Saturday 27 October 2012

Call The Whaaaaambulance!

Anna Chen sulks and pouts and whines (in an inscrutable fashion):
It's no fun being bred out of the cultural gene pool.
Watching TV, theatre or film, I'm on constant alert for a glimpse of someone who looks Chinese, for the slightest resemblance to an estimated 499,999 others like me living in the UK.
Blimey! Can’t you just relax and watch the programme, like other pe…

Oh. Right. I forgot. This is Grievance Land.
Barring Gok Wan, scientist Kevin Fong and the odd TV chef, UK Chinese are virtually absent from mainstream media.
Well, you must be ecstatic about the new 'Sherlock Holmes' adaptation, then! But a word of warning - don't discuss it at the 'Guardian' watercooler with some of your colleagues, eh?
So it was with a sense of "here we go again" that we learned that the esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is mounting the classic play The Orphan of Zhao in the way prize trophies usually get mounted: gutted and stuffed. This 13th-century Yuan-dynasty masterpiece may be the first Chinese play, to make it to the hallowed RSC, but the only parts given to actors of east Asian heritage are two dogs. And a maid-servant. Who dies. Tragically.
All director Gregory Doran came up with is that the blizzard of complaints is a case of "sour grapes", and that the critics should "get real"; not the most eloquent response you might expect from the intellectual heavyweight described as "one of the finest Shakespeareans of his generation".
Maybe he just feels it’s all you deserve? I mean, why waste any effort on such a pathetic attack?
Playwright David Henry Hwang of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition which fought in the Nightingale battle, says: "By producing The Orphan of Zhao, the RSC seeks to exploit the public's growing interest in China; through its casting choices, the company reveals that its commitment to Asia is self-serving, and only skin-deep."
Waah, boo hoo, etc *repeat ad infinitum*

Clearly, Anna feels only the nuclear option will do:
The RSC casting is something of a litmus test, indicating how a failing superpower asserts its cultural dominance when its economic base is disintegrating.
Ummm, what? Is the 'failing superpower' the RSC? Or the British Empire?
Such minds are hard-wired to eliminate an entire group's cultural representation, and they don't even realise it. Amanda Rogers of Swansea University, says: "As a national company they have a responsibility to represent all sectors of British society. There is a real paucity of east Asian representation in this country, and when we do see it, it is usually confined to minor or stereotypical roles."
Victimhood Poker is in play, folks!


Edwin Greenwood said...

Ah, this must be topic of the week at CiF, then. Expect at least a dozen more pieces by or about hard-done-by thespians of colour by next Friday.

John Pickworth said...

Okay, first up, let me declare an interest; my partner is from South East Asia.

Secondly, I quite agree with Anna Chen's core argument but not the way she argues it. Yes, certainly East Asians (or Orientals, if I dare) are under represented in our contemporary culture. This is a shame considering how important the region is becoming and short sighted if we're often then portraying its inhabitants as kamikaze pilots, crazed emperors or kung fu kicking Bond villians etc. Frankly I'm amazed we invest so much of our time, capital and culture forming links with deadbeat/failed regions of the world while ignoring those like South America and East Asia that might actually one day enrich us financially and socially.

Anna Chen though is wrong when she compresses a big idea into the small confines of performance. A play that may feature a central character of an emperor is not going to cast a real emperor, whether here or in China. No, the role is going to be portrayed by an actor and, by extension, there is nothing wrong with a Welshman playing a Japanese or a Scot playing a Yank. To argue otherwise is quite silly if you ask me.

GalaPie said...

Seems to me she should probably worry more about the press tendency to say 'Asians' when what they really mean is 'Muslims', especially misbehaving ones.

Dr Cromarty said...

And just how many whiteys feature in the lucrative Kung Fu/Chinese or Bollywood film market?

Anonymous said...

Hmm, so only Asians can play Asians.

OK, but since that's the way she wants it, perhaps from now on only adults who accurately and impartially report the news can be journalists. Those qualifications would make them the rarest 'ethnic' minority in existence (and from all the evidence Miss Chen would not be amongst them).

Anonymous said...

Er, it is "a play". In which people "act".

Now, if it were being advertised as "a scrupulously accurate documentary reconstruction of actual events" .... then I might say "well the casting sure brings that 'scrupulously accurate' claim into question.

However, I'd also side with JP at 12:57, about the "forever playing cultural stereotypes" angle.

Bucko said...

Interesting. I was just thinking the same thing about the lack of white western folk in 我们约会吧

Noggin the Nog said...
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Noggin the Nog said...
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Noggin the Nog said...

