1) Movie – Green Book
2) Movie – Crazy Rich Asians
3) Movie – Last Christmas
4) Essay – Racism through the BAME protagonists in Ichiro and The Hate U Give
5) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who Crazy Rich Asians
6) Fan podcast – Black Girl Nerds Geek Misogyny, No Totally, and Con Coverage (listen from 1 hour 06ish minutes to 1 hour 34ish minutes)
7) Fan podcast – Black Girl Nerds Asians in Media
8) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Ghost In The Shell
9) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Growing Up Avatar American
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. If you would prefer the original, unedited version, please let me know!
Welcome to Marginally Fannish, a show where we aim an intersectional lens at some of our favourite media and their fandoms.
My name is Parinita Shetty and you’re listening to the eighth episode of Marginally Fannish. In this episode, H and I talk about the different representations of race in three mainstream Hollywood movies. As students from India and Japan in the United Kingdom, we discuss the cultural similarities and differences that we’ve noticed. We also talk about suddenly becoming a minority in a new country and how that impacts our ideas about racial diversity.
Mainstream media can perpetuate internalised racism. Three recent movies – Green Book, Crazy Rich Asians, and Last Christmas – showcase the slow but steady strides Hollywood is taking by featuring different kinds of diversity and inclusion. Diverse representations in mainstream films is especially important since they attract and influence such huge audiences. A lack of diverse stories promotes the perception of monolithic experiences of marginalised groups which in turn creates stereotypes about these cultures. Just because you look the same doesn’t mean you share the same experiences.
Stories written by cultural insiders can challenge these narrow perceptions. They overturn stereotypes, offer more authentic representations, explore nuances and complexities within the culture, and refuse to exoticise their own culture by normalising different contexts, foods, and languages. Diverse creators rewrite the script of whose stories are centered. Normalising the food, languages, and lives of non-dominant cultures can go a long way in fixing the imbalance and addressing the feelings of inferiority.
Find our conversations about all this and more in today’s episode.
Parinita: Today I’m so happy to welcome H on the podcast. H is an undergraduate student from Japan. He did a study abroad year at the University of Leeds which is where I’m also a PhD researcher. He was there last year where he started to develop an interest in the interpretation of media. And his favourite British drama series so far is Black Mirror, a show that I also love even though it gives me a lot of nightmares about the future of technology. I met H at a children’s literature module that one of my PhD supervisors was running at the University of Leeds last year where I was also helping out. And throughout the semester, I loved talking to H about children’s books and also his opinions on race and representation in children’s literature. So I thought he’d be the perfect guest for the podcast and I’m so glad he agreed to participate. So for this episode, we’re going to be talking about representation in media, specifically looking at three movies – that’s Green Book, Crazy Rich Asians, and Last Christmas. H also wrote an essay for the course which explored racism in the young adult novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and the graphic novel Ichiro by Ryan Inzana. I got to read the essay and I really enjoyed it; so I suggested including it in our conversation today because it covers a lot of the themes that we’re both really interested in. So to begin with H, do you want to tell us how you got interested in the topic of race and representation?
H: Yes. Thank you Pari. So the reason why I got interested in race and ethnicity issues was because I actually faced racism in the UK. So the experience in the UK as an exchange student, it definitely made me interested in that subject.
Parinita: I know you’ve told me this before but even hearing you say this again just makes me feel so both angry and sad at the same time.
Parinita: I’ve been in the UK a little longer than you have because I came here to do my master’s as well. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve not really faced any racism in the way that you have. And I think that it’s gotten a little worse now in the UK, especially for East Asian people, because of the whole Coronavirus pandemic. It’s something that we’ve spoken about on previous podcast episodes. They’re the target of a lot of racism within certain corners of the UK. And of course brown people, South Asian people, have a whole other history of racism in the UK. But I’ve been lucky. And like you, I also come from a country where I’ve been the dominant race. In India and Japan, we’re both very much a part of the dominant culture. I had this fixed idea of racism when I lived in India. And it was something that happened in other countries like in the US and the UK. I didn’t think of racism within an Indian context really because everybody is the same race.
Parinita: But obviously in India, too, we have issues where light-skinned Indians are preferred over dark-skinned Indians. I don’t know if that’s an issue in Japan at all, but India definitely has that. And our media also pushes this image because light and fair skin is considered to be more beautiful.
Parinita: So you know there are these fairness creams and things that have a huge market in India as well as in some countries in Africa. And we have different ethnic groups in India because it’s such a diverse country. And depending on which part of the country you’re in, there are definitely differences in terms of race and the colour of your skin, and the religion, and the language that you speak, the looks. So in your essay – when you were looking at Ichiro especially, which has a Japanese kid going from the US back to Japan and how he has trouble fitting in – I could really relate to that scene. It’s very similar to what happens in India. During the module, we spoke a little bit about the We Need Diverse Books campaign which started in the US; I think it started online. It spoke about how children’s books, especially in the West, have very white characters; most of the characters in the books are white and straight and a very specific idea of a person. And that made me start thinking about it in India as well. Even in India, there’s only a very certain group of people who are always there in the media. When I moved to the master’s, my class was really diverse. It was much more diverse than I think the children’s literature module that we were in – although even that was pretty diverse. But I think everybody was from the UK?
H: Yeah, I think so.
