This week join your hosts while they talk about different ways Orientalism has creeped into pop-culture for the past few centuries. They chat Mulan, Freaky Friday, and Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. Find the episode anywhere you get your podcasts! Just search Nearly Numinous.
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Article: This Is Why You Should Care about Nagini in Fantastic Beasts by Megan C. Hills
Journal Article: Rowling’s India: Orientalism in the World of Harry Potter by Abin Chakraborty
Welcome to Nearly Numinous. This week we’re talking all about Orientalism in pop culture, we’re going to look at specifically portrayals of various Eastern cultures through contemporary movies and discuss how detrimental these stereotypes can be. And we’ll also give a little bit more context about the history of Orientalism, and I’m going to nerd out about opera for a minute, much to Jacqueline’s dismay. But just a quick disclaimer, before we get into the bulk of the episode, we’re going to be talking a lot about racism, and especially stereotyping. And we’re no experts on the subject. But we do hope that this at least opens a bit of a dialogue on the topics. As always, if you have something to add or discuss, we would love to hear from you, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So the reason we’re talking about orientalism today on our podcast is, Orientalism, although it kind of rears its head in a bunch of different aspects, a lot of it tends to be tied to kind of Eastern spiritualities. And especially because a lot of Eastern spiritualities are so intertwined with just general lifestyles, it’s not even necessarily like religion versus non-religion debate. So we’ll talk a little bit about superstition, things like yoga as well. And we’ll talk about kind of instances of Orientalism in those examples. But we’ll also kind of get into stuff that’s beyond what we traditionally would maybe define as being religious, but honestly, I feel like everyone’s used to that now. This is kind of just what we do in every episode, you know?
Everything is religion.
Yeah, pretty much everything in some way can be related to religion. So if you’re wondering what Orientalism is, the way that I would describe it is, it refers to imitations and portrayals of Asian cultures by Westerners typically for Western consumption. But these portrayals often promote Western superiority. It can be patronizing, exoticizing fetishizing, and mystifying to, even if it’s subtle and not outwardly poorly meant othering Eastern cultures like this places them in opposition to “us,” meaning us in the West, where the East is framed as a sort of, quote unquote, exotic other to our Western rationality. Orientalism magnifies this dichotomy between the cultures of the West versus the East and also homogenizes Eastern and Asian cultures.
I think it’s important to note that many of the examples we’re going to show today in today’s episode are a little bit older, I guess, so to speak, especially when it comes to like, mid 20th century to kind of early 21st century. But just because we don’t really see as much blatant use of white people wearing kimonos and banging gongs, doesn’t mean that Orientalism has disappeared. Things like yoga and meditation are often exoticized and Orientalized because they’re considered to have a certain quote unquote, authenticity because of their uniqueness. Although it’s not always necessarily intentionally negatively portraying these traditions, it’s still often co-opting them into the western identity because of this exoticization.
Yeah, one of the main, I guess, selling points, when you’re, when they when people have been selling yoga to the west, historically, is that it’s kind of like you can put it into this box of an exotic spirituality that you can give to Westerners. And it can like, you know, open them up to new things. It’s kind of like different from like, the rationality and, you know, the Christianity that they’re used to. So it’s like, it’s, even if yoga is sort of seen as like, a big part of our society today, it’s still sort of like othered. And historically, it’s been categorized as other, which is what’s made it sort of an attractive subject for many people.
So a question that kind of comes up a lot in these sorts of areas is, when is it representation that promotes and shows diversity? And when is it Orientalism? And kind of going back to what Rachel was saying earlier, I think it mostly has to do with like, what is the underlying message of this representation? In that, does it continue to promote Western superiority and in the case of like Asian cultures, Oriental inferiority. So this is kind of a debate that comes up often as we’ll talk about a little bit later on in Harry Potter, there are very few Asian characters and so at when, like, the question that often comes up on Twitter with fans is like, what, what is good representation and what is problematic representation? And so we’ll talk about that a little bit later.
When you talk about Orientalism in an academic setting, you can’t not talk about Edward Said.
He was one of the people that kind of like sort of defined the current,
he provided the academic definition for Orientalism.
Yeah, exactly. What he said was basically, a lot of what we just told you guys, but also, it’s it refers to like he said, it refers to like a general patronizing Western attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian, and North African societies as well. So implicit in this fabrication of like, what it means to be, like, quote, unquote, Oriental and Oriental culture is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and ultimately superior.