I hope Chinese and other proper Asians don't start with this grievance mullarkey, or they can all piss off back as well.

DaveTacomaWA said...

If the RSC was able to get Denzel Washington play Hamlet, or Morgan Freeman to play Richrd III, the likes of Anna Chen would be all afflutter, praising the RSC for such groundbreaking and innovative casting.

Anonymous said...

Some staggeringly incoherent bursts of snark above that absolutely fail to engage in the the actual issue which is one of equal opportunities. This situation would cause an outcry were it an African play that was being produced but East Asians are forever sidelined in British media.

As the play is in repertoire with two others no one expects a fully East Asian cast (though that would be nice!) but to have no East Asian actors in major roles is really very poor and a blatant denial of opportunities to the most marginalised ethnic minority in Britain. The RSC rightly cites its impressive track record with diversity but this only applies to black and (South) Asian actors it seems as their choices in this instance are conservative and unadventurous. To say you choose the “best actor for the role” is disingenuous to say the least. When some of the actors are ones you’ve worked with before and have just come from West End runs or from popular TV series there is an element of “pedigree” that comes into play. East Asians simply cannot get the opportunities to build a career in mainstream British theatre.

It's not "victimhood" to expect equality.

bobsyouruncle said...

How many whiteys are born and bred in China/HK/India and train in kung fu or Indian dance, are fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese or Hindi, and actively puruse a career in those markets?

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough I HAVE seen white Chinese Opera performers and only last night saw a Chinese orchestra featuring caucasian instruments.

bobs is absolutely right. If there were white people in HK who were fluent in Cantonese and could do kung fu I bet they'd be in the movies.

Singapore has a healthy English language theatre scene that features Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Filipina and (yes) caucasian actors liberally sprinkled around.

Edwin Greenwood said...

"This situation would cause an outcry were it an African play..."

An outcry from whom? Black actors and their White Liberal hangers-on, I should imagine, not the "incoherent snarkists" who are posting here.

Characters who are non-White in general and East Asian in particular are relatively infrequent in British drama. This is, after all, historically an almost exclusively White country and even now remains majority White.

I agree that this puts Chinese-heritage actors in something of a Catch-22 position. There are relatively few roles for which their appearance naturally qualifies them, therefore they have little opportunity to build the experience needed for when those rare East Asian roles do crop up.

The victimism lies in asserting that this is a denial of equality that requires affirmative correction rather than a simple fact of life.

The East Asian community in the UK is hardly "marginalized". It has no right to expect that the UK rearrange its culture around the community's needs or aspirations. What are we to do, reshape the dramatic repertoire to proportionalize the character demographics? The shortage of roles in mainstream drama for South Asian phocomelic dwarves is a disgraceful denial of opportunity, I tell you!

Dr Cromarty said...

Funny, it always goes one way. Afro-Caribbeans in Merlin (how many in 5th century Britain?) Robin Hood and playing 19th century industrialists in the Olympic opening ceremony. Do you think a white actor would have got the part of Kunta Kinte or Chicken George in 'Roots'?

Anonymous said...

I dunno - they all look the same to me!

You can never tell what the little fuckers are thinking can you!

Oliver said...

Amusingly ironic that you accuse Anna Chen of 'pouting and whining'.

No doubt you consider yourself to be the voice of reason on this matter but the number of frothing racists you've managed to attract should definitely be cause for concern (not to mention your own racist views - though no doubt you consider yourself not to be racist or perhaps you do but wisely choose to keep the worst of those thoughts to yourself).

Other than that you just come across as a Daily Mail commenter who has somehow managed set up a blog. I suppose for that at least you should be congratulated.

Dr Cromarty said...

Julia calls it as she sees it. Not quite sure why that brings the 'Daily Mail' accusation, unless that's the worst insult you can come up with ( which says rather more about you than it does of Julia).

You do at least demonstrate a spectacular hauteur, which one can only expect of a Guardianista. You make Lord Grantham sound egalitarian.

Anonymous said...

Oh Oliver dear? Do fuck off you sad little cunt! The Daily Mail 'insult' is the refuge of an immature student lefty twat or a BBC funded 'comedian' e.g. Marcus Brigstocke

JuliaM said...

"Ah, this must be topic of the week at CiF, then."

I'm pretty sure, as I was reading it, I'd seen a few articles last year on the same subject. I suspect it's one the Guardian likes to trot out regularly.

"..and short sighted if we're often then portraying its inhabitants as kamikaze pilots, crazed emperors or kung fu kicking Bond villians etc. "

I can think of a few roles - there's a doctor in 'Holby', for instance.

