The Power (Rangers) of Representation

Over the weekend, my friend dragged me to a Ventura movie theater to watch the Power Rangers. Yes, Power Rangers. I remember walking into the movie theater wishing I could go get my nails done instead. I sat down and prepared myself to fall asleep.

Right when my eyes started to flutter, Billy Cranston, the soon-to-be blue ranger, admitted he had autism. Not in an embarrassed or comical way, just simply put. Jason Lee Scott, the red ranger, responded with sarcasm, which Billy said he didn’t understand.

While this scene may seem insignificant and random to most, it is just the kind of positive, informative representation that people with autism need. Billy’s autism isn’t made to be the punchline, the means of a joke. Billy is a valuable member of the team, just as strong as the others. He was even the first to morph, something the entire team struggled with.

billy Cranston
Photo Credit: comingsoon.net

This moment is joining the many moments in media embracing autism. Sesame Street is introducing its first character with autism, Julia. She’s afraid to shake Big Bird’s hand when she first meets him, prompting Big Bird to get upset. However, Elmo explains to Big Bird that it is harder for her to come in contact with others. By the end of the episode, she is playing tag with the group and is jumping with excitement.

These moments are so momentous because they’re bringing awareness to a larger audience. They’re informing the public through interesting storylines and complex character developments. They’re also bringing much-needed representation. Now, little girls and boys with autism will believe that they can be superheroes. Preschoolers will learn about their best friend’s disorder, and these successes will pave the way for new stories to be made.

Whitewashing and No I Don’t Mean Stucco Walls

Halloween brings with it a lot of feelings. Excitement, happiness, the “officialness” of fall, and the feeling that all those scary things that go bump in the night are real. All of those feelings are expected, but the feeling that isn’t expected but seems to be there anyway, is a certain insecurity and anxiety.

Recently, I have grown even more conscious of my choice of Halloween costume.

Last year I found myself having to explain who I was dressed as to a complete stranger who made a not so delicate reference to my race.

He said to me, with a quizzical eyebrow raised, “Are you, like, an Asian version of, like, Harry Potter’s girlfriend or something?”

I didn’t realize at the time how much this bothered me, but the more I thought about it, the more troubling it became.

Firstly, I was not a Harry Potter character – I had no reference to Hogwarts or Harry Potter on my person. Secondly, unless he was referring to Cho Chang, who most people forget dated Harry, he was referring to Ginny Weasley (Potter). Who is not/was not just Harry Potter’s girlfriend – she was a Weasley and a kick-butt heroine.

But it really bothers me that in order to play a character that I adore or admire, people have to specify that I am the Asian version of them. Admittedly unavoidable because I am Asian, but still bothersome.

As I thought more about this, I started to think of an Asian character I could be. I thought of all the books I have read and all the movies that I have seen. Very few came to mind.

Which brings me to light whitewashing. As I furtively searched for a Halloween costume this year, I found myself not wanting to have to explain to someone that I am an Asian-American dressing up as someone who is just American or just white in general.

So I ended up looking up Asian movie and book characters. It is disappointing that I had to search this in the first place, and almost as disappointing that I found even less.

This whitewashing issue is true for every “not white” race, but I put a stress on Asian because that is what I am.

Here are some examples of some of Hollywood’s whitewashing:

Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter

I went looking for Asian screen characters that I could play, and the results were dismal. Then I looked for articles addressing whitewashing, and truthfully I found quite a few, but it was hard to find any that were specific to the Asian-American demographic.

I did find one by the New York Times though, which was nice because it wasn’t just about how whitewashed Hollywood is or how lacking in Asians it is. The article was also about how some Asian-American stars who had made it to recognition were fighting back (read more here).

Piggy-backing on the New York Times’ article, the Odyssey also published an article about the whitewashing of Asians in American cinema, stating, “The only difference between this generation’s whitewashing and the previous generation’s whitewashing is the gradual separation from the use of “yellowface.” (read more here).

Now Hollywood just neglects that the fact that the character was meant to be Asian.

But thanks to Buzzfeed, I can at least see what blockbuster films would look like with Asian leads. For example, this is only one of them:

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

Perhaps part of the issue comes from my own insecurity of not looking “enough” like the people I look up to. But it does make me sad that I don’t find more people to look up to who look like me.