The Rough Rider

Is Diversity Getting Any Better in Television?

Nicole Fernandez, Staff Writer

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Recently, I started watching the AMC show Into the Badlands on Netflix and was immediately drawn in by the action and the (admittedly attractive) main protagonist, Sunny — played by Daniel Wu. For anyone familiar with AMC shows, you know that the channel is known for shows with brutal action, never to shy away from blood and body parts flying everywhere. And Into the Badlands certainly delivered.

In general the show did lack in some departments, like the fact that most of the characters were as dimensional as paper, but its carefully choreographed fight scenes would satisfy any action buff. The comical yet impressive floating jumps; the barely-realistic-yet-still-shudder-inducing sound effects of bones breaking; the deadly dance of one person against over a dozen foes.

After recognizing old Chinese kung fu movie tactics from the pilot episode, I did some research and discovered that the creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar had done that for a reason.

In a 2015 interview with Indieview, Gough reveals that he and Millar “had been looking to do a martial arts show for some time.” They specifically wanted a show where “martial arts is king in [the] world,” something never attempted before on American television.

As a huge fan of kung fu movies with legends such as Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, I was excited to continue watching. This was something I never knew I need, that had been missing my entire life. A regular showing of ridiculously awesome martial arts battles. I binged watched the entire first season in a week and as my excitement faded, one glaring detail continued to bother me: the lack of actual Chinese actors. Or any Asian actor for that matter.

To their credit, Daniel Wu is of Chinese ethnicity, but he was born in Berkeley, California and raised in Orinda, California. Throughout the first season, I saw about two other Asian actors and they were only background characters, given barely a few seconds of screen time before Wu’s character cuts them down.

Although I’m not Chinese, I’m over half Japanese and my disappointment was profound. In recent years there has been a rise in American shows that are embracing diversity, but the shortcomings are still obvious, especially concerning Asian actors. Into the Badlands had the chance to not only bring martial arts into the silver screen spotlight, but also Asians themselves. Yet it failed, letting down millions.
Entertainment has come a long way from the racist and sexist system it once was. There are no longer white actors used as Asian characters with painted faces and insulting accents. Women dominate media as much as men do. However, a recent influx of movies where an Asian cast should have been a no-brainer but instead has been filled with Caucasians has been popping up (Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell and Emma Stone in Aloha).

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Is Diversity Getting Any Better in Television?