Parinita: Whereas my master’s class was very diverse. It had people from the UK as well as different parts of the world. But my friends there in Scotland – and Scotland is not as diverse as Leeds; Glasgow isn’t as diverse as Leeds.
H: Um hmm.
Parinita: And England is much more diverse anyway. But I was very much the minority in most places. That was the first time I’d had that experience that I was the only brown person in the room. My friends were very welcoming and inclusive, but I didn’t have the same cultural context that I could share with them. I can’t speak in Hindi or Marathi – any of the Indian languages that I know. I can’t talk to them about Bollywood movies – the movies that I watch back home in India. Or the food and things. So that was different. That’s when I think I really realised that I’m a person who is of a different race.
Parinita: So before we start discussing the movies that we watched, you wanted to talk about another module that you took at the University of Leeds which looked at film studies and which influenced some of your ideas of media interpretation.
H: So I took film studies in semester two in Leeds. We watched some movies – French, Italian, Japanese – very different movies from different countries. Specifically, one week we watched Terminator, Terminator 2.
H: Then from the reading, I learned that the idea that white men cannot be regarded as victim –
H: It caused some filmmakers to make films which focused on white male protagonists. So the point is, I didn’t know there was this kind of idea behind the movie. ’Cause you know Terminator is very famous and popular all over the world.
H: So I thought this was quite interesting to know that fact.
H: But also I thought it was quite dangerous because a huge amount of people would see this movie and would have seen this movie. But as a fact this movie has this kind of implicit meaning behind it.
Parinita: Yeah absolutely. And for me that’s why I think media representations are so important. And it’s something that I keep talking about on this podcast.
Parinita: So if people are listening to it regularly, they’ll be tired of hearing me say that. But it does, like you said right, the way that media represents something can be dangerous. It can also be powerful in a positive way, but it can also be dangerous.
Parinita: Like the way that you talk about a certain group of people.
Parinita: So currently in the US, for example, the government and the President are talking about the Coronavirus and a lot of them are still calling it the China virus.
H: Yeah. [laughs]
Parinita: You know. And that’s –
H: I was quite surprised when President Trump said that the Chinese virus on Twitter or something.
Parinita: Exactly! And I think some of the people in his cabinet advised him not to.
Parinita: But he still insisted on calling it that. And it has a very real impact on not only the Chinese people living in the US but also anybody who’s East Asian.
Parinita: Like you said about the racist attack – the verbal racist attack that you’d had in Leeds. And that was because someone mistook you for a Chinese person, right?
Parinita: The thing that they said – the really terribly racist thing that they said – was towards a Chinese person. What you say in media, not just news media but even entertainment media, is so important. Because it’s influencing so many people’s perceptions about people they wouldn’t meet in real life. Or maybe even people that they do meet in real life. And India has this huge problem as well. Because currently it’s very anti-Muslim. The whole thing about the virus and the pandemic – Muslims are being targeted in India, which is also really dangerous. But coming back to the movies that we watched, these movies were your suggestions. I hadn’t watched any of them because I’m not really super caught up with movie news anyway. I read books and I watch TV shows. And movies I watch sometimes. But I had heard about Crazy Rich Asians a lot because it was such a mainstream hit, I think. Everyone was talking about it. And I watched all three movies yesterday on the same day. Which for someone like me, who really struggles with binge-watching anything, was a lot. [laughs] But I loved the movies so much. They were so fun to watch. And I really loved them for different reasons as well. I loved that there were such different kinds of diversity and inclusion in the three movies. With the Green Book, uh Green Book, it was tackling prejudice much more directly.
Parinita: Because racism was the crux of the movie and it was drawing attention to that. Whereas in Crazy Rich Asians, it was an all-diverse cast. I don’t think there were white people at all in the movie. It was all Asian. Different Asian backgrounds, but all Asian. And then in Last Christmas, which was a different kind of diversity, where there was a lot of different diverse groups that were represented.
Parinita: But it was done in a way that didn’t call attention to that diversity. It was just a regular part of the movie. It was normalising it to such an extent that you don’t need to draw attention to it. So what did you think of the movies? I’m assuming you’re a fan of them. But you said that you chose them for specific reasons as well.
H: Yeah. So the three movies were all made very recently. I think 2018 and 19.
H: So I think these movies represent and reflect today’s society very realistically I thought.
H: So that’s one reason. And also these were made by … I think Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers. So this a very big company, I think.
Parinita: Yeah, really mainstream.
H: Yeah. So that means, I think, a very large amount of people would watch them.
Parinita: Yeah absolutely.
H: So yeah, I think they have a very strong impact on people’s perspectives.
Parinita: Yeah, that’s such a good point. I hadn’t really considered that. That they are such mainstream productions. I thought about it with Crazy Rich Asians but I thought it became mainstream. Because one of the critiques is that at least in Hollywood, people don’t cast Asian actors because they think that the movies then wouldn’t sell as well.
Parinita: They wouldn’t be as marketable. But obviously Crazy Rich Asians – I think that’s why it was such a powerful movie – because it totally proved them wrong. And similar to Black Panther as well. In the Woke Doctor Who episode where they were talking about Crazy Rich Asians, there’s a Chinese-American host and there’s a black American host. And they were both talking about how the perception is that movies that don’t have a white cast member will not sell. So I think Crazy Rich Asians is a great exception to that rule. And I hope there’s more like that. But then in Last Christmas, it had some huge movie stars in it. And the Green Book as well – I keep calling it the Green Book, it’s just Green Book!
