reappropriate

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Psylocke

Via Angry Asian Man, rumours have it (here's the article in Yahoo! News) that a relatively unknown Filipina actress named Meiling Melancon will be portraying a villainous Psylocke in the upcoming X3 film. Psylocke was one of the earliest X-men characters that I became familiar with, she being one of Rain's earliest obsessions (along with Blink, Elektra, and some Top Cow characters). Moreover, Psylocke has a warm place in the heart of all Asian American pop culture analysts: where else can we find such a poignant tale of cultural colonialism and appropriation of Asian identity? For those of you unfamiliar, Psylocke is originally a cute little British girl named Betsy Braddock with purple hair and funky telepathic powers. Isn't she just the image of perky, cute British-ness? However, following a storyline in which Betsy Braddock's mind was switched with that of Kwannon, a Japanese ninja-assassin (what other kind of Japanese person in comics is there?) who works for an entire organization of evil ninja-assassins, Psylocke became a white girl with the body (and therefore super-cool ninja powers) of a Japanese woman. You'd be pissed too if everyone oggled your chest while you cavorted around in a costume that gave you a constant wedgie. Basically, Psylocke appropriated "Asian-ness" for her own. She assumed control of that identity as easily as a mind transfer while losing none of her own identity -- she remains Betsy Braddock with all the powerful telekinetic abilities (as an aside: ever notice how no Asian character ever has non-physical powers? Where's the Asian shapeshifter or psi?). For Marvel Comics, being Asian was nothing more than a switch of the skin, a slightly slanter shape of the eyes in otherwise cookie-cutter Jim Lee pencils (she always wavered between looking really Asian to really Greek), but that carries inherent "Asian" attributes -- buxom body, hyper-sexuality, "mystery of the Orient" and, of course, ninja "instincts". Also, Psylocke is basically the Asian Playboy bunny of pre-pubescent comic-readers' wet dreams. She's always drawn to hyper-exoticization, as little more than a Barbie doll with darker hair, always drawn in an uber-sexualized light. For awhile, Psylocke was even part of one of my past layouts, as a tongue-in-cheek nod to how truly fucked up media representations of us Asian women are. In an ironic parody, X3 has cast not a Japanese woman to play Psylocke, but a Filipina actress. Melacon is about as Japanese as I am, and yet, in the eyes of Hollywood, all Asians look the same. Remember Memoirs of a Geisha? Same difference. To Hollywood, as long as we look superficially Asian, it's good enough for the white audiences who can't tell the difference anyways. Either way, Angry Asian Man said it best: "[Melancon's] distinguished body of work does include the role of "Girl in Car" in Rush Hour 2 and "Chinese Slavewhore" in Deadwood, so expect great things." With Bryan Singer off the project, no more Nightcrawler, and now this? I'm expecting X3 to be about as painful as taking one of Psylocke's "psychic knives" to the skull. Images from Marvel Comics courtesy of: Betsy Braddock ... Le Site

11 Comments:

Anonymous Rtother said...

IMDb says she's also of partial Japanese descent. Anyway, it's not like she'll get much more then 10 seconds of screen time. There are about 100+ characters in the X-Men movies and they really only focus on Wolverine.

Oh yeah, Sunfire's suppose to be in it as well.

1/03/2006 08:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Rtother said...

On the topic of actors and ethnicity. What are your limits on that? Who is qualified to play whom? Is it only someone with 100% ancestry that is allowed to play a particular ethnicity? Aside from the obliviously wrong blackface, yellowface, redface, etc.

Would you insist there be strict guidelines about who actors may portray or would you allow a great actor like Ben Kingsley (1/2 English, 1/2 Indian [to put it briefly]) to play Gandhi or a Jew? He is, however, of partial Jewish descent. Also, see many black families on tv. Now, I know some siblings who do not look at all alike, but the phenotype variation displayed among television siblings is sometimes hard to swallow.

