A brief history on comic book movies
Throughout the next three years, they released The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America. While all of these films were standalone, they were all connected via the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. All five of these movies were already big hits by themselves, as nobody had ever seen live action adaptions of these heroes. Then, the next year, Marvel Studios did what no one else had done before.
In 2012, Marvel Studios released the movie The Avengers. This film took in almost all of the main characters from the five standalone movies and put them together as a team to fight an alien invasion. This banding of heroes and movies had never been done before and was extremely popular with movie watchers.
From there, every Marvel Studios film, TV show, and Netflix series since then have all been connected, in one universe. Events that happen in one movie or show have an effect on another movie or show. The popularity of connecting the big and small screen led other studios to follow suit.
Marvel’s rival company DC Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros Entertainment, rebooted their Superman and Batman characters to establish their own connected cinematic universe. Additionally, they created three TV shows, Arrow, Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow, which all share their own connected TV universe. Though the DC movies and TV shows are in their own respective universes and have their own stories, DC has teased that both the cinematic and TV universe are connected through the idea of a multiverse; one massive universe with an infinite amount of realities inside of it. This theory leads fan such as myself to watch all the films and TV shows in hopes that eventually, they might all wind up together in one massive action packed film or show series.
So.. Now what?
Now that we know about Marvel and DC and their respective films/shows, we can talk about them! More specifically, the characters. Even more specifically, the diversity among the characters.
Each of the films and shows stated earlier are American made, so it is of no surprise to see that a majority of the main cast are American/white. Nevertheless, both studios do a fairly good job in diversifying the cast.
I emphasize “fairly good” because both studios definitely could do better. They do a wonderful job incorporating African Americans into their films and shows, as each film/show has at least one African American as a main character. However they fail to incorporate many Asian/Asian Americans into their pieces.
There have been Asians.. Haven’t there?
Indeed, there have been Asians portrayed in the films/shows, however rarely have they been main characters.
In the Marvel cinematic universe, there have actually been so few that it is actually pretty easy to list them off. This following list is comprised of all the main/supporting Asian characters in the last decade’s worth of Marvel Studios films. It has taken nine years to have four Asian/Asian American supporting characters.
- Thor (2011) – Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, one of the Warriors Three (partner)
- Captain America (2011) – Kenneth Choi as Jim Morita, a Japanese war hero
- Thor 2 (2013) – Tadanobu Asano reprises supporting role
- Avengers Age of Ultron (2015) – Claudia Kim as Dr. Cho, a doctor/scientist
- Doctor Strange (2016) – Benedict Wong as Wong, a sorcerer/partner
DCTV has done a better of a job incorporating Asians into their pieces, so their list is a little longer.
- Celina Jade as Shado, a love interest and mentor/teacher
- Byron Mann as Yao Fei, Shado’s father
- Katrina Law as Nyssa Al Ghul, an adversary
- Karl Yune as Maseo Yamashiro, a mentor/friend
- Rila Fukushima as Tatsu Yamashiro, Maseo’s wife
- Brandon Nomura as Akio Yamshiro, Maseo and Tatsu’s son
- Malese Jow as Linda Park, a love interest
The DCTV universe has been around since 2012, so in a span of four and a half years, they have almost doubled the amount of Asian/Asian American characters that Marvel has.
Asian/Asian American portrayals in comic book films/shows
In films in general, it is understandable that not everybody can get a proper background the way the main character does. Because of this, in Marvel films, the Asian characters portrayed are seen as simple characters. They help the main characters when in need but the audience does not really care for them outside of them helping for a minute.
In TV shows, there is more time to give characters a proper background and story. This way, they can be integrated into the plot, making them more complex characters. They each have their own stories and feelings so audience members can grow to like them and care for them, rather than not care about them because they only see them for a minute.
One major pattern in the way Asians are portrayed
In both comic book film and TV, Asians/Asian Americans are only used when they are needed. As in when something revolving around Asian culture is used, so they bring in Asians.
- In Avengers Age of Ultron, the only reason Dr. Cho is in the movie is because they go to South Korea.
- In Doctor Strange, Wong is only introduced because Dr Strange is traveling throughout Asia.
- In Arrow, the large Asian cast is only used when the plot revolves around being in Asia
From this, we are able to see that Asians/Asian Americans are not represented in the everyday life of the superheroes; only being used when relevant.
What does this mean?
As described in the beginning, comic book movies are huge today. Unless you live in a cave, you have most likely heard of Marvel or DC in some sense.
Because of how big the two studios are, they they have a real impact on society. Superhero’s are often viewed as idols for children; kids look up to them. The problem with this is that in comic books, the main characters are generally White or Black. Asian’s are never seen as the main hero. This gives off the impression that Asian’s cannot be the main hero in real life, which in turn makes it impossible for people to look up to Asian’s in the real world.
There isn’t a stigma around Asian people, but it has become normalized that Asian’s are just the background people and are not as important as the rest. If the next generations grew up with these ideas, then that can be very damaging for the Asian community in the future.
No one is really to blame for the lack of Asian’s in comic book movies. These movies are based off their comic book story lines that were created decades ago, before the mass immigrating from Asian countries to the US. Even in their respective comic book stories, there are not many Asians. But that is not the case in newer comics.
Today, new editions of comic books are becoming extremely diverse, including all kinds of races: Iron Man is an African American Woman, Thor is a girl, etc. Once entertainment studios use up all of their stories from old comics, they will use stories from the new era of comics, and with it, more diverse characters.
There is no way to throw in Asians/Asian Americans in these movies today, as it would ruin the continuity of the characters. If studios turned Iron Man or Superman Asian, their loyal fans would get upset. So the best thing to do to get more Asians in these comic book films is to wait.