Parinita: But that one as well had a huge star cast. So I think, yeah you’re right, that that’s really important in drawing audiences to the cinema as well.
H: Yeah. Absolutely.
Parinita: So on the Black Girl Nerds podcast, Shaun Lau pointed out that the Asian perspective isn’t this monolith which means that all Asian experiences aren’t the same. Even in Japan, I’m sure, and certainly in India. All Indians and all Japanese people don’t have the same experience, right?
H: No, no.
Parinita: Depending on which part of the country – or even within your same house, for example. Depending on the age and things, you have different interests, you have different perspectives, different personalities. Whereas so far, I think these stereotypes that you have about Asians and Indians in the West are because the movies and TV shows and books have pushed these stereotypes.
H: Yes. So while I was in the UK, I noticed that especially East Asians – all East Asians including Chinese, Korean, Japanese – all of them were … not all times but mostly regarded as Chinese.
H: You know I kind of understand that because I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between British people or American or –
Parinita: Absolutely. Or German, yeah.
H: Yeah. So I understand that but um …
Parinita: No, it’s similar with me as well. South Asians, so say India or Pakistan or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, we all look really similar.
Parinita: In fact, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka uh not Sri Lanka – Bangladesh were all a part of the same country a few decades ago during colonisation. It was only post-Independence – which was about seventy years ago – that we were split into first two countries and then three countries. So I completely understand. But at the same time, it’s also really dangerous. And more than dangerous, it’s a bit insulting that you don’t –
Parinita: You shouldn’t make assumptions if you’re not sure, just don’t make assumptions, right? Try to get to know the person first before assuming they are from wherever or just saying that, “Oh all East Asians are the same or all Indians or South Asians are the same”. We wouldn’t say all white people are the same, for example, right? That’s not something we would think about.
Parinita: So somebody else in another podcast, the Imaginary Worlds episode, said that many white people in the West don’t see the difference between Asian films and Asian-American films.
Parinita: So basically Asian films would be a film in Japan set in Japan with Japanese people. Or set in India with Indian people. I think that difference and that nuance is important because in India or in Japan, we’re not the minorities, right?
Parinita: In India, it’s full of Indians. In Japan, it’s full of Japanese. Whereas in the US, or even in the UK – Indians and Japanese people would be the minority. So the experiences here are very different to the experiences in a country where you are the majority. So the kind of film would be different. Which is why I really liked Crazy Rich Asians because it showed a little bit of both. It showed Rachel –
Parinita: Constance Wu’s character who is this Chinese-American who goes to Singapore. So she has this very American context. But she’s going to this country and this community which is very comfortable within its Chinese identity.
Parinita: But they always make fun of American culture. Her future mother-in-law or prospective mother-in-law, she always makes fun of the American-Chinese – just the American attitude in general. It was a really funny movie but I thought that was really interesting.
H: Hmm. So in Crazy Rich Asians, I think the main characters were Asian and Chinese-American. Rachel was Chinese-American and … I forgot his name.
Parinita: Nick, I think. Nick Young.
H: Yeah. He was … so is he also half-American, half-Chinese?
Parinita: I think he’s Chinese – he’s from Singapore. He’s grown up in Singapore but he moved to the US for university or something.
Parinita: I think that was a source of tension within the movie because they kept wanting him to move back home because he grew up in his grandmother’s house.
Parinita: And I think at one point, his mother makes fun of him, “Don’t tell me you’ve gotten an American accent”. [laughs] Because that’s not something that can happen.
H: Yeah. So I think the point you made was very interesting. So I thought the fact that Crazy Rich Asians succeeded was quite um … I was feeling kind of sympathy
H: Because you know in the American film-making industry, the movie in which Asian people take a huge part of the movie itself is quite rare, I think.
H: So I was very kind of feeling sympathy. Is it – is that the word?
Parinita: Yeah. Absolutely.
H: But I haven’t thought about the difference between Asian-Americans and just Asian people.
Parinita: Yeah it’s not something that I thought of either. It was something that on the Imaginary Worlds podcast, the Asian-American guest, he said. Because he was like, “White people in the West, they think all our experiences are the same. That if you look Asian, that means you have the same experience.” Which is obviously, we know, not true. In the Woke Doctor Who episode, Eugenia, one of the hosts, she said that in Crazy Rich Asians, the creators of the movie fought to cast Constance Wu – the actress who plays Rachel – as an Asian – as a Chinese-American person, because the producers wanted to cast her as a white woman.
Parinita: Because they said that “oh how can it be that this Asian woman is going to Singapore and doesn’t fit in?” Obviously she would fit in because they thought, I’m sure, that oh if she looks the same then she’ll obviously have the same experiences. But that’s not true. And so they thought that the white person going to Singapore and not fitting in would be more realistic. And that totally overlooks the fact that – like even you and I. I don’t know about you but for me, after about like a year spent in Scotland, in the UK, when I went back to India, I saw the country differently. I saw myself differently. I had changed because of my experience living abroad. So somebody who’s grown up in the UK, even if their parents are from India, and they go back to India, it would be a huge culture shock. It would be so different going there, right?