So from a historical standpoint, there was a really big rise in an obsession with Japanese culture. And that seemed to kind of be one of the first very obvious instances of Orientalism. So what happened was, in about in the 19th century, kind of the mid to late 19th century, there was a trade agreement between the US Navy and Japanese officials. This was in about 1853. So after this trade agreement, what happened is it started, they started to kind of acquire more Japanese cultural items that they would bring back to like Western markets. One of them was the Paris Exposition Universelle and the Philadelphia Centennial exhibition, they had a quote, it was called the Japanese Pavilion. And that was 1867. And then it continued even more so at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. This was also quite famously when Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga into the mass market of the West as well. So because it these world markets really introduced like Japanese and you know, this kind of Eastern cultural items and fashion, many people started to kind of bring this into their own life. Most commonly, we saw a lot of people starting to wear kimonos and Monet actually painted his wife Camille in traditional Japanese dress and titled it “La Japonaise.” If you’ve never seen it, it’s a super, super white lady. And it’s a little awkward. I’m not gonna lie.
Yeah, I think you can, I mean, this is probably a whole other topic in and of itself, but I think you can see a lot of like fetishizing and exoticizing in like, anime culture and fans of anime in the West. A lot of like, Western fans have sort of been called, like, weaboos — I’m hope I’m saying that right? Because I’ve only seen it said online, but they’re supposed to be like, super fans to the point of, you know, like hating Western culture and praising everything that’s Japanese. So that’s, that’s kind of like Orientalism, with like, the less the part about the West being superior, but still kind of like othering and exoticizing and fetishizing this, like specific culture, to the point of it being, you know, exploited for their own consumption. I guess that’s another topic to like, like, how do you know when you’re appreciating something versus exploiting it?
Yeah. And that I think, going on back to like Jacqueline’s point about the representation versus Orientalism. I think that’s more of like a three-tiered system of like, representation, appreciation slash celebration, as well as, like appropriation slash Orientalism.
And what about tokenism?
Yeah, I think that would fit in there as well, for sure. I think that could almost be like a sub-genre of like, all of them, you know what I mean? Because I think there is a certain element of tokenization no matter what.
How would you define tokenization?
I always think of tokenism, like, in the context of a movie in that, like, there’s like one gay character. There’s, there’s one Asian character, you know, and so,
And they’re there to serve a specific purpose too, right.
Yeah. To like, check off maybe a representation box.
And they’re not the main character.
Yeah. Usually like the best friend
Yeah. And also to provide that kind of like intrigue. You know, like, the gay best friend serves a very specific role in this storyline. But yeah, it’s still like, not great. Like, not the forefront.
And not a female gay best friend either, that would not be okay.
That’s starting to happen though
Is it really?
Yeah. So I’ve noticed I’ve watched like two or three movies this year where there’s like, the token lesbian friend. It’s very interesting.
Okay, I think that’s kind of cool.
And again, it’s like, that’s where you get into this hard part of like, tokenization or diversity.
Yeah. Is it diversity….?
It’s like, “Oh, they finally changed it from like, the gay male best friend to the gay female best friend
Yes, it’s lesbians turneto be exploited.
Right? Yeah. Anyway, alright, so let’s go into some examples. Just to provide some more concrete examples of like, what Orientalism is, before we kind of get into our like, bulk discussion about movies. I know, Jacqueline, you’ve kind of noticed that there’s a lot of Orientalism in children’s literature.
Yeah. So in literature, there’s this category of like children’s books called the Bildungsroman. I’m not sure if I’m saying that correctly. But it’s essentially, yeah, it’s a German word. That’s, that’s used to describe like that “there and back again” tales, like The Hobbit is a Bildungsroman. And so this is quite an obvious way that colonialism and imperialism has shaped Western forms of storytelling in children’s literature. And so in these stories, there’s this mysterious “other” that functions as the exotic “there” that the character goes to. And this “there” is primarily, it just serves the purpose of being a literary device to promote the character development of the hero who is usually white, straight, cis, male. And so there’s this idea of place just serving this, this function of, like supporting this character in that way, like, the idea of place being just a plot device that is very Eurocentric, but then there’s also this idea of how the cultures, how the cultures of this other place, also serve like as a plot device. And so this is obviously very Eurocentric, and very problematic way of understanding land and other people, but looking specifically at culture, because that’s what we’re talking about today, with Orientalism that there quickly develops this self-other binary, in which the other becomes stereotyped, and often caricatured versions of their culture. Or maybe they’ll be like a conglomeration of a bunch of different cultures. And so that’s kind of like how, just the idea of like Asian being Japanese, but also like South Korean, and also Chinese.Those are all like very different cultures but in the West often, those kind of become, just kind of grouped together as if they’re the same culture. And this is obviously very hypocritical. It’s a very hypocritical way of representing others and difference, especially if you consider how in like English literature, how often there’s a lot of care given to distinctions between even just northern and southern England or in American literature, the same thing, the northern and southern states, how there’s a lot of care given in these very, like relatively small differences in culture. And so just the flattening of difference in what is conceived of as other is quite common in Orientalism, and just in portrayal of other cultures.