That brings me to the interview with Naveen Andrews, to which you linked. He mentions playing an Egyptian in "The Ten Commandments". Now, I don't quite understand what he's getting at with that mention; whether he's for his casting in it or against it. But I think historical dramas probably present the greatest difficulty in casting, especially in regions where large amounts of population movements have occurred. E.g. the Mediterranean area. On one hand you have white as white Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra, and on the other you have relatively dark skinned drawings in "The Prince of Egypt". Sorry I couldn't think of any POC in movies about Egypt off the top of my head. Who knows what the Egyptians circa Moses really looked like? Seriously, I really want to know.

1/03/2006 09:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Rtother said...

People are, after all, acting. Pretending to be things that they are not.

1/03/2006 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Rtother,

The problem with colorblind casting in Hollywood to me is that casting directors often promote unseemly racial attitudes by casting actors outside of their genetic and phenotypic backgrounds. Take Memoirs of a Geisha. When Chinese actresses portray Japanese characters in mainstream Hollywood films, without consideration for available Japanese actresses worldwide, Hollywood is saying "All Asians look alike; White Americans can't tell the difference, we don't have to care." It's lazy, and regurgitates decades of the inscrutable Asian stereotype. Hell, since actors from all racial backgrounds exist, why not offer work to those actors? It benefits everyone to have more actors of color working in Hollywood and colorblind casting passively encourages fewer roles for actors of color.

There's no special handbook, no secret formula for racial casting, but since actors from various backgrounds are available, one would hope that casting directors could offer auditions to those people as well as others, and then make honest choices. Here, I concur with Jenn's deconstruction of the new Psylocke. It's hard to see this casting choice as anything other than more of the same, another Asian female Lego, fit into whatever spaces White people wish.

1/03/2006 10:09:00 PM  
Anonymous tekanji said...

However, following a storyline in which Betsy Braddock's mind was switched with that of Kwannon, a Japanese ninja-assassin...

Oh no they dinnt! O.O Kannon weeps at the misappropriation of her name (which is also a conflation of Kannon, the Japanese name for the boddhisatva, and Kwan-yin, the Chinese one. Need I point out that the Japanese language doesn't have a "w" sound, or anything like it?). The entire story of Psylocke (unknown to me before now) is some white guy, who knows nothing about Asian culture, getting a hard-on imagining Asian girls and therefore looking up words like "Japan" and "goddess" in the encyclopedia and forming a story out of that. Geez. If you're gonna be a poser, at least do it right! ._.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the only things I liked out of the X-Men universe were Jubilee and the Dark Phoenix saga.

On the topic of ethnicity and Asian actors, I have to say that yes it does matter. Even moreso than white actors if only because of privilege. White people, as the dominant ethnicity in the world currently, have power that Asians (of every stripe) lack. Casting a Chinese actress in a Japanese role first off ignores all the great Japanese actresses out there, but also feeds fuel to the fire that "they all just look alike". Asia is seen as one huge amorphous blob by many Westerners, in a way that erases the distinct identities of individual nations and encourages racism.

1/03/2006 10:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

lol, tekanji, i'm surprised you've never heard psylocke's origin story before. Yep, Kwannon's name is a brutal slaughtering of Kannon -- but Marvel was never known for its cultural sensitivity.

I guess you'd be thrilled to know that Kwannon's mind, in Betsy Braddock's body, died, right?

1/04/2006 12:25:00 AM  
Anonymous tekanji said...

I guess you'd be thrilled to know that Kwannon's mind, in Betsy Braddock's body, died, right?

Yay for cultural imperialism! We superior whities will crush you all!!!!!!

Marvel, please descend into a deep, watery grave for all the crimes against humanity that you have committed.

1/04/2006 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/08/2006 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

Wow,were have I been.I didn't know she was even suppose to be asian...

1/08/2006 04:25:00 AM  
Anonymous al said...

tekangi, i see what you're saying, but also, all white people look alike. non italian people play italian people all the time. italian people play irish people. white australians play white russian people. this doesn't seem to bother anyone (except my mom for some reason).

of course, there's a limit.

1/28/2006 11:58:00 AM  
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