It is safe to say I am now hooked. I have to admit, I’m partial to shows that feature maths and science in the first place, so there really wasn’t any way I was getting out of the rabbit hole once I’d jumped in. And sure, I love the whole premise of the show, and all the characters, no matter how flawed and intelligent, but over the course of the twelve episodes I’ve watched in the past two days, there’s been one character who has captured my attention.
Happy, the team’s resident mechanic, is played by Jadyn Wong. Like the rest of the team, she’s brilliant. She’s badass. But more importantly, at least for me, she is Asian. Sure, she has her issues, but all of us do. In many ways, she wouldn’t be the best role model, but in many others ways, she is absolutely perfect.
There is a disturbing dearth of female Asian characters in films and television shows – with the exception of Jadyn, the only other women that really come to mind are Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet (May, Daisy, Agents of SHIELD), and Constance Wu (Jessica Huang, Fresh Off the Boat). Just recently, an interview was released where Chloe (born Chloe Wang), admitted that she changed her surname in order to book jobs. The only thing worse is the knowledge that such forms of media are known to whitewash Asian characters (see: Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johannson in Ghost in the Shell, the whole cast of The Last Airbender movie). This double whammy is, admittedly, perpetuated by the industry as a whole, and I definitely do not know anywhere near enough to participate meaningfully in this type of discussion.
Happy is, ironically, not very happy at times. She is a genius, but she is also human. She is logical, not afraid to say what she means. She is loyal, but she also has flaws, and a complicated childhood. I love her because she is someone I can relate to on appearance, in addition to personality. This might not seem like a big deal – but trust me when I say it is. I love Bones, Lie To Me, Castle, Criminal Minds, Numb3rs, shows about intelligent people with extraordinary abilities helping to solve real life issues. But these shows are predominantly white. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a society and an environment where the colour of my skin or how I looked didn’t really affect the way I thought about my future and my career, but I know plenty other young people like me who would beg to differ.
I wish there had been someone like Happy on TV when I was younger, a kickass Asian woman I could look up to and learn from. My superheroes have always lived in books: Matilda (Matilda), Hermione (Harry Potter), Meggie (Inkheart), all the way to Anne Elliot (Persuasion), Antoinette Cosway (Wide Sargasso Sea), and Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale). Some of these women are white, which is completely fine. What isn’t is the fact that when they aren’t, I can’t count on an adaptation of it, whether it be through a television series or a film, to be true to the novels. As Constance Wu herself has said, it might be part of a cultural phenomenon – amongst the Chinese, at least, we don’t complain. Complaining is a sign of weakness, but so is failure. So we keep our heads down and work through it.
This kind of attitude may need a rethink, especially if we want proper and appropriate representation on the big screen. As an audience, we need to start being more vocal about our concerns, to get our voices heard. I’m glad to see it’s becoming more of an issue, but at the moment, I don’t think it’s quite enough. We need to speak out if we want to prevent Asian actors in the industry to continue getting stung.