Traci Kato-Kiriyama: It was stunning visually, but emotionally it didn’t draw me in.
Keiko Agena: It was harder to watch than I thought
it was gonna be. To get emotionally invested, you have to really care
that she needs to find out who she is. But when she finally meets her
mom, my gut felt so weird in that moment.
Kato-Kiriyama: That scene was devastating on all
levels. It got me because of the emotion of the mother [veteran Japanese
actress Kaori Momoi]. She’s really wonderful. That scene should have
been beautiful, but Major had nothing in her eyes. Acting-wise, what a
Atsuko Okatsuka: I wasn’t aware they were gonna
explain the whitewashing. I thought it was just going to be an action
film, no explanation, just go with the fact that it’s a future Japan
with this robot cop. And then to be like, “Oh shit, I used to be a
Japanese woman!” (Laughter) That was against my expectations.
How did you feel when that twist was revealed?
Agena: That was hard, y’all. Hard and awkward.
Ai Yoshihara: Major’s backstory is white people trying to justify the casting.
Okatsuka: And they f—ed up in the process because
now it looks even worse. The text at the beginning of the movie
explained that Hanka Robotics is making a being that’s the best of human
and the best of robotics. For some reason, the best stuff they make
happens to be white. Michael Pitt used to be Hideo.
Agena: That was the other cringe-worthy moment, when
they called each other by their Japanese names. We’re looking at these
beautiful white bodies saying these Japanese names, and it hurt my heart
a little bit.
Kato-Kiriyama: It was supposed to be so touching and intimate, and it felt gross. And kind of laugh-worthy at the same time.
Okatsuka: I would have preferred them just using American names. “You used to be Bob.”
when I was a kid, I told my mom that I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. You know what she told me?
She said, “sure, but you’re going to have to do it in China. America won’t hire you if you’re Asian.”
And that was it for that dream.
Of course, that was just a phase - one of many, one I would’ve gotten over anyway. But what she said stuck to me. You’re going to have to act in China, because America doesn’t hire Asians.
And if there’s anything I learned over these years, it’s that she was right. Asian-Americans don’t get to see ourselves on screen. We don’t get to read about our deeds. And we get pissed. We complain, we shout, and people dismiss us because, oh, “the Japanese are okay with Ghost in the Shell”, and “I’ve heard that mainland Chinese are perfectly fine with Iron Fist.” Well, great for them. This isn’t about them.
This is about us. Asian-Americans. Asian-Canadians. Asian-Australians. Asian hyphen something. And the Asians in Asia don’t understand - because they can’t. They’re surrounded by media portrayals of them. They never have to fight for representation because it’s always there. They have no idea what it’s like to live in a country that sees you as other, and then to have to go back to your home country, to have your parents tell you “this is you, this is your culture, your heritage” and you look upon the faces of your family and you see nothing of yourself in them.
Asian-Americans are not the same as Asians who live in Asia. We live in a different culture. Our values, our beliefs, the experiences that shape our lives are separate.
We want to see ourselves in western media because it’s what we grew up with. It’s what surrounds us. Sure, we can watch K-dramas and anime and Chinese/Taiwanese/Japanese/whatever dramas, and a lot of us do, but it’s still not us.
We shouldn’t have to go watch Asian dramas just to see a part of us represented. We shouldn’t have to move to Asia just to be hired.
We deserve to represent, and be represented, as ourselves.