Yeah. And you mentioned there that oftentimes, characters like especially in movies or something, it’s often like, “Oh, well, they’re Asian,” but they don’t like, there’s no specifics there. Like, they might not even really be Asian, you know, but what I’ve noticed even more so is that even when they differentiate, so like, they’ll say, “Oh, this person’s Korean,” oftentimes, they actually get actors who aren’t even Korean to play those characters. Because they know like, to a white audience, they’re just gonna, like accept it and be like, “yeah, of course, that person’s Korean. That’s what Koreans look like. Sure.” You know, and like, not question it.
I’m curious to hear more about your thoughts on Orientalism in the opera Steph, as you mentioned that earlier, and I know absolutely nothing about opera.
Yeah, I find it very fascinating. This is something that is pretty well known, especially because when you get to the perspective of like classical music, it’s not as evident when cross-cultural ideas of music kind of go past but then when you put the visual element to it, it’s like glaringly obvious. And in opera that’s the case. There’s a couple of operas that are quite poorly orientalist, if that makes sense. That wording is kind of complicated, but mostly by Puccini, who was an Italian composer, which I found very interesting. He released a couple of, released. *laughs* He composed a couple of operas in the kind of early 20th century that were, the whole point of them was to be very over-the-top orientalist. Even to the point where I think a lot of opera fans at the time would call them orientalist opera. Like it wasn’t even veiled at that point, which is also a whole interesting point. But it would often feature like those rich kind of Asian colors that you typically associate with like China, which like the deep reds, and the golds. So there’s two operas specifically that Puccini is pretty bad for; there’s Madame Butterfly and Tirandot. First off, they’re always white Italians playing Asian characters. Most of the time too they don’t even specify like which culture of Asian they are, you can kind of like pull from the stereotypes that they portray. But not always. Madame Butterfly is pretty explicitly Japanese, though, because it talks a lot about the like US soldier coming to Japan. But even like I said before, in like the classical musical music realm, you often don’t notice if a piece is necessarily like, quote, unquote, Oriental. But when you pull away the visual element from Puccini’s opera as you can still hear a lot of those like, very Asian musical sounds. The most obvious one, which isn’t necessarily specific to like Asian music is the gong. That one’s like, kind of the first token thing that they put. And then there’s, Oh, geez, I’m blanking on the name. Jacqueline, do you remember when you play all the black keys?
No, it’s it starts with a P. Oh, the pentatonic scales.
Okay. Yeah, I’m not well versed in music theory.
Anyway, like the pentatonic scale. So like, when you play on the black keys, like I even remember growing up, and, of course, at the time, you didn’t think anything of it, because you were a kid and racism’s all around you. And, you know, it’d be like, “Oh, look at me, I’m playing Asian music” and like, you’d just play on the black keys, right? And that is definitely very evident in a lot of these operas. But to get more specific into just like the cultural portrayals, there’s, like two things that I really hate about these operas. And the first is just the portrayal of women. And I think we see this across like most orientalist examples like that we’ll talk about today. But the portrayal of these women is very misogynistic. And there’s kind of two types of women that you really see in these operas. And both of them are portrayed, one is in Madame Butterfly, and the other one is in Tirandot. So in Madame Butterfly, there’s the woman that’s not strong enough, she needs to escape and she needs the white man to come save her. And it’s like highly sexualized, highly exoticized kind of woman. The second is the woman in Tirandot who is evil, she like hoards all this money, she hoards all this stuff, and like they have to destroy her. And neither of those are good, neither of those. And so the second thing that I don’t like about these operas is then how they use these women that are either sexualized or need to be kind of destroyed, and you know, because they’re evil. And then they use that to provide justification for the colonialism in those areas.
Another famous opera that has the same kind of tropes is The Mikado, which is by Arthur Sullivan and WS Gilbert. And this was written, or this first opened in 1885 in London, and basically the opera is set in Japan. And it’s supposed to be this kind of satire of British politics in the way that they’re disguised using Japanese politics so that they can kind of like poke fun at British politics. But what ends up happening is they’re just making fun of the Japanese characters. And so what happens in this well, what happens a lot even in Harry Potter, which is one of my favourite topics, just like in the uses of Asian names with Cho Chang. In the Mikado, they’re, they’re quite problematic. So the town is Titipu and I’ll just pull up some of the other ones.
So there’s that the listeners could see my face at that.
Oh, it gets better. And so there’s a character named Nanki Poo, Ko-ko, Poobah, Pish Tush, so it’sjust like all these kind of essentially like poop jokes for names. And these kind of like jokes about, like different types of names is quite common in like a lot of representation. The joke about like Cho Chang essentially it’s just like, like to just like Asian sounding words like that’s not apparently Cho Chang isn’t even like a name that would happen. I forget if Cho Chang is supposed to be, I think she’s supposed to be Chinese, apparently, like it’s not even a name that would that would happen. And so it’s just like very, like stereotypical uses of words incorrectly just to make fun of.
