringtone.

If you can identify the bird from this recording, do let me know!

I hope you enjoy this sound from the jungle, and do enjoy the wonders of the natural world around you ^_^! *Don't forget, you can always buy my novel, 'The Prophecy' and my children's picture book, 'The Fox and It', for Kindle, from the different Amazons around the world!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

My Belated Reaction to 'Star Wars: Rogue One' (Spoiler alert!)

Please note that there are spoilers in this blog post. Thank you :-).

It was Mother's Day in the UK on the Sunday just gone, and my mum insisted that she didn't want a meal in a restaurant, she wanted to watch 'Star Wars: Rogue One', because she wanted to watch a film about spaceships and aliens (as mums do). So we watched it together.

I came away with mixed feelings. Part of me was surprised to hear the male lead sporting a Spanish accent, to see someone who looked South Asian be a hero, and to see Donnie Yen have a go at being Zatoichi (I know much has been made of Donnie Yen being in 'Star Wars: Rogue One', but I still found myself having to look twice to see if it really was Donnie Yen in 'Star Wars: Rogue One' (it was)).

It perplexes me, therefore, that while things look like they're moving in the right direction, they're not.

My reaction to the CGI officer was 'that's Mr Hanssen off Holby City!' before I realised that it was only a mannequin with his voice and mannerisms. Worse was to come when (spoiler alert!!!) Princess Leia popped up at the end  like a waxwork gone wrong. At that point, 'Rogue One' turned from a triumphant sci-fi opera into a horror movie. It was that appalling.

I came away with the impression that through the CGI officer and Princess Leia, the makers of 'Rogue One' were stating, boldly and with no reservations whatsoever, that whatever a human does, a computer can do too, if not better. You can take any Dick, Tom or Harry that moves, and superimpose a famous person's face over them. You can reduce an actor's skill into a series of movements that can be replicated. You can dispose of the actor.

I've said this before and I will say it again: acting is a craft. To use CGI to replace actors a la 'Rogue One' is at best laughable, and at worst not just disrespectful to the actor, but disrespectful to 'being human'/'the human experience', especially when you replace the human actor with a computer-generated best-guess at how that actor would have actually used their skill to portray a character.

After 'Rogue One', I firmly believe that the series of movements that a truly inspired actor uses on encountering the right character can't be replicated. The actor is using his/her experience, or pretending to use his/her experience, to create. Although it doesn't seem like it, the work actors do is very similar to the work of a writer or a painter. Painters use pictures to create, and writers are wordsmiths, but actors only have their bodies and voices, and therefore, what they do isn't tangible like a painting or a book or even a film, but like painters and writers, when the best actors are playing a character that works for them, they are inspired by something that no-one else will have at that point in time, and they can and will create the illusion of reality.

It's late in the day and I'm ranting, and I'm not an actor, just bored, but I really hope the CGI officer and Princess Leia will not be a trend or the start of a trend. Otherwise, I will simply switch off and read a book :-).

Saturday, 4 March 2017

An open letter to Jon M Chu, Constance Wu and Ken Jeong, cc Kevin Kwan - Crazy Rich Asians! (contains spoilers!)

Dear Jon, Constance and Ken, especially Jon, cc Kevin

Hope you're all well! I read the Buzzfeed report on translating 'Crazy Rich Asians' to the big screen, and as a maaaaassive faaaaan of this book, I want to offer my support and some observations to help you. Sorry for the long letter that follows!

Observation 1: IMHO, apart from acting, it is a script which makes/breaks a film, so the script must be one where the bonkers opulence in 'Crazy Rich Asians' supports, not upstages, the characters.

As an example, I can see people I know in Kerry Chu, especially when she tells Rachel what to do when meeting Nick's family for the first time.

Telling someone how to behave when they meet their significant other's family for the first time is something that everyone who is dating/going out with someone, no matter their background, will have come across.

