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Chloé Zhao. Simu Liu. The Ho’s. These are names that may not seem very familiar right now, but might just become household names by this time next year. Everyone has some reason or other to want to leave 2020 behind (it has been quite a…whirlwind of a year to say the least), but there are certain things to look forward to in the coming year. Previously, I wrote on Why There Needs To Be More Asian American Representation In Media, and would like to now take the opportunity to highlight the new ways in which Asian Americans are going to be showcased in the entertainment world in 2021. Welcome to the New 7 Wonders of the Entertainment World.
Spearheaded by industry expert Mary Lee, look out for the brand-new A-Major Media that seeks to shine a spotlight on Asian American content. Not much is known about this fresh off the press agency, except that they have 4 films and 1 series already in development. A-Major is also set up in a way that allows Lee to explore different partnerships with various networks, allowing her to have the freedom to “find the best creative home for each project”.
As of this moment, actor-producer John Cho, actor Gemma Chan (of Crazy Rich Asians fame), rapper/actor Jon “Dumbfoundead” Park and Korean star Byung-hun Lee count themselves as producers in numerous movies and series that A-Major is putting forth. This is definitely star-studded, and it’s exciting to see what the (excuse the pun) scale of this would be!
Pictures this: New York City in its full theatrical glory, the hustle and bustle of lines forming within and without Times Square, the iconic red stairs are filled with tourists getting taken advantage of by feral imitations of Elmo and Cookie Monster, as the Naked Cowboy, true to his name, stands defiant against the winds of change even in fall. This might be a pipe dream for a while now, but even as the theatres have gone dark, the light of creativity lives on. There is going to be an explosion of new shows when Broadway reopens, and at least 2 of them are Asian-inspired.
KPOP the Musical
KPOP the Musical first premiered in Sep 2017 in association with the Asian American-lead Ma-Yi Theater Company. Since then, the musical has been reworked and refined, even spreading their casting net worldwide in an attempt to gather as many Asian and Asian American talents as they could. The musical was aiming to hit the Broadway stage in 2021.
Farewell, My Concubine
Farewell, My Concubine (1993) is a novel-turned-Chinese historical drama film that received the Palm d’Or, one of the highest honors in the Cannes Film Festival. Starring Leslie Cheung, Zhang Feiyi and a 30-something year old Gong Li, this film was banned by the Chinese government for scenes dealing with the Cultural Revolution and homosexuality. Incidentally, this movie is also the inspiration for Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown’s next project.
The box-office breaking triumph of Black Panther told the bigwigs at Disney’s newly-acquired Marvel Studios what we’ve known all along: people want movies with representation. What, however, is better than mere diversity? Excellence within a community bonded by race and culture, and the beautiful, mythical world of Wakanda reflected that perfectly. But Wakanda also pushed the boundaries for what success (and profit) looks like to the executives, and that is also why we are getting our first-ever Marvel movie with an Asian lead.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings
Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings is slated to come out in July 2021, with Simu Liu as the lead. The Canadian actor previously found fame in the hit Netflix series Kim’s Convenience, and apparently secured an audition for himself by simply tweeting Marvel.
Speaking of Disney, the studio doesn’t have a good track record for racial inclusion in their princess lineup. Between Mulan and Moana, there is about 18 years of no Disney princesses of Asian descent, which is just about enough time for a newborn baby to grow to drinking age. That being said, the studio has obviously had a change of heart when it comes to producing stories that reflect the diverse world we live in. It truly is a small world after all!
Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon will be released March 2021, and feature the first Southeast Asian princess. The animated movie will take place in the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons used to live in harmony half a millennium ago. Voiced by Vietnamese American Kelly Marie Tran, this movie is set to explore the distinct cultures of the Southeast Asian region.
Who doesn’t love a reboot? It doesn’t matter; you’re getting one anyway! As the generation that grew up in the ‘90s acquires more and more spending power, studio executives seem to be pandering to the nostalgia that millennials are so fond of indulging in. As a result, there has been a non-stop boom of reboots done, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any time soon. That being said, we do love a reboot when the cast becomes diversified and the storylines adapted to fit modern-day sensibilities.
Mortal Kombat has postponed their original release date in Jan 2021 to an indefinite time, but still promises to be a good time. The original film series from the late 1990s achieved a cult following (mostly fans of the video game), but the trilogy was never completed. This movie seeks to reboot the entire franchise, featuring an Asian-led ensemble cast of Ludi Lin, Joe Taslim, Tadanobu Asano, Ng Chin Han, Hiroyuki Sanada, and directed by James Wan.
It is one thing to create stories that belong to a different culture; it is another thing to reclaim what was taken, and giving it its original spin. The movement toward not just more representation but better representation is essential. We don’t just want to see more, we want to be more. This means eradicating the old stereotypes that go for a dime a laugh, and the fact the CW is championing one of these causes is, well, cause for celebration!
Kung Fu was a well-known series in the 1970s, which was reportedly stolen from a concept that Bruce Lee had. Lee was apparently considered for the lead role too, but was passed over as an unnamed ABC executive allegedly said “You can’t make a star out of a five-foot-six Chinese actor”. This 2021 CW version, however, is an adaptation of the old series, and stars a female Chinese-American, Olivia Liang, as the lead, along with a mostly Asian American and Asian cast. The series is set to finish filming in April 2021.
Reality TV may be scorned publicly, but is definitely enjoyed privately. As overly scripted as some of these new shows might be, there is an element of pleasure that we derive from this voyeuristic purveyance that may or may not stem from an undeserved sense of judgment. Now we’ve seen the struggles of an Asian family as they navigate the American Dream in a beloved rags-to-riches story, i.e. Fresh Off the Boat, but what about an Asian family that reeks of privilege and wealth a la the Kardashians?
House of Ho
Enter House of Ho, a Vietnamese American family who lives off multigenerational wealth founded by patriarch Binh Ho in Houston, Texas. The lives of Washington, Reagan and Judy (so named because she was born a girl, and therefore a disappointment – words from her very own mouth!) Ho, and their contemporaries, will be put on display on HBO Max just before the New Year.
Who are some other Asian American talent we should be paying attention to in 2021? Let us know down in the comments.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.