At the beginning, we kind of talked about Orientalism in pop culture being very in your face obvious. In early examples, I think to start, we can talk about like, examples in the early 2000s. Because, to me, those examples are so glaringly obvious, like they’re not even veiled. You know, it’s like, oh, a person wearing a kimono than banging a gong because an Asian person walked in, you know, like, it’s very in your face, like, terrible, you know?
Yeah, but the thing is like, so for example, one of the movies we’re talking about was Freaky Friday, I didn’t notice that there was anything wrong with that as a kid. And then now when I’m older, you know, now that I feel like I know a bit more, it does seem wrong. So if you’re not like, well, if you’re not looking for it, and you don’t know to look for it, it just seems like it’s not a problem to you. And if it doesn’t affect you, it’s not a problem.
And even like, I feel like it’s worth it to just say like how we got on the topic of Freaky Friday as part of this. It started because I think I sent like a Freaky Friday meme to our group chat. I was like, “haha, we should talk about Freaky Friday.” And then I was like, “oh, but there’s no religion there.” And then like, we got talking about it, and we’re like, “oh, oh, no,” like, there’s all this like superstition. And, you know, like, crazy examples of like, “Oh, well, Asians are weird and going to put their weird magic on you” kind of like, messaging in it. So like, even, that’s not something that you think about with some of these movies, like other… If we hadn’t started talking about it, I would have never probably thought twice about it.
And this is the 2003 version. I don’t know if that stuff was present in the older version, right? I don’t think it was. But maybe I’m just talking out of my ass. So for anybody who doesn’t know what Freaky Friday is, its basically…
What are you doing? Watch it. Just watch it.
Yeah, it’s… okay. So even though we’re critiquing it, it’s a good movie. It’s got Lindsay Lohan. It’s got Jamie Lee Curtis, they fight, they’ve got a lot of differences. And then they switch bodies, so that they can experience each other’s lives and sort of feel more empathy for each other and then they make up in the end. And the way this switch is facilitated in the most recent, actually, no, not the most recent movie. They made a musical a couple years ago, I think.
I heard about, I saw that on Disney Plus when I was looking for Freaky Friday, and I…
I heard it’s awful.
Yeah, I feel like we should watch it.
I think so too. But for the 2003 one, the way this switch between them is facilitated is they visit this Chinese restaurant. And yeah, so the owner of the restaurant sees them fighting. She’s like this older Chinese lady and her daughter is the one serving them. And basically, she comes up to them, offers them fortune cookies and is like “here, cookies!” and then they open the cookies read the, you know, mystical message on it. There’s an earthquake, and they switch bodies. And there are lots of…
There’s also some Gong ringing in there
Lots of like banging gong throughout this, lots of like mystical Asian type music, like to just really drive home the fact that it’s this Chinese magic that’s, that’s you know, ruining their lives, basically. And then they say the next day, “Oh, like that lady, she did something” and then these like, quote “some strange Asian Voodoo” and then they go back to the restaurant to confront the woman, gongs banging again of course.
I feel like it’s important to say though like, “some weird Asian Voodoo” already that like… first off, isn’t Voodoo Haitian?
That’s nowhere near Asia.
Just combining things. Just another example of like, homogenizing; like it’s not important being correct. It’s just important being funny, I guess funny in quotes. So they go back to the restaurant to confront the woman who changed them. Gongs banging again, of course, and they find out nothing can be done unless they fix it themselves. And then at the end of the movie, when they do fix it themselves when they like, you know, come together and make up, the gong start banging again to signal the final switcheroo. And right at the end, there’s a wedding. And the mother attempts to switch the grandpa and the son characters of Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis’ family after she sees them having a little fight. So we see like, she’s, you know, back on her bullshit, again.
Yeah, I’m interested too, and kind of going back to this role that I think we often see in movies, that the way that Asian women are portrayed, so we’ve talked about it and kind of like opera style. But I think especially in this kind of movie, you see, I all you always see like, the old woman is kind of this like, crazy loose, like, gonna meddle in people’s lives and have fun with it, you know, kind of trope, and then the kind of like, Mom is always portrayed as like, strict, harsh, rational, whatever, which I find very interesting, because you assume that, like, there’s a natural progression there. How do they get from being very strict and rational to like, the grandma who meddles in everything and is more like, you know, magical, so to speak, right? And then, you know, there’s always like, the younger one who’s like, really attractive and just wants to break free out of her parents’ strict rules about what it means to be truly, you know, Korean, Chinese, etc. Like, whatever Asian culture they’re portraying, or just Asian culture as a whole. And then they always want to, you know, break free of this and become more like westernized, right? Like, they want to go to a concert with their friends or like, you know, that kind of like BS, frankly, that like, it just comes up. It seems like with every single portrayal of any form of Asian character in these westernized movies, especially when they’re like not the main characters, I think it’s completely different when you kind of bring it into like the main character perspective, but I’m more referring to like, the Freaky Friday style of character.