But what Kerry tells Rachel is very culture-specific, and that makes it relatable specifically to a Chinese person who has been brought up with Chinese culture from one part of Asia. As 'Crazy Rich Asians' is about Chinese people who have been brought up with Chinese culture from another part of Asia, this is more than a little throwaway scene about 'a Chinese mother and daughter'. This scene encapsulates what it is, and what it means, to be Chinese and Asian at this point in history (I can see why Kevin Kwan thus insisted that Rachel could not be white). It will take a certain scriptwriter to emphasise scenes like this without making a political life-and-death mountain out of a molehill; Kevin Kwan has already done this, brilliantly, in his book.

Observation 2:  In private, Nick and his family and friends will speak English with different Singaporean accents and mannerisms to Michael Teo, Goh Peik Lin, and Goh Peik Lin's family. Nick and his family are not British - they will only act like white British people like Princes William and Harry, and Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch when they are abroad, but in Singapore, they will act like Singapore's PM Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysia's PM Najib Razak and Thailand's PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.

As a simple example, I would imagine that due to their British boarding school education, if these characters were in a certain type of French restaurant in Paris, they would eat with lots of knives and forks and would probably know which ones to use first, but because they have lived in Singapore as Singaporeans, if they are eating at a Singaporean hawker stall, they would use their hands, or chopsticks, or a fork and spoon.

In Singapore, I would imagine that Nick, his cousins (girls too) and his bestie will switch to other languages, but I do think that once in Singapore, they will speak with Singaporean accents and not like Brits/Aussies/Americans/Mainland Chinese unless they are snobs/too stupid to learn another accent. Michael and Goh Peik Lin and her family will not have this option - they will speak with Singaporean accents only, and perhaps sound slightly American.

Nailing these will be key, and IMHO, I think it is harder to teach an actor to act eg heartbroken than to teach them to speak with a British, Hong Kong, or Singaporean accent. The actor/actress will either convince you they're heartbroken, or look unconvincing. Find the actors first, then teach them the accents.

Observation 3: Find the right Kerry. She is Nick's mother-in-law. It will take the right Kerry to make Nick become a believable romantic hero.

Observation 4: I am sorry if what I write next comes across as brazen, and I stress that I do not know anyone working on 'Crazy Rich Asians' personally, but I do so want you to succeed. In relation to Observations 1, 2 and 3 above, whilst I have no doubt that Peter Chiarelli deserves an Imdb credit for scriptwriting, what about Adele Lim? Can't they both be credited?

Observation 5: Just because Rachel has lived all her life with more modest means does not make her a girl-next-door for me and, I would imagine, many others. Her world of Asian America and Nick's world of Crazy Rich World are equally alien to me, and her being American, Asian and Chinese must not overshadow her being the heroine of a romantic comedy. She is out to get her man from some rivals, goddamnit!!!

Observation 6: I would imagine that a second objection to 'Memoirs of a Geisha' was that the original 'Memoirs' were actually written by a white man. His  fantasy/fantastical depiction of a cornerstone of Japanese culture was, I would think, awfully and terribly offensive/insulting in some aspects, and this wilful distortion was enhanced by getting Chinese actresses to portray this fantasy. And then having the Chinese title as 艺妓回忆录 'Memoirs of a Geiko (Arty Prostitute)' when it's geisha he's meant to be writing about? Oopsy-daisy.

Observation 7:  I've known East Asian people with blue eyes, East Asian people who have been mistaken for Italians, and East Asian people who look as dark as Jamie Foxx. Do blue eyes, 'looking Italian' and dark skin make someone 'un-East Asian'? As long as Nick's family look like East Asian people who can afford expensive skincare (that means no unnecessary wrinkles and spots), servants (smooth hands and clean, manicured nails, thank you), and life in air-conditioned rooms (thereby never breaking a sweat, never getting a tan, and wearing long-sleeved clothing and long trousers in a tropical country), that should suffice.

I guess if it was any other film, I would not have minded, but 'Crazy Rich Asians' is the first and to date only book in English which I have actually identified with. Even if I do not come from Asian America or Crazy Rich World, I have found myself questioning my identity, and having a laugh in the process.