H: Yeah. I also felt reverse culture shock.
Parinita: Yeah. And that’s even after both of us have been born and brought up in Japan and India respectively. But even spending a few months or a year abroad can have such a like impact on us, right?
Parinita: Yeah. But I guess I hope that there’s more room for such stories. Just because it makes it so interesting. In Crazy Rich Asians I thought Chinese culture and Indian culture have so many similarities. Because when I was watching that movie, I was like oh my god this is something that Indian mothers would do or Indian aunties would do. And the movie itself was so like a Bollywood movie without the singing and dancing. But there was music in the background. It was a fun movie to watch. And I loved Green Book as well. What did you think about it?
H: So when I finished watching the movie, I was very moved. I think I remember I was moved. But eventually I started to think that the ending – when the policeman stops them – the car which the two protagonists were in, that was the moving point.
H: So the police officer says, “Happy Christmas” or something like that to them if I remember.
Parinita: Yeah, because they’d had an experience with a police officer earlier that didn’t go as well. With two white police officers. The racist police officers.
Parinita: And they were scared. And this is very true because it’s something we read in The Hate U Give as well, right? How people of colour in the US, black people or in this case … yeah Dr Stanley was black as well. That they’re so scared of the police because a lot of the police are racist and do shoot young unarmed black men. So that is very much a reality.
Parinita: But the second police officer wasn’t like that, just to place that in context.
H: Yeah. So even though that was the reality, I don’t know, but it seemed like the movie made that the last police officer as a very good person and … even though I think that is – that should be normal. You know what I mean?
Parinita: Hmm. Oh I do see what you mean. You think it was more for dramatic effect – like trying to tie up the ends neatly – rather than representing actual reality.
H: I just personally think, yeah.
Parinita: Yeah. I mean I understand. So I keep having this conversation with my boyfriend. He is very much against police officers generally because of all the history of brutality that they’ve had especially for people of not-white races and working-class people and things. Whereas I’m like, no I’m sure there are some police officers who are all right. And I think I’m more … obviously I’ve not had terrible experiences with police officers which is why I come from that place of privilege, I think, that I can give them the benefit of doubt. It’s something that I thought of as well but I thought, “Oh it’s nice that they showed this good police officer”. But yeah, you’re right. Especially in a movie that talks about racism in a very direct way, maybe we didn’t need to … but I guess because it was Christmas, they tried to put in a hopeful message.
H: Yeah. Green Book is of course a very brilliant movie. Even the black person protagonist was a host and the white guy was the driver and servant. And this structure, I haven’t seen in any movies – which has the same structure as this.
H: So I appreciate this one. But still the movie was explicitly talking about and showing the racism against black persons.
Parinita: It was set in the 1960s in the southern United States which was – even now a lot of it is pretty racist. But at that time, it was really dangerous if you were black and moving around there like we saw in the movie. When you were saying that right now, it struck me that even though they say this in the beginning of the movie, that it’s based on a true story, I had completely forgotten that bit. Until the end of the movie when they show you the updates of the real-life Tony – the white driver and Dr Don Stanley, the black musician, the pianist. So what you said about this white driver and about this rich black person, it’s something that I made a note of – how even if you’re white, but if you’re poor, you can be marginalised in certain contexts. You’re not as privileged in certain contexts. Whereas even if you’re black and you’re rich, you can also be marginalised. In the South when they were travelling, Tony the driver was considered to be more respected and more worthy and more equal just because he was white. Whereas Don, because he was black, his money didn’t matter, his music skills didn’t matter. He was a black man and that’s why he was not considered to be equal to the white people.
Parinita: That’s why I liked all three movies that we watched for such different reasons. And they were such different kinds of movies. I don’t think that we can compare them for their story, but in terms of their representations of diversity. So I’m really glad you suggested these movies. When it comes to discussions of diversity or just media in general, I really like looking at whose stories are centered in terms of race and ethnicity or national origin or whatever – whose stories are being told and whose stories are being marginalised or ignored. And these three movies, like you said, they’re new – out in 2018-2019. So I hope they’re showing a trend that we’re moving towards. Because in the Black Girl Nerds episode, the Asians in Media one, where they were talking about how otherwise movies with Asian characters are full of stereotypes. And they’ll usually center the story of the white person and not the Asian person.
Parinita: The Asian person is just a background character or just comic relief or just the best friend of the main white person. And is never in a role that is centered around them.
Parinita: And there also used to be a very limited kind of stories. Which is why again, especially Crazy Rich Asians and Last Christmas, I really liked because it wasn’t like oh these Asians are martial artists or it wasn’t about the immigrant experience that oh they’ve moved to the US and now they’re facing this difficult time. It was just a regular film. It wasn’t about their Asian experience.
H: Hmm. Yeah.
Parinita: And I think all three of them overturned stereotypes in very different ways. In Green Book I liked that the main character Dr Don Stanley – he is wealthy – and the white guy, Tony, he has all these stereotypes about him – about black people – that he keeps trying to place on him. Like the music and the food and everything.