So some notes I took of the movie or that some things I noticed were that all of the Asian characters that you see in the movie work in a Chinese restaurant. I think like pretty much everybody else in the movie, at least any character of significance is white. They’re always wearing very traditional and stereotypical clothes, even when not at the restaurant. And after searching for this online, one of the things I saw was that the daughter is very authoritative and aggressive when speaking to her mom, which is not something you would typically see between Chinese mothers and daughters. Because China is a society that like, adheres to like Confucianism, where filial piety like family is very, very important. So you wouldn’t really see especially in more like a traditional family, which this movie is obviously trying to portray, you wouldn’t really see this dominance of the daughter over the mother. So that I guess is another way like the family is kind of like it’s not maybe a true representation of a Chinese family even in America. It’s definitely like a Western influence on the family.
What I mean even on that end, as well, just the fact that it’s clear that the way this is portrayed, the grandmother is you know, more tied to her Chinese roots, right? Like she, so to speak, she is she doesn’t speak English very well. She’s clearly wanting to kind of practice this, you know, magic that, you know, is apparently close to her culture. Where’s the daughter, she, her English, it’s still a little bit broken because of course, why would you have an Asian character that doesn’t speak in broken English? That’s a joke, by the way. But she speaks English much better. She seems to be more ingrained in kind of like, the Western society. And so you kind of get even this dynamic within that family that the daughter needs to kind of rein in her mother’s you know, craziness and exoticized, you know, nature and things like that.
By the way, the daughter, her name is Pei Pei, the actress who plays her doesn’t speak like in real life with like a heavy Chinese accent. She’s American so she’s, she either too Upon herself or maybe a director told her to, like, do a really Chinese accent like broken English to make it more like, “authentic” and other for the sake of the movie. And I think you see that a lot, especially with like Asian characters in western movies and TV shows.
Oh my gosh, you see that with everything. Like I have you guys seen the TV show Hollywood?
Okay. 100% recommend. Such a good show. But in it, it portrays… It’s kind of set, I think in the 50s? I might be wrong on that. But basically, there’s this amazing actress, she’s a black woman trying to make it in the 1950s in Hollywood. And she really struggles because she’s very well-spoken. And very, like, eloquent, etc. And a really strong woman in her own right, but then she’s only given the role of like, kind of the slave girl, right? Or like the servant or the maid or, you know, whatever, under that umbrella. And so she’s always told by these directors like, “Oh, no, that sounded too nice. Like, you really gotta, like, I’m not really feeling like, you know, you’re getting this role” and kind of things like that. And she was kind of like, kept being pushed until she basically took on that whole, like, the stereotypical Southern-help accent, if that makes sense. And so I think like, that’s kind of the portrayal of like, that’s, that seems to be what happens, especially with like, the traditional, like, “let’s throw this character in this role because, you know, stereotypes, of course.”
Yeah, we want to see like, we want to see something simple. We want to see what we expect to see. So we like force people to fit into their stereotypes in Hollywood a lot, I think.
So as I mentioned before, I also noticed a fair bit of Orientalism in Harry Potter. And so just talking about the portrayal of women in Freaky Friday, like the Asian women and Freaky Friday, and just kind of how they were shown to be, it reminded me of how in Fantastic Beasts, one of the newer Harry Potter movies, there’s this development in the character of Nagini. So for those that might not remember, Nagini is the name of Voldemort’s snake who, spoiler alert, actually has a piece of Voldemort’s soul in her. So in the end of the Harry Potter books, she actually has to be killed in order to defeat Lord Voldemort. And so, in Fantastic Beasts, which is a prequel to the Harry Potter series, we find out that Nagini is what is called a Maledictus. She’s a carrier of a blood curse that will ultimately will make her transform permanently into an animal. So JK Rowling says that,
I haven’t seen this yet. So basically, does that mean that Harry Potter kills like a real person?
Yeah, or Neville kills the snake.
It’s been a very long time I’ve watched Harry Potter. Anyway, point being, that’s like very intense.
Yeah, so um, so Nagini like the name of the snake comes from this, this myth of the Naga, which JK Rowling says is an Indonesian mythology. But apparently, it’s actually it comes originally from India. There’s been debates on Twitter about that, because of course, JK Rowling likes to
Incite debates on Twitter.
