Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Now that Ed Skrein has quit ‘Hellboy’, Gemma Chan must leave ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’

I celebrated the news that white British Ed Skrein discovered his pair after all. Having been offered the role of Japanese-American superhuman Ben Daimio, Skrein finally agreed with what his reflection in the mirror and the rest of the sighted world were telling him, and quit before he made himself look like a twerp. 

I have no doubt about his sincerity in wanting to help the struggling Asian members of his fraternity, and I do agree that ‘Ben Daimio’ is not your typical Japanese-sounding name ('daimyo' 大名 'grandly/greatly named' is a feudal title which is normally translated as 'Lord'). Nevertheless, the problem is not with Skrein, but the indsutry he works in. All those so-called brilliant minds he knows clearly do not understand the meaning of ‘racebending’ and ‘colourblind casting’, and if they do, I think they are trying to dismiss the racism that is so visible in their industry.

The ‘Ben Daimio’ of the comics has always acknowledged his Japanese roots, and has been drawn as such, so when the production team behind the new ‘Hellboy’ insisted on Skrein, they were not colourblind casting, but racebending. 
A similar trick is being played with ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’, a new biopic about Mary, Queen of Scots, starring the very Chinese Gemma Chan as the very Caucasian Bess of Hardwick. Now, I have nothing against Gemma Chan at all - I support her and hope she'll have a long career, and that is why I have to write this - but I just think that it'is not fair that Skrein was put under so much pressure when there is relative silence over Chan.

If this new film about Mary, Queen of Scots were not a biopic but a steampunk story about a time-travelling girl from the present day who swallows The New Caledonian Turnkey Stone by mistake, gets sent back in time, discovers a fellow time-traveller calling herself ‘Bess of Hardwick’ (because it makes her sound fierce) who is spying on Mary in order to get close to Elizabeth I, all the while plotting to steal Elizabeth’s crown jewels and use them and the Turnkey Stone to create a widget in order to teleport herself back home, then yes, by all means, cast Gemma Chan as ‘Bess of Hardwick’, because there is no mention of the race(s) of the two time-travellers, and either or both time-travellers could be of any race. This is colourblind casting.

But Chan’s casting, like Skrein’s in ‘Hellboy’, is racebending. ‘Mary’ is a biopic. Apart from the historical Bess’s relatively small eyes (FFS, some Chinese have big eyes, BTW), there is nothing in any record which suggests that she or her ancestors followed Marco Polo to Italy from China and wound up in England. Every record suggests that there was a 99% chance that Bess was a white Englishwoman.

Until the historical record proves otherwise, Gemma Chan taking on the role of Bess of Hardwick is racebending, pure and simple, and the producers of ‘Mary’ should be ashamed of themselves for treating her this way. The promise of fairness and equality is one thing, but this is not the project to offer it. What they have done is nothing but tokenism and racebending, and both will not give white and Asian actors an equal chance to showcase their acting chops on-screen. Colourblind casting will.

We Chinese are proud, and rightly so, of inventing and coming up with so many things, but being historical wannabe kingmakers in England and the founders of English royal families never did come under our radar, and it would be wrong to take credit for that.  And that Elizabethan look does not suit everyone; just look at Margot Robbie. 

Anyway, I am grateful that Ed Skrein finally did something about the racism in his industry. Hopefully the new Hellboy will be the first of many more, and hopefully, Skrein and Chan will appear in projects which will afford them the dignity and respect they and their fellow actors deserve, and which will be intelligent enough for the rest of us as audiences to enjoy.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

My social media roundup! - updated

I can now count the number of social media accounts I have with more than one finger, so I thought I may as well blog about them and share an observation or two. So far, I am on:

1. Google+, Amazon, Goodreads: Beanie Lei
2. Amazon: Beanie Lei
3. Soundcloud, Twitter: BeanieLei
4. Instagram: beanie_lei

I would like to ask you to follow me, but having had a look at Twitter in particular, I wonder. I have come to believe that if used properly, you can use social media tools to make genuinely meaningful connections with strangers, and as a consequence, I now follow and follow back on Twitter with some caution. It's nice to have the large numbers, but sometimes, it does feel that there is no point in having thousands of followers who do not/cannot engage with you, even when you try and say hello.

There are some extremists and catfishers out there, whether religious or race-based or political, and they  post so much hate-filled/boring rants that I do wonder whether they need mental healthcare or an offline hobby.