Parinita: And Dr Don is like “uhhh what no I don’t like this. I’m sorry, what?” He’s this really sophisticated character. And later we find out that he’s gay as well. And he talks about the struggles of not being able to fit in to either black society or white society. It was a really interesting overturning of stereotypes. With Crazy Rich Asians as well, where Rachel is going to China and usually you make fun of Chinese culture or Asian culture or whatever. That’s the butt of jokes. Whereas here, they were making fun of American culture and were like, “Oh American-Chinese are not real Chinese” and things like that.
Parinita: Had you noticed the different kinds of diversity and representations in these movies? Or Western media in general? What struck out the most to you while watching these movies in terms of the race representations?
H: Ah so you – what do you mean by different um –
Parinita: So the way races like the Asians, for example, in the three movies, the different kinds – oh well not in the three movies, in Green Book, there were no Asians. But the different races, how they were represented in the three movies. So blackness and whiteness in Green Book, different Chinese and Asian experiences in Crazy Rich Asians. I know they were not all – I don’t know in the movie, if they were all Chinese. I know the actors come from all over – there are Malaysian actors and Australian actors as well.
H: Hmm. Yeah, so as you said, I think traditionally in Hollywood or the film industry, white actors and actresses have been dominant in those movies. In Last Christmas, there was an inter-racial couple.
Parinita: Yeah. There were a couple actually. There were two or three, I think.
H: Yeah. So I think I could see the intention of the filmmakers to use different types – different race of people.
H: Together in the same community.
Parinita: Yeah because London is a super diverse city, right? It draws people from all different backgrounds.
Parinita: That’s something I really liked in Last Christmas as well. Especially that these inter-racial couples were so common. It wasn’t even a matter of discussion. Maybe in another movie, that would be cause of the discomfort or the drama or whatever.
Parinita: Whereas here, that didn’t matter; it’s fine, just having inter-racial couples. And also there was that one older inter-racial couple – the Chinese lady Santa who owns the Christmas shop.
Parinita: And I think he was German? I’m not sure. The older man. But they were making jokes of each other’s cultures but not in a way that was offensive. It was more like you’re making fun of yourself, kind of. I think there was also a queer relationship – Kate’s sister Marta and her girlfriend – she was black – and she [Marta] was also like a kid of an immigrant. So yeah, I thought that was a really good inclusion of representation.
Parinita: I didn’t know this but Eugenia from Woke Doctor Who mentioned this, that apparently there had been some critiques of Crazy Rich Asians that even though the movie is set in Singapore – and Singapore again, like London, is a super diverse country – because it draws people from different countries in Asia as well as Western countries. But in the movie itself, it was very much centered only on Chinese people. There were some Malay and Indian servants, I think. Like maids and drivers and things. And that was one of the critiques. And she [Eugenia] responded to it by saying that well, first of all they were super rich Chinese people. So it was another culture by itself because this is the life of the super wealthy.
Parinita: And so all the diversity was in the form of maids and guards and stuff which reflects the lives of these elite people. But also it made me think of how in movies like this, because they are so rare as you said, the expectations are that they have to be perfect. They have to tick all the boxes – like diversity and this and this and this. And it’s such an unfair burden on them. It would be better to make room for different kinds of diversity and stories so that there’ll be different stories; so one movie can tell its story and another can tell its story, rather than saying Crazy Rich Asians has to tick all these boxes. So again, like I said, I hope that this is a trend – so it’s not just that one movie has to fix all the ills and all the problems that exist in Hollywood or whatever. They can just go on and tell their story and just be fun and … yeah. It’s really unfair.
H: Hmm. And also I do not exactly know how many racial minority people work in the film industry or writing books or whatever media.
H: People who create those books, movies, dramas, advertisements, or whatever should be from different identities.
Parinita: Yeah! Absolutely. I think that’s a really good point. Because I think that shows in the kind of stories then that are told, right? If you have a person from that different identity, they are going to be able to tell their story in a more realistic way than a stereotypical way.
Parinita: They won’t then be making fun of their own – or if they do make fun of their own culture, it will be in a way that is for other people of that culture. Like how Indians, we make fun of ourselves, but the audience for the joke is other Indians. It’s not white people. We’re making fun of each other within our community. And I think Crazy Rich Asians had a few examples of that where they were making fun of the culture but it was in an affectionate way. Because, like you said, I think the cast but even the creators – the writers and everybody – they were Asian. So they knew the culture that they were talking about. They were not presenting it in this exotic way. Like, “Ooh look this Far East exotic culture.” They were like no, this is just our lives. And it was also this really interesting blend of Western influence as well as Asian influences. Like the bachelorette party and the bachelor party and stuff. That’s a thing that happens in India as well now over the last ten-fifteen years, it’s become really common in big Indian cities at least. And that’s something that’s not Indian at all. It’s something that we’ve picked up from media – American media and British media. And that’s something that Crazy Rich Asians had as well which I thought was really familiar.
H: Hmm. Yeah. So Japan, as I said, is a very monocultural and racially homogenous country.
H: So I consider the fact that all of the TV programmes, dramas, movies – the Japanese ones – are made by them. And almost all of the spectators are Japanese.
H: So I think some stereotypical and biased images of other cultures might have been created by that media in Japan as well.
Parinita: Do you mean of different cultures within Japan or outside Japan?
H: That could be both. For example, Japan is also an island and a homogenous country.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: And people are a little bit ignorant of other cultures. ’Cause we don’t know what other cultures are. So not many people know and could know about them.