Yeah, and pretend she knows everything about other cultures that are not her own. But in this myth, there, there are these creatures that are depicted as half-human half-snake. And so this is an iNagini is kind of just a progression of this, in which I guess this, this woman who has certain characteristics of a snake will eventually become a full snake and lose her humaneness. Humanity, I guess, is the word. So there was a little bit of controversy just about the fact that the actor playing Nagini is South Korean. And the fact that this myth actually is more from India, or potentially Indonesia. I don’t know the ins and outs about the histories of this myth, but that that was part of the debate. But a larger part of the debate is the fact that this woman literally becomes the pet of a white man. And so there’s this really good article on Marie Claire, that was written by Megan Hills in 2018. And it’s just it’s a really good article. You should read it, but I’ll just pull some, some kind of key points from it. One of the things that Hill said is that it’s, it’s not the fact that the character that was cast as Nagini as Asian is, is the problem. It’s the fact that diversity was attempted to be brought in, in the film without really thinking too hard about it. And like, what does it mean that like, the only Asian woman in the film, essentially becomes Voldemort’s slave. And she’s mostly in the books, obviously, because she’s a snake she’s nonverbal. Unless the person talking to her knows parselmouth or parseltongue. Hill talks about how that’s a problematic stereotype about like Asians not being able to speak in English, and so coming across as nonverbal.
And especially like Asian women being submissive to Western white men, so like her whole plot point is to lose her personhood, to become submissive. And like you said, the pet of this white man, Voldemort.
Yeah, and she just she just does Voldemort’s bidding throughout the books.
That’s a lot of what you see about like girls and women, how they’re portrayed in anime. So like, they’re supposed to, first of all, everybody looks super young, to the point of, you know, girls, especially looking like little kids. So there’s obviously like, a huge problem. I mean, if you guys don’t know a lot about anime, there’s a big problem with pedophilia in the industry, and especially among its fans. Girls and women act kawaii, which means cute, and they’re supposed to be like, shy and super feminine. And it kind of just serves to reinforce this stereotypical ideal of Japanese women. And ideal, which, like, I think exists in Japanese society. But I think something that a lot of men in the West are, like, eager to adopt, like, they want that ideal to be reinforced too, especially if the women in question are submissive to them for their pleasure, and consumption.
And so then there’s also the stereotype of “Dragon ladies.” So this is a Western trope of Asian women as being portrayed as oversexualized and as deceitful villains in a position of power. And so this is seen quite obviously in Nagini and that she is literally a snake. And so yeah, like, it’s not even a metaphor that is like, that is what she is.
Well, and I think going off that I think this goes back to this constant idea of exoticization. But part of the exoticization is not just like the over-sexualization idealization of this, but it’s also the fact that you need to conquer it and tame it almost. So not only like, must you figure out this, like mysterious “dragon lady” woman, like you have to, like, kill the snake, or you have to slay the evil person or you have to tame the wild woman and things like that. And like that kind of language seems to be or like not even necessarily language, but just like how that’s portrayed, seems to be pretty, like widespread there. I don’t know I think it kind of goes back to like, even with like, Puccini and the opera. Part of portraying these characters like that is to help justify, like, colonial exploits of these areas, right. And, you know, we’re not as obvious anymore, in that people don’t say, “we’re gonna do this to justify colonialism.” But you know, it still happens, right?
It’s supposed to come off as like harmless, and maybe it does to people who aren’t like affected by it. But you know.
It’s that whole celebration and representation versus exploitation argument all over again, right?
Because now we just frame it in. “Oh, well, we’re just celebrating the culture.” Okay. Can we talk about Quirrel? Yes. I have a lot to say about Quirrel.