I am grateful to you for giving (East) Asians from around the world the chance to audition over Youtube. It has been very entertaining to watch the audition videos, and this has made me appreciate that opportunities (not just in acting, but any opportunities) are out there, and that I should get rid of whatever I fear and make an effort to get them. For that alone, I want to thank you, and I hope that you break a leg for your production.

All my love
B xxx

Monday, 27 February 2017

My Norse Mythology Chinese Mythology mashup is out on Kindle now!

So, I have some news. I have been chopping and changing and deliberating and now, I have released 'The Prophecy', my Norse mythology Chinese mythology mashup, on Amazon Kindle!

It is the fourth in a series of books I am still figuring out. You can read an excerpt here.

US link here
UK link here

Amazon mentioned that publication would take three days so I actually announced a release date of 3 March, but it turns out it went live last night... So much for PR machines (thank you Amazon :-P) and red faces all around...

Well, anyhoo, 'The Prophecy' is out on Kindle now, and I hope you'll like it! Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Some more Letters on The Print Room Fiasco from a UK Theatregoer of Chinese Descent

Letter 1: To The Print Room and Mr Howard Barker cc HRH Princess Eugenie c/o HRH The Duke of York; Editor, Daily Telegraph
Letter 2: To Equity, Mr Kevin Shen, and every UK-based actor of the stage and screen

Letter 1: To The Print Room and Mr Howard Barker

Dear Sirs

As the Chinese New Year is approaching, I am afraid that I will not be able to make it to your production. I have, however, read of your production and seen photos, and am pleased and surprised that you might have actually noted my twitterings. As a member of the public, thank you for listening, for your honest explanations (especially Mr Barker's), for pushing ahead with your production, and for risking your reputations. I accept that you did not realise how deeply you would offend.

I accept that you sincerely want to apologise, and I believe that you have already changed attitudes within and outside theatreland. All I ask is to please apologise for the statement on 'thoroughly English mores', and to try to have a less cynical view of our shared culture. Although all of us have to live with the consequences of distortions based on falsehoods, your actions have shown that some of us really have been treated worse than others because of such distortions. We now know we have friends to help us, and that we can make a change together.

Mr Barker ought not to say that what he has done is not political, because he must expect public debates to result from putting his work out in the public domain.

I hope that positive change will arise from your meetings with Equity and others in your industry, and that no-one will lose their job or be scapegoated, bullied, and censored. I also hope that you will continue to support the visibility of British-based East Asian/Chinese artists within theatreland, and to allow these artists to realistically portray the British people of East Asian/Chinese descent who exist outside of it. 

Break a leg for your future productions.

With kindest regards and best wishes for 2017, yours faithfully, B 

Letter 2: To Equity, Mr Kevin Shen, and every UK-based actor of the stage and screen

Dear Sirs

I am a member of the public who has no connection to the arts apart from consuming it. Despite my criticism of The Print Room's production of 'In the Depths of Dead Love' by Mr Howard Barker ('Depths'), please consider that The Print Room and Mr Barker, in going ahead with their production in spite of accusations of racism and the protest by British(-based) East Asian artists, have helped to make British(-based) Chinese/East Asian artists and people more visible. I am also writing to ask you to please, please, not push for 'Chinese/East Asian parts for Chinese/East Asian actors', and to instead adopt UK-friendlier changes.

I have read Mr Shen's suggestions about levelling the playing field for minority actors, and I stress that I am not attacking Mr Shen, but offering my observations 1. as a member of the British public who consumes British screen and stage offerings, and 2. as a British-born Chinese. Sorry for the rant that follows.

I was the second Chinese in school (the other was my sibling), and for months, the only other Chinese people I would see were my parents, who are also British-born. I therefore had to look for the best in everyone who was not in my family, and found it in my neighbours, friends and schoolmates, who were physically Caucasian, Black, and Asian (ie descended from people from the Indian subcontinent).