H: As a fact, in Japan, it has been realised that we should become more globalised. And Japan has noticed that diversity is important and knowing about other cultures is important. But the images, the media, and books are created only by one particular race of people.
Parinita: Yeah. And like you were saying in your essay about the anti-Korean racism, a little bit of which exists in Japan, right?
H: Yeah. So we have very complicated issues with … hmm basically, so this isn’t true for everyone … but there is a kind of ideology that Westerners and white people are superior.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: But at the same time, a number of Japanese people think Japan is the greatest country.
H: The right-wing people and some people regard Chinese or Korean people as inferior to themselves.
Parinita: It’s so interesting that as different as cultures are, it’s like we have the same problems everywhere. Because India is the same. And obviously like we both saw in the UK, the UK is the same where they consider white English people superior. India has the same problems that you’re saying about Japan. Even to that extent of where it considers white superior. White people in certain minds would be considered superior. Of course, we have the history of colonisation. So we were under the British Empire for a hundred and fifty years or something. And even now, a lot of the movies and things that we watch – obviously we have a lot of Indian film industries, so the media is within Hindi and different languages like Marathi, we have huge movie industries. But a lot of the English movies that we watch – the foreign movies – come from the US and the UK. So their representations influence us a lot. Even me, for example, it was only after I moved to the UK that I realised in terms of the political system, in terms of poverty and everything, I was like, “Oh the UK doesn’t have everything figured out.” When I was living in India, I was like, “Oh yeah the US and the UK are obviously …” uh but then of course they went and elected Trump. [laughs] So I was like, “Okay maybe the US doesn’t have it all figured out either.” So yeah. It’s very similar.
H: So I was thinking the UK and Japan are very similar in terms of you know both countries are islands and um …
Parinita: Hmm, yeah.
H: And I think the national character is also kind of the same.
H: So it’s a bit hard to explain but we have –
Parinita: Is it based on history?
H: Hmm … I’m not really sure why that happened.
H: But I noticed there are a lot of common things between Japanese and the British people living in the UK. But in terms of diversity, it’s completely the opposite. The UK is much more diverse and Japan is more homogenous.
H: Did you say you realised that you became a minority when you went to Scotland for the first time?
H: So that happened to me as well. When I went to the UK last July, that was my first time being a minority.
H: And I noticed I was feeling like some people around me might be looking down on me.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: As I said, I actually got discriminated against by a white British guy.
H: But then I noticed why am I thinking like that way? So why am I feeling that I’m looked down on by other white people? And I thought media and what I watched and listened to in Japan for over eighteen or nineteen years might have created some kind of image and stereotype inside myself.
Parinita: Ah. That’s a really good point. You’re right. And also it has that same effect on the people from the dominant group as well, right? In the UK, you’re the minority here just like me. But for white people in the UK, they’re watching the same media as well. And maybe then that media is creating this sense of superiority amongst them. So it feeds into both the people who are the minority as well as the majority in really harmful ways.
Parinita: Ugh media it’s like … you know there are a lot of people who don’t think media is that important to talk about. But media is how a lot of people get their education about different cultures and different races and classes and genders and everything.
Parinita: So we can’t dismiss the point of media. Because another thing that really stood out to me during the movies – and also just in general – was the politics and the representations of food, especially Asian food and Indian food within Western media. Have you ever come across that?
H: Hmm … so there’s a clear description of Asian food in Crazy Rich Asians but I haven’t thought that deeply about representation of food in detail.
Parinita: Yeah. And that’s a totally fair point because in a homogenous culture I suppose that is not a thing that occurs to you because everyone eats the same – not same but similar kind of food?
Parinita: So one is not considered superior and another is not considered inferior. In the Woke Doctor Who episode, Eugenia who’s the Chinese-American host, was talking about watching Crazy Rich Asians; just seeing her food represented on the screen was such an emotional experience for her. You remember that dumpling making scene?
Parinita: Where the family come together to make the dumplings. And even that market in Singapore where they go and they eat this food, she was so happy to see that and so emotional to see that because she was starved for that representation. She hadn’t seen that in Hollywood movies. Because it was all burgers and whatever white American food would be. And she was saying that how when she was in school, when she would take her food that her Chinese mother would make. And it was made fun of. For being a different smell and a different texture and different kinds of things. Her classmates used to take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So for them, anything that was foreign was something that is made fun of and is sometimes treated with disgust. And it’s a bit similar in India because – it’s a religious, cultural thing where some people are vegetarians and some people are not. Some people eat meat in India depending on which religion you follow and which part of the country you come from. And in some schools, non-vegetarian food is not allowed at all. You’re not allowed to bring anything with meat in it to school. Whereas in other schools, including mine, when I was a kid, I had friends from different religious backgrounds. And I would have friends that if I took meat to school, they would make a face or make a fuss or be like, “No I don’t want to sit near you and eat because I don’t eat meat.” And that reminded me so much of her [Eugenia’s] conversation because as a kid, it’s something that you internalise. Then I stopped taking meat to school because I told my mom, “No, my friends turn away from it in disgust, so I don’t want to take meat to school. I don’t want to have that problem at all.”
Parinita: It is like one food habit is better than the other. Then that’s the atmosphere that you’re creating.