Yeah. So Quirinius Quirrel, I believe is how you say that. We don’t actually know his heritage. I found on like a Harry Potter wiki that he is. I think he’s half muggle half, half magical. But in the movies, he’s at least portrayed as being white. But so a little bit about Quirrel is he’s a professor at Hogwarts. He’s, he’s quite like a timid professor. He’s the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and he goes on a year-long sabbatical, where he is just like going on a world tour. And after the sabbatical, he starts wearing a turban, which he apparently received from an African Prince as compensation for getting rid of a zombie. So I’m just even though we’ve been focusing on like Asian tropes a lot in this episode, just a reminder that like Orientalism is basically like anything that is seen as Eastern. So that does include, like Northern Africa, and so
and Middle Eastern cultures,
Yeah, yeah, sorry, and Middle Eastern culture. So it’s just like, it incorporates like everything that is not considered, quote unquote, like Western. And so while he’s out somewhere in the east, he discovers this, this remainder of Voldemort’s soul, and he ends up helping Voldemort out. And so we discover at the end of the first book, that actually, the reason why he, like he’s truly wearing this turban is because he actually has Voldemort’s face on the back of his head. So he’s hiding it there. And so we find out that Quirrell is literally two-faced. And so this plays into this, this trope of there’s this trope of the untruthful oriental that lacks moral courage. And so in this way, like this character of Quirrel, he’s tempted by Voldemort, and throughout, throughout the whole book is like lying to Harry and everybody around him. And so a lot of this trope comes from the fact that like, a lot of people didn’t tend to trust Western colonizers. And so maybe didn’t tell them all their cultural secrets. And Westerners tend to feel entitled to other people’s cultures. And so instead of just being like, “oh, they’re just not telling us because we’re exploiting all of their cultural secrets,” It’s, “oh, no, all Orientals are untruthful.” And so that’s kind of Quirrel. But then there’s this also, there’s just, it goes into also, like gender norms, and how often within this trope of Oriental men, there’s often this view of a different form of masculinity, that is negative. And so Quirrel is he is more fragile, emotionally fragile. He’s also described, with more delicate descriptions as, like women would generally be described in the Harry Potter series. But then there’s also extends to when Voldemort gets his body back later, these descriptions kind of carry on. And so this moves into like queerness, as a trope for villainy. But in this case, because the Quirrel went to the East and Voldemort was chilling out in the East for a while, and there’s this kind of association and Harry Potter of like dark magic lurking in the East.
Yeah, and I think something that I really noticed as well is if you’re going to kind of more turn it towards the movie description. The character of Quirrel is played by a white British man. And it kind of plays into this, like, as soon as he puts on a turban, he becomes evil and can’t be trusted. So it’s that kind of association, again, with like, turban is terrorist, which we all know to be completely false. And there’s literally nothing founded, like, there’s no part of that’s like truthful whatsoever. But this was even like the book was written pre 911. I think did the movie come out pre 911? or after? It was around the same time?
It was around the same time.
Yeah, but either way, right? Like, it’s this idea that well, a white man puts on a turban, and he immediately becomes a terrorist, because that’s like the image that is portrayed in this, right?
Yeah, it’s like, it’s like, he has a turban. It’s one of those examples where I think some people would say, “well, that’s not that’s not racist,” or like, that’s not a bad association towards people who wear a turban such as you know, he’s, he’s, he’s involved with Voldemort, and he happens to be wearing a turban. But like just the fact that that association is there, like, he wears a turban, and he also has something to hide, and he’s been involved with dark magic. And also at the same time, we as a society in the West are very fearful of people who tend to like, you know, cover their heads and faces because we associate it with bad things like terrorism. So it’s just this, this association that even if it’s not purposefully racist, I would consider it so.
Okay, so should we now maybe talk a little bit about Mulan, because I think that is a very interesting perspective, because obviously, the first iteration of Mulan, there’s some problematic stuff in it. But we’re actually going to focus on the more recent movie that came out just last year, I think last summer.
Yeah. Because Disney said, you know, like, “we’re gonna try to do this right. We’re going to be better people.” But yeah, I don’t know maybe one of you wants to wants to tell us that it’s bit more complicated than that.
I remember when the trailer first came out Jacqueline, you came to me and you’re like, “Rachel, there’s a new there’s a new Mulan trailer.” I don’t know, like, I don’t know, maybe I told you that I really liked Mulan or something. Because I love that movie. I think it’s great. And I was super excited for the movie. And I still haven’t seen the 2021 one yet, partly because I’ve heard it sucks. And I watched this breakdown of it on YouTube. And it does look like it sucks. But
so maybe we should say that none of us have actually seen this movie.
Yeah, we should definitely say that.
Disclaimer, we’re going off of like discussions about it. Maybe we should do a Disney party, watch party. Listeners, if you’d be interested in that. Maybe we’ll put a poll on our Instagram, and see if anybody would be interested in doing like a Mulan watch.
Come watch Milan with us. So for the newer Mulan movie, the way that I was thinking about it, and the way that I thought it was like portrayed was, Disney was hoping to have it be like, an authentic portrayal of Chinese characters and culture. But um, when I was looking it up, all I was seeing was like, Well, apparently, Chinese audiences were really criticizing a lot of aspects of it, like, it seems like to be a specifically Western view of what China’s like, and apparently, other Chinese viewers were saying like, the character’s makeup is very Western. Or like, it seems like it’s a stereotype of like, Chinese makeup rather than being like a reflection of actual Chinese culture. And if you look into it, the production team was white as well, including the director. And when she, I think her name is Niki Caro. I think that’s how you say it, when she faced some criticism for this, like, you know, a white director, directing a movie about a Chinese woman, Chinese culture, she was like, “although it’s a critically important Chinese story, and it’s set in Chinese culture in history, there’s another culture at play here, which is the culture of Disney, and that the director, whoever they were needed to be able to handle both. And here I am,” to save you all. She didn’t say that last bit. That was me adding that in.
