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