H: Hmm. Yeah. I remember one thing that when I cooked in the kitchen in my flat, some of my flatmates were wondering what that food was.
H: They were very curious but also um … like strange.
Parinita: Yeah. And I think curiousity about an unfamiliar thing is obviously very normal.
Parinita: If you have not met something before in whatever form – food, culture, anything – you are curious about it. But I think the way you approach it matters so much. If you just approach it in a way like, “Ew, I’m not going to … this is not worthy of my attention or respect.” Versus oh you’re just trying to find out something about another culture. You’re just curious about that culture and you’re learning from them. I had friends in Glasgow who were from the US. In their part of the US, Indian food wasn’t popular, it wasn’t available easily. So they’d never eaten Indian food before; the first time they ate Indian food was in Scotland. And they loved it. They really loved the food. And then they’d come over to my house and I’d cook Indian food for them. And they were always so respectful. They were white Americans so they were used to being in the dominant group in their country. But they were still always so respectful and so curious about it. They never made fun – or not even fun – never made a face or refused to try any Indian food. They were always really curious and that made me feel welcome. Like even if I’m in this strange country with nobody like me around … different cultures can still come together in a more positive way.
Parinita: It depends on what kind of people you meet. And, of course, with the representation and politics of food, there’s also the representation and politics of language, right? Where some languages are considered to be the correct or the superior language depending on which part of the country or world you’re in. What has been your own experiences with this?
H: Yeah so we talked about this, right?
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: So English is considered and actually used worldwide. So in Japan for example there’s this ideology that English is cool.
H: So America, the UK, Australia, Canada – developed white countries which speak English. Using one language – meaning English – is very useful for everyone. For me, if I could speak English, I could talk to a lot of people from different countries.
Parinita: Yeah, like us.
Parinita: Our podcast wouldn’t have been possible if both of us didn’t speak the same language.
H: Yeah. But at the same time, this inequality of language might cause native speakers to be arrogant.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: Or create some stereotypes against non-English speaking people.
Parinita: Yeah. And like that essay that we read about Nina Coomes who moved from Japan to the US. She was this huge Pokémon fan and she wrote about that and the role Pokémon and language played in her life. She talked about how, when she moved to the US – a rural part of the country – when she was seven, it meant that she suddenly couldn’t communicate anymore. When she was back in Japan, she had all these ideas, she had all this language, all this vocabulary and she was considered smart.
Parinita: And suddenly she moves to a country where intelligence is measured by the language that you speak. And because she couldn’t speak English, she was not considered to be intelligent or cool or somebody that you want to be friends with. And she was so excited when Pokémon came to the US because she was like, “Okay maybe Pokémon is something that I could connect to people with. Use that as my common language.” And then to her horror, she realised that the words had been translated. So the Pokémon words in Japan were Japanese whereas when they came to the US, they were translated to English and she was like, “Okay even that one thing I can’t connect with.” Which I think is a very familiar experience to a lot of people who move from a country where English isn’t the dominant language to a country where English is the dominant language.
H: Um hmm.
Parinita: And yeah, India is the same; English is considered cool. English is also considered to be a language of the wealthy. In rural parts or in certain parts even in Mumbai – which is a big city – there will be communities where English isn’t spoken. But they have that sense of inferiority that they can’t speak English. So if somebody goes and speaks English, they will consider them smart and wealthy and cool even if they are smarter than this person who can speak English.
Parinita: Language plays such a big role in your own self-identity. Which is sad.
H: Maybe I could talk about one episode about language in Japan.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: So compared to other countries, Japanese people seem to be not as good at speaking English or listening to or using English. Because I don’t know probably because of the difference of language. Japanese and English are very different. So it is a little bit harder for Japanese people to speak and listen to English.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: So not all wealthy and affluent people can speak or can communicate in English. So we call this is half uh like American-Asian for example … people … uh a child or children of …
Parinita: So like a mixed-race couple?
H: Mixed-race people, yeah. They’re called half. And then some of them could speak English better than other normal ordinary Japanese.
H: Or people who had lived in English-speaking countries and came back to Japan later are considered as very good English speakers. So those kind of people sometimes are looked up or are like, “Oh you’re great, you speak English very well.” Or “You sound like a native speaker of English.”
H: So the situation is slightly different from the situation in India in Japan but yeah.
Parinita: Yeah. But again even though they are such different countries and contexts, you have so many similarities. The details might be different, but so many similarities. In Last Christmas, so Santa, she keeps changing her Chinese name depending on whichever job she goes to. So in the Christmas shop, she’s Santa. But when she used to work at a bakery, she was Muffin. She keeps changing it just because her Chinese name is too difficult for British people to pronounce.
Parinita: And that reminded me of the experiences of Chinese students in the UK. I don’t know how common this is with Japanese students, but I know Chinese students – and this is something I found strange right in Scotland and even now that a lot of them, it’s like this cultural thing that they adopt an English name when they’re here.
H: Yes, yes.
Parinita: And I was really uncomfortable about it. Because I was like but it’s your name. We should be the ones who are learning how to pronounce it rather than you changing your whole name.
H: Yeah. All the Chinese students I met in Leeds also had their own English name. But that wasn’t the case with Japanese students, I think.
