Black Panther was Your First Asian Superhero? Cool….
In February 2018, Black Panther was released onto the silver screen. Needless to say, this epic superhero movie gave a LOT of people a LOT to think about. One of the more interesting columns I’ve read was from a young Asian fellow named Colin Lieu. This fellow wrote a column Why ‘Black Panther’ is My First Asian-American Superhero Movie on the predominantly Asian blog hub named Next Shark.
As click-baity (if that’s a word) as the title sounds, I’m sure there’s a lot of brothers and sisters out there who reflexively expressed an immense disdain for the notion of an Asian fellow co-opting and/or appropriating yet other artifact of black culture. Me? Well I have no issue with Asians living vicariously through black superheroes. Why? Well I myself have been living vicariously through Asian cinema — and to an extent, Asian superheroes — for years.
Asian Cinema Gave Me Silver Screen Heroes in Stealth
Before Black Panther, Black Dynamite, and Netflix’s Luke Cage, my on screen superheroes were Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Chow Yun Fat and Donnie Yen characters. My exposure to these films took place in the 1990’s so for the most part I’ve had decades of exposure to Asian action flicks long before Afro-Samurai was inked for television.
The main reason I was drawn to these characters has a lot to do with the fact that they provided movies that was devoid of white influences, white people, and whitewashing for the smoking majority of the time much like Black Panther. These movies, did not exist in white-space. That was a huge draw long before I become “woke” or racially aware of my surroundings. I just didn’t know how to explain it years ago. My familiarity of Hong Kong cinema is the basis of my white tears comparison (how whites never demand taking up Asian space, but always demands to consume the spaces of black people).
Asian cinema always had a draw to it; the heroes were often charismatic, and there were always cultural/historical references embedded throughout these films. These cultural and historical references were usually a bridge, or an avenue of approach that allowed me to live vicariously through these heroes.
My favorite Chinese storyline element for example, were the ones that dealt with Japanese or British colonization attempts placed upon the Chinese people. Three main characters come to mind: Chen Zhen (Jet Li, Fist of Legend), Ip Man (Donnie Yen, Ip Man series) and Chen Zhen again (Bruce Lee, Chinese Connection).
You see, the white folks in these movies, to the black abolitionist’s eye were clearly the Japanese military personnel in any Japanese occupation of China storylines.
Theft of Chinese resources, abuse, rape, brothels, indentured servitude, slavery, racial harassment, crude medical experimentations, both physical and psychological torture, prison industrial complex, unfair trials, murder of Chinese citizens with impunity (police violence, lack of accountability), lynching, public executions, framing, bullying and silencing, suppression of freedoms, civic treason, destruction of properties, erasure of cultural artifacts as well as historical domain figures, whole-heart character assassinations, on top of actual assassinations, and the list goes on. (With all these parallels, it’s baffling how most Asians align with white supremacy, but that’s another topic.)
All of these things, it’s all there. And in all of these movies, the Chinese hero beats the crap out of their oppressors — with their bare hands. Now imagine if we as black people had a butt-load of movies like this, since the 70’s, spanning over decades?
Sure, sometimes it’s not the Japanese; it’s the British occupation instead (which is even more on the nose). An amazing example here is the “Twister” played masterfully by the late, great Darren Shahlavi.
Twister in Ip Man 2 arrogantly proclaims white supremacy throughout the film. He taunts any nonwhite men, violates Chinese women, for starters. He attempts to murder Chinese people in the ring with impunity as well. He’s just an arrogant bigot, similar to what a lot of white Americans voted for in 2016.
The point is, there was ALWAYS someone functioning as the white supremacist, white colonial powers in these movies, and not only did it hit home with me, but it also served as a set super-woke films that at the time, Black folks weren’t able to have. Just as Colin Lieu just began playing with our black toys, I’ve been playing with Chinese toys for years. Years.
So I have no problem with Asian folks loving Black Panther, and seeing themselves through Afro-cinema because Hong Kong cinema has provided me heroes for years. I like to invite Colin Lieu and others like him to write on their observations concerning race in America and around the world. I will say along with this cultural exchange, I sincerely hope Colin Lieu and many others who share his love for Black Panther brazenly engage in challenging the Afrophobia in Asian societies. Because loving black cultural artifacts without actually respecting and defending the people involved becomes cultural appropriation, and that’s never a good thing.
As long as you respect the people involved, we can definitely continue this cultural exchange. In loving black heroes, maybe you one day can become a hero for black people by joining us (a Black Avengers, maybe?) in our quest against white supremacy. It’s said in Spider-Man: great power comes with great responsibility. Well, with great admirations, affections and affinities comes great responsibility too.