The US notion of ‘white being superior to non-white’ was something we read about but never practised, and could not fathom. What we shared was identifying with our families (physically Chinese, Caucasian, Black, Asian etc), the class system, and one or more of the Home Nations of England (and the regions), Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, plus Cornwall, Manx, Guernsey, Jersey, the Orkneys, the Scilly Isles, Jewishness, Romany (Gypsy/Traveller), Irish Republic etc.

I therefore think that using the US notions of 'diversity', ‘black and white’, ‘majority and minority’ in terms of ‘ethnicity’/’race’ as the benchmark for visibility on the stage and screen in the UK is simplistic, unworkable in the UK, futile, and will alienate a lot of people. I do not want US race notions in my life.

In the UK, ‘an East Asian part for an East Asian actor’ will mean that only Scottish actors can be in Macbeth  - a move that recalls ‘thoroughly English mores’. More importantly, in most current UK scripts, ‘East Asian parts' are written and cast through the lens of box-ticking, sheer stupidity, ignorance, laziness, carelessness, and stereotype. Thus, in 'Ripper Street', brothers speak Cantonese to Mandarin-speaking sisters they've been brought up with. On stage, you'll see the first East Asian of two being cast as a mute puppeteer of a demon mastiff that only exists in the English adaptation of a Chinese call to arms, but not in the original Chinese drama itself ('Orphan of Zhao'), and in the same production, you'll see the second East Asian of two being cast as a character who dies, but who actually survives in the original Chinese drama.

Characterisation isn't there, passion isn't there, and storytelling isn't there. But could we see that there was an East Asian present? Yes! Let's tick the diversity box! It'll sell!

'An East Asian part for an East Asian actor' will increase East Asian visibility, but  no-one will have respect for the actor who takes such a part, and no-one will respect British East Asians.

The problem is not just tokenism in scriptwriting and casting. If you consider that 'Depths' was first performed as a radio play on the BBC back in 2013, which was the year following the public furore and condemnation surrounding The RSC's adaptation of Ji Junxiang's version of 'The Orphan of Zhao', then it becomes clear that the promise to involve more British-based East Asian artists in the performing arts in Britain was mere lip service. 

What must follow is that The Print Room, and Mr Barker, have risked their reputations to expose this sham. They put on their show in the face of the protest by British(-based) Chinese/East Asian artists, accusations of racism and yellowface, and negative publicity. In doing so, they have made audiences, passers-by, theatre critics, newspaper readers and even royalty think about what yellowface is, and see that real British people of Chinese/East Asian descent exist. 'We will cast the white chap because we cannot find a Chinese/East Asian' cannot hold water anymore, not when practically all of the British(-based) Chinese/East Asian acting community turned out on 19 Jan.

Real British people/actors of Chinese/East Asian descent have wit ('Give East A Chance', anyone?), and are able to argue, are passionate, and are, as it turns out, quite noisy. It is also now clear that real British(-based) Chinese/East Asian people who stand up for themselves have to put up with unpleasant language and foul behaviour from certain unsavoury types. And these are the gentler ones, compared to these.
I am angry that my fellow human beings have been taken as mugs because of political correctness and lip service, and as a consumer, I am also angry that I have to put up with second-rate shit that pretends to be art because of political correctness gone mad. Let me explain. 

Nearly all the non-Chinese Brits around me of every background are Tilda Swinton. They ask questions, sometimes really clumsily. They are not racist, because they are trying to change. Yet, they are sometimes unfairly labelled as racist. So instead of having proper dialogues, they clam up, because they don't want to be seen as racist.

When Tilda mentioned her Celtic background to Margaret Cho, I sympathised. I am more likely to see a fictional show set in Denmark or even modern-day South Korea than modern or ancient Scotland/Ireland on British telly, which even a few years ago had 'Father Ted', 'Chewing the Fat', 'Rebus', and 'Rab C Nesbitt'.