Parinita: Yeah. Like I was telling you my class in Scotland, in Glasgow, was really diverse. So it had people from Indonesia, Malaysia and different parts of Asia. And nobody else had this English name. It was just the Chinese students. Which made me feel even more uncomfortable. And that’s the dominance of English again. That people who speak English aren’t made to … face discomfort.
Parinita: Their – our discomfort I guess, not even their because I speak English – is not acceptable. So we don’t have to struggle to learn a name that’s unfamiliar to us. The person whose name is unfamiliar has to change their names to fit into the society, to the country and the university. Of course, I don’t know what Chinese people feel about this. I would love to find out.
Parinita: But as an outsider, it makes me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want to do that. I call myself Pari because everybody calls me Pari, not because my name is too difficult to pronounce. Even in India, my mum, my family, everybody calls me Pari. It’s just a nickname. I wouldn’t come to the UK and be expected to change my name to make it easy.
H: So I was wondering if I should have my English name or not whilst I was there.
Parinita: Oh really?
H: Yeah but my name is H-I-B-I-K-I.
H: So it’s not really hard to pronounce for a native speaker.
H: But every time whenever I was asked my name, I usually had to say it several times.
Parinita: Hmm yeah. That’s really interesting because I think it tells a lot about a person how they deal with unfamiliarity either with a name, or food or language or anything. How they respond to it, I think, for me it really matters in how I consider that person and how I think that person is going to treat either me or anybody who is different. Like I said, I’m pretty lucky. I’ve not faced any discrimination, at least that I’m aware of. I might have behind the scenes but everyone has been really nice and strangers have not really – but like you, when I walk on the streets, I am very aware of the colour of my skin. And I am very aware that, “Oh people might be looking at me differently”. Because you can’t tell who’s racist and who’s not right? When you’re walking on the road, you’re like, “Oh this person looks ‘normal’ in air quotes. But they might be super racist so I don’t want to take the risk.” In Last Christmas, that scene where in the bus there’s this white, I think Eastern European, couple and they’re speaking in another language.
Parinita: And this white man goes up to them and tells them, “Why don’t you speak English or just get out of my country?!”
H: Yeah. [laughs]
Parinita: I haven’t faced that. I have an Indian friend in Leeds. She’s also a PhD student and we sometimes mix languages – we call it Hinglish in India. Which is a mix of Hindi and English. So we use phrases from Hindi while we’re speaking in English – mix the two languages together. And at least so far nobody has told us to go back to our own country. But yeah, it’s something that I’m very aware can happen at any time in this country just because of language. Just before we wrap up, are there any final thoughts that you had?
H: I think changing how white people think about people of different races is important, but also how minority people receive and react to the things happened to you is also very important.
Parinita: That’s such a good point. Because we talk about the effect that it has on preventing racism from the majority people or any sort of discrimination from the majority group. But like you pointed out, there is so much internalised racism and internalised discrimination that you feel inferior because of the media messages that you’ve received. And that’s so important to confront as well. When I watch movies, well for me it’s about gender but also race; race more recently while I’ve been in the UK. When I watch movies that have women creators and women in the central role, that makes such a difference for me. I feel like I’ve been represented either on the page or on screen or whatever. And especially if it’s a brown woman, which is so rare to see in Western media, I feel even more seen. If there’s Indian traditions and Indian customs or whatever on the screen or in the page, it’s so exciting to me. So yeah, you’re so right that I think that’s such an important way of dealing with both majority and minority cultures.
H: Yeah. So there was a heavyweight boxing match a couple of months ago.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: And that match was between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. Do you know them?
H: Tyson Fury is British and white. And Wilder is American and black.
Parinita: Um hmm.
H: And I found people commenting on YouTube or somewhere, I forgot. But attacking some people saying, “You support Fury because he’s white or not white” or something like that.
H: And some person was saying that I support Fury just because he’s from Britain and I’m from Britain. Not because Wilder is black or something like that. So I think the minority people you know races or gender or disability or whatever, tend to feel more … tend to get easily angry. Or damaged.
Parinita: Yeah because if you’re so starved for representation … Shaun Lau, an Asian-American guy on Black Girl Nerds, he said that, “The lack of representation in media is so important because it not just affects how people see you but it also affects how you see yourself.” Which is exactly what you said. And it’s exactly the point that you made about other marginalised people, other minority people. I think that now this conversation of diversity is more present everywhere – on the internet, like you were saying in classrooms and wherever, in film studies courses and children’s literature courses in the university, just in the world at large and Hollywood – that I hope there is going to be more room for diverse creators. Not just Asians but also people with disabilities or people with different gender identities and just different religions. Everything. So just we can see all the diversity of life onscreen. Which I think would be a really good way to go moving forward.
Parinita: Thank you so much H for coming on.
H: Thank you.
Parinita: And this was such an excellent conversation. I learned a lot just about Japanese culture in general and how different and also similar it is to Indian culture and what I’m used to. So thank you so much for being a part of this project. You were fantastic.
H: Thank you. That was quite interesting to know about India and about your ideas and thoughts. Thank you.
You’ve been listening to our episode on representations of race and racism in Hollywood. Have you come across any examples of mainstream movies which challenge traditional representations of diversity? I’d love to add them to my list! Get in touch to let me know. Thanks for introducing me to these movies, and for the company, H. And thanks as always to Jack for taking care of the editing in the middle of everything else.
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