Having said that, it is great to swear at a public figure online every now and then for expressing something you disagree with. It may be that public figures are like the rest of us, really; they need to let off steam now and then. I wonder if that is what Trump is doing when he tweets. In other words, unlike most of us with an online presence who are online for a purpose, Trump doesn't mean what he tweets, and is tweeting because he is having an attack of verbal diarrhoea.

(Update: Trump has tweeted again since I put this post up. I think that whilst he has the right to hold and express his opinions, his being the US President means that he must make it clear when he is speaking as an individual and when he is representing the US. Whilst I do not agree with his personal statements, I think it is still too soon to pass judgment on whether he is a good president or not. I will say, however, that he is right about America being divided along racial lines way before Obama; I actually had friends who voted for Obama because they were voting for the black candidate as opposed to voting for the best candidate. I am glad to never have had to think that a future leader might be a herald of change simply because he or she is of a different skin colour to me.)

And on the other hand, someone who I suspect is an extreme catfisher is tweeting under the name of a murder victim, which is a shame because they do actually have funny and relevant satirical tweets, but I think they are toeing a very fine line if they are using names and photos without the murder victim's family's permission. It is the family of the murder victim I feel very sorry for, and I really can't understand why this catfisher has to use this murder victim's name and photo when his tweets speak for themselves.

All this has really made me think about the freedom of speech and freedom of criticism and whether there are limits or whether there should be any limits to these, and whether following anyone for the sake of numbers is a good idea. It has also made me think long and hard about social media and how much of it I want in my life. I do think it is here to stay, there's no doubt about that, but using it to replace face-to-face interaction with close friends and family is definitely stupid.

This is it for my Sunday post; have a good week ahead!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A Letter to the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission re The Chinese Labour Corps (CLC)

1. Ms Victoria Wallace, Director General, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2. Mr Steve Lau, Chairman, Ensuring We Remember
3. Ms Anna Chen (Madam Miaow), Author and Broadcaster

Dear Ms Wallace, cc Mr Lau and Ms Chen

The Chinese Labour Corps

I hope my blog post finds you well. I am writing to share six facts from my GCSEs with you to ask you, in your capacity as the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Commission, to consider remembering, on the Commission’s website, the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), even if they were a ragtag motley crew who were not soldiers or fighters of any sort, and non-Caucasian foreigners from a non-Commonwealth country.

At school, GCSE History was effective in helping us to delve into the terrible conditions at Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme, and learning about the sheer madness and awfulness of it all made Wilfred Owen’s words, which we had to learn in GCSE English, clear, even if he was writing from a place and time that we, who were all around his age then, were all fortunate enough never to have been in:

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
-          Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori

Then there was GCSE Chemistry, where we learnt about pleasanter things like the Haber Method, which is a method for obtaining synthetic fertilizer named after Fritz Haber.

And thanks to the National Curriculum, I learned these things.

All my GCSE classes omitted that it was Fritz Haber who ultimately developed chlorine gas as a weapon against British soldiers like Wilfred Owen.

It is only now as an adult that I learned that chlorine was discovered in the 1800s, and I can extrapolate one thing: I am sure Haber knew the damage chlorine gas could do, because otherwise, he would not have worked on it. He knew what his priorities were.

I first became aware of the relationship between the Commission’s website and the CLC from a Twitter exchange involving Ms Anna Chen and Mr Steve Lau. I do not know you, Mr Lau or Ms Chen in a personal or professional capacity; all I am is a follower of Ms Chen’s Twitter account.

Nevertheless, the exchange made me go back to my schooldays, and in doing so, I must ask you these questions.

Why, Ms Wallace, are all British schoolchildren obligated to remember Fritz Haber as a saviour? Why, Ms Wallace, are British schoolchildren venerating someone so amoral? Why should we remember his name when he developed poisons, and he knew and fully weaponised them so that they would kill British soldiers? Why is history being kind to him?

Why, Ms Wallace, are British schoolchildren not told about what really went on in the Great War? Why should decent men who were as naïve about war as Wilfred Owen, who were allies and comrades of British soldiers, who dug their trenches and fixed their tanks, who carried things for them, and who gave them proper burials, and who carefully and painstakingly built such beautiful garden-like cemeteries for them (all right, the cemeteries were designed by other people, but the CLC did the grunt work), despite English not being a language they knew, why were such men not mentioned in any GCSE textbook in this country when I was at school?