Shows that captured Britain's hearts were twee and slightly fusty. Characters ‘said and did the wrong things’, but they were true to life, good-natured (you really rooted for the poor sod you were meant to root for), and they spoke without fear like real people in Britain do. Such shows even mocked racist behaviour - look at 'Fawlty Towers' and 'Mind Your Language'. This identifiability and realism does not exist in any UK TV show anymore, and if I miss that sort of diversity which made shows ‘British’ but not 'white' in the US sense of 'white people' and/or 'white superiority', I wonder how Tilda must feel.

Yes, racist behaviour on screen and onstage (blackface, the black and white minstrels), as well as the real world, were problems that had to be tackled, but in the effort to root out genuine racism, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. New British comedies are not funny anymore because characters are not identifiable, and dramas and tragedies lack authenticity because characters, again, are not identifiable.

I can see why Margaret felt like a house servant, and I feel her frustration, anger and sadness when Tilda wrote that for Tilda to be cast as The Ancient One was the right thing to do, despite such an action further reinforcing the invisibility of East Asians on the stage and screen and implying that East Asians should only be sidekicks. I am angry, because I know that in the absence of Marvel writing about The Ancient One applying for American citizenship and relocating to the Rockies, a high-profile, intelligent actress like Tilda being cast as him, and Margaret and her working together to expose this, was the next best thing.

What Marvel did with Tilda Swinton and The Ancient One is a practice which the UK film, TV and stage industries must not follow, because it is not true to life.

Other Brits who do not identify as 'British Chinese/East Asian' need to see it like this. No-one is robbing a white actor of a role, and I'm not saying, 'you can't play a Chinese person if you're white'. What I'm saying is, is that if more British(-based) Chinese/East Asian artists start being cast in meaty roles in eg Shakespeare, then what we will all see on our stages and screens will be the first step to something that is more realistic and relevant to us all, because we will see more of the true Britain on our stages and screens.

What I want to see is a story involving someone who can be a neighbour, a colleague in an office, a doctor in a hospital or clinic, a nurse, a takeaway/restaurant owner, a policeman, a politician, a scientist, an artist, an engineer, a lecturer, a writer, a videogamer, a chef, a student in a school or uni, a housemate, an adoptee, a lawyer, a teacher, a shopkeeper, a designer, someone doing something with their lives, an enemy, a lover, a friend, a human being. They don't have to look like me (that would be impossible), but the British(-based) East Asian actors and actresses who were very visible at the protest outside The Print Room could and should have a go at playing them. Since very real British people of Chinese/East Asian descent exist in Britain, they should exist in British dramas, comedies and tragedies on British stages and screens.

So here are my suggestions:

1. Attitudes to storytelling must be changed; the character must always come first.  Actors, if your character sounds dodgy, they are dodgy. Perhaps directors and scriptwriters should work with actors to make characters more human and lifelike and not 'more [insert identity here]'.

2. Open-minded and open casting with statistical monitoring must be the norm. 

3. Cast members should be allowed to let their acting ability - using their bodies and voices - shine. Cast members must not be present just to tick diversity boxes. 

I hope that positive change will arise from your meetings with The Print Room, and that no-one will lose their job or be scapegoated, bullied, and censored. I hope Dr Tara Lo of 'Holby City' (played by Jing Lusi) will not remain the only realistic British Chinese role onscreen. Lastly, I hope the visibility and talent of (British) East Asian/Chinese actors and actresses can be properly harnessed to tell the stories of the British people of Chinese/East Asian descent who exist in the real world. 

With kindest regards and fingers crossed that real change will happen, B x

Monday, 16 January 2017

Three Letters on The Print Room Fiasco by a UK theatregoer of Chinese descent

Letter 1: Ms Anda Winters, cc HRH Princess Eugenie c/o The Duke of York;  Editor, Daily Telegraph

Dear Anda 

I am sorry that you feel you are under a social media attack when members of the public, such as me, stated how The Print Room’s actions and words (and/or lack of them) came across. In writing to you, I stress that no attack has been or is being made, and no attack is intended. In this regard, would you be so kind as to tell me the source of “Conversations with Hu” by Chian H’si’, reproduced here?