Yeah. Because I’m sure that there are no Chinese directors willing to work with Disney.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. None of them out there.
But I think the problem here lies in the fact that at its core, Disney is as close to a white culture as you can get. You know, like they say, white people don’t have culture, but we have Disney.
We have Disney. And you can’t take that away from us.
But no, like, as facetious as we’re being like, Disney is pretty ingrained in like white identity. You know, they’ve tried a little bit over the past few years to introduce more like diverse characters. They’ve tried to do things like The Lion King and Mulan and things like that, where they’re working, you know, with more authentic cultural perspectives. But at its core, it’s still serving a white audience. And you can tell that. It seems like they’re not really looking to kind of gain a non-white audience. They’re just looking to provide diversity for their white audience.
Yeah, so it’s in their eyes, I guess it’s fine for them if they like put in that token amount of effort to try to keep it authentic. But then, you know, if some things slip by, or if we, you know, don’t actually consult Chinese people about Chinese culture, then it’s fine. Our audiences won’t notice. Have we all seen the older Milan movie, the 1991?
I have, yeah. Which is funny, because we also say that that’s older, but it’s only from 98. Yeah, that’s not really that old.
I guess that’s weird to say “the old one.”
Yeah, like when did Freaky Friday come out?
Does that mean we’re old?
We are, yes.
What year were you guys born?
96! Aw!! Anyway. So we’ve all seen the Mulan 1998 version. And I really liked that movie. I thought it’s great. I like its message. I like the characters, the songs. I love the songs.
All the songs are so good!
So good. I sometimes just listen to them on their own without like watching the movie
As you should.
Yeah, exactly. But then apparently, it wasn’t super well received by Chinese audiences. It did have quite a small audience because the Chinese government apparently was trying to like shelter the moviegoers from foreign competition. So this is kind of like a very small amount of people who saw it but those who did see it apparently the Xinhua agency described her as Mulan as “foreign looking in her Disney incarnation.” And they said her “mannerisms were too different from the Mulan of Chinese folklore for their Chinese viewers to recognize.” Apparently moviegoers would call her “Yang Mulan,” which means “foreign Mulan.” And they said like, “her character doesn’t exhibit the same depth of filial piety” — like we were talking about earlier, like importance of family — “as her literary predecessor.” One person said she’s too individualistic. They then said “Americans don’t know enough about Chinese culture,” which is true. Apparently, like, even when are trying to get it right, we are getting it wrong.
Which is fair, I mean, I don’t think the expectation there is for white people to fully get Asian or Chinese culture. I think the thing there is to know when to step back and say, “Hey, how about you do this movie?”
Yeah, I think it’s impossible for like, especially corporations to like expect to expect corporations like Disney to be perfect.
But you also shouldn’t take other people’s folklore and treat it as if it’s something that you can put your stamp on. So yeah, while they shouldn’t, we can’t expect them to be perfect. We can we can expect them to just let other people’s cultures be other people’s cultures and let them tell their folklores.
Yeah, and I think it’s very fair for like, at this point in the world, Disney is a global company. But then I’m sure that there’s an office in China, that could have managed the entire movie, period, start to end.
And I’m sure would have been excited to, like be given the funding to tell this folk tale that’s there.
One of the things I found really interesting about the 1998 Mulan movie is this feminist storyline in it. So Mulan is trying to kind of break out of her traditional patriarchal society, and show that women can be like strong soldiers too. Basically women can be like men too. And that apparently wasn’t like, that wasn’t a part of the original Chinese folklore, that was something that Disney decided to put in, probably to, like appeal to Western audiences more who were, you know, after second-wave feminism and the introduction of third-wave feminism, like really more into seeing strong female leads, who I mean, I think in the original folklore, Mulan wasn’t, you know, not strong. But she was more interested in upkeeping traditional values like filial piety, and honouring her ancestors. Like stuff that I think Disney may have thought was too foreign for their Western audiences, but I think would be cool to see anyway.
Well, I feel like before we should go, it’s important to acknowledge once again that none of us are experts on this. We just wanted to kind of chat about things that we have noticed and hope that there’s ways for both us and you know, Disney, especially to grow as people or corporations.
These days, corporations are people on Twitter. They talk like people, at least.
That’s true. And they have the protections of being a person.
What do you mean?
They have like more protections than being a person.
In the States, right?
Yeah. Anyway, that’s a whole other thing. Anyway, thank you for listening. If you have anything to add, again, we’re not experts. So please, we’d love to chat more about this. It’s also important to note that we are all white Westerners. So if you have another story to tell, we’d love to hear it.
We love to learn. We’d love to hear from our audience if they have specific thoughts about this.
Yeah, slide into our DMS.
Slide into them, please. Right now.
and finger guns.