Lest we forget, even the Animals of the Great War have a permanent memorial built in their honour and memory in Central London.

I am not asking for answers, nor for a memorial to be built to the CLC; it is unfair for me to ask that of you.

But we can make a start in what we teach our future generations. For example, I am sure there are other ways to make fertilizer!

Last but not least, I am writing this letter for Jim Maultsaid and his granddaughter Barbara McClune (@starshell208). I don't know them at all, but I think they deserve a holla for their sterling work.

With kind regards

Yours sincerely
Beanie Lei

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Learning to be a Twit, Part 3

In the wake of the Manchester bombing, words swirled around me in the miasma that is traditional and social media, and they made me angry. Angry, and upset, at seeing how a vile, cowardly scumbag had used the precious, bright life he was given to pick on those who were younger and weaker than himself; angry, and upset, that he had robbed others who were living and enjoying a pop music concert of their lives; angry, and upset, that he saw fit to vent such hatred and cruelty onto his fellow human beings who had not done anything wrong to him.

And for a moment, I was so angry that I wanted to Do Something. So, I went onto Twitter.

Two days before, I had started getting hundreds of followers who tweeted in Arabic, and I followed them all because that is what you do when you are not famous and want more Twitter followers fast. I admit that I did not actually read their tweets, or their profiles.

In the wake of my anger, I started reading tweets and profiles. Some tweets made me uncomfortable, and I unfollowed them.

In the heat of the moment, I then began to look out for, then unfollow, every one with the word 'Allah'. That turned out to be practically every new follower, even the ones who had photos of non-religious subjects. I had had it up to my ears with the Abrahamic religions at that point, so I also unfollowed the ones who tweeted in English and other languages that they followed God. Then I decided to not follow anyone religious, so that meant looking out for Shiva/Ganesh etc...

And as I unfollowed, I started to actually see a glimpse of who my followers are. It was then that I took a closer look at the Arabic-language DMs some of them had sent me.

A quick look on Google Translate informed me that a plumber was asking me if I wanted plumbing done. So I Googled on, and learned that while in English, you would tweet something like, 'Thank you for following me. Have a lovely day', in Arabic, what I got was sort of like, 'may the sun shine always when you are out and may roses grow under your feet and may the scent of a thousand blooms accompany you as you walk and may Allah bless your day.'

Although I still am still happy with my beliefs and religion, I was unsettled at how frightened I had been by my followers' Arabic-looking tweets, even the silly, innocent ones, just because they were in a script that looked Arabic. Some of them were not even tweeting in Arabic, but languages like Farsi and Urdu. And all this, because of something I had read and heard over the telly.

So I tried to refollow the followers who did not tweet about misogyny and ethno-religious-nationalist shite (it is obvious when you use Google Translate, even if it is slightly silly), but then learned that Google only allows 1000 follows a day, and that in every few hours, one may only follow a few hundred people.

So what have I learned from all this?

I have learned that words hold much power, especially if one enjoys using a platform to proclaim them. I have also learned, however, that it is actions which have power over words. I may not be able to control others (I do not understand why some of them followed me), and I have no wish to control them, but I can control myself. I can decide what I do and say, and therefore, it is my responsibility to ensure that I do not do or say anything impulsive, especially in a fit of anger.

All I did was try and cut people out on social media. Now imagine if I had tried to do that in real life, in a place like the UK, where there aren't that many Chinese people. I'd be Billie No Mates, really. 三思而后行 'Think Thrice Before Carrying Out an Action' has never been more apt.

I am going to continue following my followers who tweet in a different language to mine while taking care to read Twitter bios and tweets carefully first. You should do the same, too. You never know, you might end up with millions of Twitter followers.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Here's a gift from me to celebrate getting 1000+ Twitter followers!

I was stunned to wake up to find that I now have 1000+ Twitter followers! Thank you,  شكرا, , sağolun,Спасибо, gracias, grazie, merci beaucoup, どうもありがとうございます, 대단히감사합니다, 谢谢for following me.

To celebrate, I have made this free ringtone/message alert ringtone called 'Rainforest Bird' for everyone to enjoy and use; you can preview it on Soundcloud and download it from  here.  It is in mp3 format and is 7 seconds long.