But surely the goal should be to represent the British population, rather than have a lineup that looks like a Benetton ad?

"If the RSC was able to get Denzel Washington play Hamlet, or Morgan Freeman to play Richrd III, the likes of Anna Chen would be all afflutter, praising the RSC for such groundbreaking and innovative casting."


JuliaM said...

"This situation would cause an outcry were it an African play.."

Yes, and Edwin's pointed out who'd be doing the outcrying!

"Funny, it always goes one way. Afro-Caribbeans in Merlin (how many in 5th century Britain?) Robin Hood..."

That Benetton ad policy again!

"No doubt you consider yourself to be the voice of reason on this matter..."

Oh, come, come, Oliver! Hardly on just this matter... ;)

Furor Teutonicus said...

what is this bloody chink moaning about?

She should get back to serving fish and chips in Daddys take away.

NickM said...

(a) Chinese cinema is enormous. They even made a movie about my cat called crouching tiger, hidden something. It didn't mention him puking a furball under my bed as I was having sex with my wife. At times Timmy makes a Methodist gym Mistress appear like a Rio beach babe.

(b)it's everywhere. Get a Sky subscription!

(c)I ate Chinese food last night cooked by Chinese people. And I don't even live in Manchester, let alone London. I couldn't afford Soho but the Chinese manage (fair play!) So get over yourself already!.

Basically Chinese culture has been an intrinsic part of our culture since God knows when. We drink tea of course only from the tea-mines of Yorkshire...

PS. Timmy is the cat, not my wife. Now if my wife had hairballs and was called "Timmy" there would be a story. But the Chinese not being a cultural force... That is pathetic.

Most populous nation, 2nd biggest economy and all...

Robert the Biker said...

Err, Nick, most tea we drink nowadays is Indian and has been for about 120 years. I watched that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon too, and you're right, it is a pisstake as there is neither a Tiger nor a Dragon in it, nor any other sort of cat. Probably some sort of inscrutable metaphor or something oriental like that.
Being (moderately) serious for a minute, wasn't there a fairly good cop show called 'The Chinese Detective' once?

Edwin Greenwood said...

"... wasn't there a fairly good cop show called 'The Chinese Detective' once?"

Indeed, starring David Yip who, co-incidentally, was doing the Radio 4 book reading this morning in a sort of mock Chinese accent.

So there is work for Chinese actors in the UK (or half-Chinese in Mr Yip's case).

farenheit211 said...

You cannot cast a play only on grounds of race, you have to cast on talent.

If there isn't a big enough pool of talent in as in this example a play featuring east Asians, then talent of other groups will be cast.

There are few Jewish actors for example (UK Jewish population is I believe less than those of Chinese extraction) to play all the parts featuring Jews, so non Jews eg Helena Bonham Carter get cast in roles. There's no rioting in Golders Green when that happens.

I can think of a good role for Islamic actors, a drama based on the slave raids by Islamic nations on the south coast of England. I wonder if the BBC would be up for making such a drama.

Anonymous said...

Anna's a pretty, articulate girl who's looking for a TV or radio gig. She's already made a few R4 appearances.

A girl's got to eat, and if guilt-tripping whitey is the shortest route to what she wants, why not take it?

Anonymous said...

I think you would find that Helena Bonham Carter is Jewish enough to get a visa to live in Israel, or perhaps an Israeli passport without even having to live in there for a while. She is only not a Jew, or Jewess, because she does not go to an Orthodox (official in Israel) synagogue (Jewish temple).

Unless you were an American, the raiding usually took place on the coast of the WEST Country, not "the South Coast", and good luck with finding 'enoouf folk who speeik, or who caan speeik, diaaleect! People from London such as Anna Chen did not really help by driving the local and native folk out of the local housing market!

Anonymous said...

How many times?

In England and Wales and in Scotland, "Asians" mean SOUTH Asians – Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, Sri Lankans and Maldivians. Chinese are just Chinese, or EAST Asians (with at least two capital letters), if you must, but never "east Asians", unless you were a dyslexic.

Why do some of us Chinese feel the need to basically steal the name off from the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims? Do most of us in the Chinese community consider them to be of the same ethnic group? No! Sad to say, but most of our parents and grandparents certainly hate them. Either they are Asians, or we are Asians, but NOT BOTH at the same time.

This is England – use BRITISH English, not Chinese English, American, Canadian, Australian or Kiwi. Well, if you still want to talk or write American (in England) and REFUSE to "speak British" after all these years, ....