One real Ancient Chinese man said:「人皆有不忍人之心。所以谓人皆有不忍人之心者:今人作见孺子将入于井,皆有怵惕恻隐之心;非所以内交于孺子之父母也,非所以要誉于乡党朋友也,非恶其声而然也。由是观之,无恻隐之心,非人也;无 羞恶之心,非人也;无辞让之心,非人也;无是非之心,非人也。恻隐之心,仁之端也;羞恶之心,义之端也;辞让之心,礼之端也;是非之心,智之端也。凡有四端于我者,知皆扩而充之矣- 《孟子·公孙丑上·第六章

My translation: Everyone has feelings which will move them to act… An example of what is meant by “everyone has feelings which will move them to act” is that anyone who sees a child entering a well will feel panic, sympathy and compassion, but not because they want to befriend the child’s parents, nor because they want praise from associates and friends, nor because they find the child’s crying unbearable. I therefore opine that it is inhuman not to feel sympathy or compassion; it is inhuman not to feel guilt and shame; it is inhuman not to be humble and take a few steps back; and it is inhuman to refuse to distinguish between lies/falsehood and truth. The means to benevolence/Love is feeling sympathy and compassion; the means to justice is feeling shame and guilt; the means to manners is feeling humble and taking a few steps back; and the means to wisdom is distinguishing between lies/falsehood and truth… We who have been given these four means should use them all the time and keep on using them…’ - Chapter 6, Book 2,  Conversations with  Gongsun Chou by Mencius (372 - 289BC) 

I know what my Chinese heritage is and how it is misrepresented, and I will not accept the exploiting of ungrounded prejudices and bias against my Chinese heritage (whether wilful or not) for artistic and marketing purposes and the reinforcing of this by casting Caucasian actors. This attitude is a symptom of something deeper; see eg https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/bittersweet-success-glass-ceilings-for-britains-ethnic-minorities-at-the-top-of-business-and-the-professions/

You and The Print Room must keep your artistic policy, and honour your commitments and go ahead with your current production. No-one should be censored or lose work or be scapegoated or bullied over a work of fiction. 

However, I cannot accept any apology from you or The Print Room (I cannot see any which apply to me), but moving forwards, 1. a sincere and contrite apology to your colleagues in the arts Leo Wan, Daniel York, David Lee-Jones, Anna Chen, Nicholas Goh, Katie Leung, Jennifer Lim, Vera Chok, Lucy Sheen, David Tse, Kevin Shen, and others who I have not named for the statement on ‘thoroughly English mores’, and all it implied, is due 2. ALL your colleagues should be given the chance to audition for any role of a FULLY-ROUNDED character which showcases acting ability, and 3. ALL your  acting colleagues should be assessed on ‘acting ability and not  ‘thoroughly English mores’.  

I would like to thank you and The Print Room for what you have/have not said and done, as so many issues are now out in the open, and we can now all work towards resolving them together.

With kindest regards and best wishes for 2017, yours sincerely, B 

Letter 2: Letter to Mr Andrew Keates

Dear Andrew

Although I disagree with asking Princess Eugenie to revoke her patronage and with asking The Print Room to scrap their play, thank you for your actions. I hope that real change will arise from them.

With kindest regards and best wishes for your career, B x

Letter 3: To East Asian Artists in Britain and other non-Sinophone countries

Dear Heroes, especially Daniel York, Lucy Sheen, Anna Chen, Vera Chok, Erin Quill and others

I stand in solidarity with you, and  hope that you will be put forward for  more shows with proper, three-dimensional characters that can showcase your acting ability. I have had enough of sodding caricatures, and you deserve to play heroes, not scraps and handouts.

Keep plugging on, and keep creating art. You have my support.

With all my love and best wishes that your actions will leave a good legacy, B xxx