'Rainforest Bird' is a recording of a bird (of the feathered variety) which I had heard, but did not see, when I was on holiday in Southeast Asia. The house I was in happened to be next to a jungle, the last vestiges of a rainforest that was slowly being cleared to make way for housing. The sounds of that jungle enveloped the house every morning and night, and one day, a bird started chirping, distinctively and loudly, next to my window. It stayed long enough for me to make a recording of its chirps. Back in the UK, I amplified these chirps and shortened the gaps between them to make a viable ringtone/message alert ringtone.

If you can identify the bird from this recording, do let me know!

I hope you enjoy this sound from the jungle, and do enjoy the wonders of the natural world around you ^_^! *Don't forget, you can always buy my novel, 'The Prophecy' and my children's picture book, 'The Fox and It', for Kindle, from the different Amazons around the world!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

My Belated Reaction to 'Star Wars: Rogue One' (Spoiler alert!)

Please note that there are spoilers in this blog post. Thank you :-).

It was Mother's Day in the UK on the Sunday just gone, and my mum insisted that she didn't want a meal in a restaurant, she wanted to watch 'Star Wars: Rogue One', because she wanted to watch a film about spaceships and aliens (as mums do). So we watched it together.

I came away with mixed feelings. Part of me was surprised to hear the male lead sporting a Spanish accent, to see someone who looked South Asian be a hero, and to see Donnie Yen have a go at being Zatoichi (I know much has been made of Donnie Yen being in 'Star Wars: Rogue One', but I still found myself having to look twice to see if it really was Donnie Yen in 'Star Wars: Rogue One' (it was)).

It perplexes me, therefore, that while things look like they're moving in the right direction, they're not.

My reaction to the CGI officer was 'that's Mr Hanssen off Holby City!' before I realised that it was only a mannequin with his voice and mannerisms. Worse was to come when (spoiler alert!!!) Princess Leia popped up at the end  like a waxwork gone wrong. At that point, 'Rogue One' turned from a triumphant sci-fi opera into a horror movie. It was that appalling.

I came away with the impression that through the CGI officer and Princess Leia, the makers of 'Rogue One' were stating, boldly and with no reservations whatsoever, that whatever a human does, a computer can do too, if not better. You can take any Dick, Tom or Harry that moves, and superimpose a famous person's face over them. You can reduce an actor's skill into a series of movements that can be replicated. You can dispose of the actor.

I've said this before and I will say it again: acting is a craft. To use CGI to replace actors a la 'Rogue One' is at best laughable, and at worst not just disrespectful to the actor, but disrespectful to 'being human'/'the human experience', especially when you replace the human actor with a computer-generated best-guess at how that actor would have actually used their skill to portray a character.

After 'Rogue One', I firmly believe that the series of movements that a truly inspired actor uses on encountering the right character can't be replicated. The actor is using his/her experience, or pretending to use his/her experience, to create. Although it doesn't seem like it, the work actors do is very similar to the work of a writer or a painter. Painters use pictures to create, and writers are wordsmiths, but actors only have their bodies and voices, and therefore, what they do isn't tangible like a painting or a book or even a film, but like painters and writers, when the best actors are playing a character that works for them, they are inspired by something that no-one else will have at that point in time, and they can and will create the illusion of reality.

It's late in the day and I'm ranting, and I'm not an actor, just bored, but I really hope the CGI officer and Princess Leia will not be a trend or the start of a trend. Otherwise, I will simply switch off and read a book :-).

Saturday, 4 March 2017

An open letter to Jon M Chu, Constance Wu and Ken Jeong, cc Kevin Kwan - Crazy Rich Asians! (contains spoilers!)

Dear Jon, Constance and Ken, especially Jon, cc Kevin

Hope you're all well! I read the Buzzfeed report on translating 'Crazy Rich Asians' to the big screen, and as a maaaaassive faaaaan of this book, I want to offer my support and some observations to help you. Sorry for the long letter that follows!

Observation 1: IMHO, apart from acting, it is a script which makes/breaks a film, so the script must be one where the bonkers opulence in 'Crazy Rich Asians' supports, not upstages, the characters.

As an example, I can see people I know in Kerry Chu, especially when she tells Rachel what to do when meeting Nick's family for the first time.

Telling someone how to behave when they meet their significant other's family for the first time is something that everyone who is dating/going out with someone, no matter their background, will have come across.

But what Kerry tells Rachel is very culture-specific, and that makes it relatable specifically to a Chinese person who has been brought up with Chinese culture from one part of Asia. As 'Crazy Rich Asians' is about Chinese people who have been brought up with Chinese culture from another part of Asia, this is more than a little throwaway scene about 'a Chinese mother and daughter'. This scene encapsulates what it is, and what it means, to be Chinese and Asian at this point in history (I can see why Kevin Kwan thus insisted that Rachel could not be white). It will take a certain scriptwriter to emphasise scenes like this without making a political life-and-death mountain out of a molehill; Kevin Kwan has already done this, brilliantly, in his book.

Observation 2:  In private, Nick and his family and friends will speak English with different Singaporean accents and mannerisms to Michael Teo, Goh Peik Lin, and Goh Peik Lin's family. Nick and his family are not British - they will only act like white British people like Princes William and Harry, and Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch when they are abroad, but in Singapore, they will act like Singapore's PM Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysia's PM Najib Razak and Thailand's PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.

As a simple example, I would imagine that due to their British boarding school education, if these characters were in a certain type of French restaurant in Paris, they would eat with lots of knives and forks and would probably know which ones to use first, but because they have lived in Singapore as Singaporeans, if they are eating at a Singaporean hawker stall, they would use their hands, or chopsticks, or a fork and spoon.

In Singapore, I would imagine that Nick, his cousins (girls too) and his bestie will switch to other languages, but I do think that once in Singapore, they will speak with Singaporean accents and not like Brits/Aussies/Americans/Mainland Chinese unless they are snobs/too stupid to learn another accent. Michael and Goh Peik Lin and her family will not have this option - they will speak with Singaporean accents only, and perhaps sound slightly American.

Nailing these will be key, and IMHO, I think it is harder to teach an actor to act eg heartbroken than to teach them to speak with a British, Hong Kong, or Singaporean accent. The actor/actress will either convince you they're heartbroken, or look unconvincing. Find the actors first, then teach them the accents.

Observation 3: Find the right Kerry. She is Nick's mother-in-law. It will take the right Kerry to make Nick become a believable romantic hero.

Observation 4: I am sorry if what I write next comes across as brazen, and I stress that I do not know anyone working on 'Crazy Rich Asians' personally, but I do so want you to succeed. In relation to Observations 1, 2 and 3 above, whilst I have no doubt that Peter Chiarelli deserves an Imdb credit for scriptwriting, what about Adele Lim? Can't they both be credited?

Observation 5: Just because Rachel has lived all her life with more modest means does not make her a girl-next-door for me and, I would imagine, many others. Her world of Asian America and Nick's world of Crazy Rich World are equally alien to me, and her being American, Asian and Chinese must not overshadow her being the heroine of a romantic comedy. She is out to get her man from some rivals, goddamnit!!!

Observation 6: I would imagine that a second objection to 'Memoirs of a Geisha' was that the original 'Memoirs' were actually written by a white man. His  fantasy/fantastical depiction of a cornerstone of Japanese culture was, I would think, awfully and terribly offensive/insulting in some aspects, and this wilful distortion was enhanced by getting Chinese actresses to portray this fantasy. And then having the Chinese title as 艺妓回忆录 'Memoirs of a Geiko (Arty Prostitute)' when it's geisha he's meant to be writing about? Oopsy-daisy.

Observation 7:  I've known East Asian people with blue eyes, East Asian people who have been mistaken for Italians, and East Asian people who look as dark as Jamie Foxx. Do blue eyes, 'looking Italian' and dark skin make someone 'un-East Asian'? As long as Nick's family look like East Asian people who can afford expensive skincare (that means no unnecessary wrinkles and spots), servants (smooth hands and clean, manicured nails, thank you), and life in air-conditioned rooms (thereby never breaking a sweat, never getting a tan, and wearing long-sleeved clothing and long trousers in a tropical country), that should suffice.

I guess if it was any other film, I would not have minded, but 'Crazy Rich Asians' is the first and to date only book in English which I have actually identified with. Even if I do not come from Asian America or Crazy Rich World, I have found myself questioning my identity, and having a laugh in the process.

I am grateful to you for giving (East) Asians from around the world the chance to audition over Youtube. It has been very entertaining to watch the audition videos, and this has made me appreciate that opportunities (not just in acting, but any opportunities) are out there, and that I should get rid of whatever I fear and make an effort to get them. For that alone, I want to thank you, and I hope that you break a leg for your production.

All my love
B xxx