Firefly Asian Cast

It’s been a while since I’ve done a straight up opinion piece. I started a number of them, and then realized that while I might feel better venting, I was not likely to change anyone’s mind, affect the unfolding of events, or have any impact of any kind on anyone, anywhere.

There was a time I carried the hope I might make people think (part of the reason for this very blog is rooted in that hope), but people are very protective of their views, and have shown to be resistant to logic, data, or anything challenging their perception of the world.

BUT . . . this is different. This is about Firefly. Well, not just Firefly, but also a broader subject that permeates nearly everything anyone does these days.

The blog post that got me to grabbing virtual pen in virtual hand and writing on virtual paper is HERE. I was going to reply directly on the blog, but since I don’t allow third party cookies, I can’t. Ergo, this post.

For them too lazy to read the piece, at issue is the fact that Firefly is set in a ‘verse “… that mixes the U.S. and China as the dominant cultures in a far-flung space-faring future.  The characters are all fluent in Chinese, wear Chinese-inspired clothing, eat with chopsticks, and wear white to funerals.

The author liked that aspect of it, but “… the fact that the show has no Asian actors in leading roles is a very troubling and uncomfortable thing.  It’s hard enough for Asian actors to succeed in Hollywood; it’s even more depressing when a work of media steals the shiny bits of our culture and then gives no opportunities to Asian-American actors.

Mind you, the fact has been pointed out before and by other people. What struck me were the words “… a very troubling and uncomfortable thing.

Really? It got me thinking. Would I have been troubled or felt uncomfortable had it been an all Asian cast? I’m pretty sure not. No, not just pretty sure. I am sure.

I have no great insight into Joss Whedon’s motivation for choosing the actors for the series. I have no insight at all. In fact, I did not even look up if he ever addressed the the issue in one of his many tweets and blog posts. He killed Wash and Book (and Penny), so the man is dead to me.

What I can comment about is the idea a work of fiction has to reflect the audience’s changing perception. Specifically, whether the creator of any fictional universe has to adhere to what anyone else think they should be doing.

Given the number of opinions out there, and the propensity for this or that group to be offended, my opinion is thus . . . short of purposefully going out of one’s way to denigrate a given political/religious/ethnic/etc group, the creator of any work of fiction, be it songs, movies, books, or embroidered tapestries, should have the freedom to do whatever they want. Even then, I give them lots of leeway in what they do.

Want to make a movie about a balding 61-years-young old man with a speech impediment and questionable looks? Go for it! I just ask that it be funny. Want to cast a woman in the role? Fine with me. Want to make him a vegetarian . . . well, I have to draw the line somewhere.

But here’s the kicker . . . whomever they would cast, I don’t think it would cross my mind to say “Uh! . . . they had a perfectly good Disperser they could have used, but they went with someone else! It’s kind of depressing that a work of media steals the story of my life, and does not give me the opportunity to play myself!

Foul! Not the same!

No? What’s different? I’m pretty sure I could do a credible job of playing myself. I know the motivation behind the character, I know what drives the character’s actions when he is mad (seldom), happy (often), or craving a Nutella sandwich. If someone were to make a movie of the story of my life so far, why wouldn’t I expect to be a part of it? And not just me, but the whole cast of characters that are peripherally involved in my life?

Well, it’s just not the same!

Seriously, I want someone to explain to me why the absence of Asians in Firefly is important enough to comment on it. I’ve seen movies about Vikings without actual Viking, movies about the Roman Empire without Italian actors, movies about sick people without actual sick people playing the role of someone who is dying from a terminal disease.

I could see if one of the characters was Asian and they hired a non-Asian to play them, using makeup to make them appear Asian. That would piss me off, much like it pissed me off when the old cowboys and indians movies would have white guys playing indians  (I especially hated it when they were supposed to be riding bareback, but you could see a saddle under a blanket).

Sidney Toler was a poor version of an Asian, and that did detract me from watching him, but not for those who liked the movies. Those movies made money. How did Asians react to seeing a Scottish actor impersonate an Asian character?

Probably the same way I react when a character is presented as Italian when they obviously are not; it takes me out of the story.  To date, I know of Arabs, Mexican, Irish, Indian (not American Indian), and even Van Diesel who played Italian characters.

I’ve yet to hear a non-Italian nail the language, so I imagine that is the same for other languages as well (unless you are Jason Bourne – a facility for languages, that one has).

What I don’t do is assume the director or studio hates Italians. I don’t assume Italian actors have a specific right to get a given role because of their ethnicity, even when the movie is about Italians. I don’t take pen in hand and demand fair representation of my abandoned ethnic origin in movies and TV shows.

I understand it’s entertainment. I understand it’s not real. I understand the people making the show may offer parts to their favorite actors and actresses. I understand sometimes the studio has actors under contract that they want to use. I understand there may be a number of reasons as to why a particular part was cast the way it was.

And here’s the kicker . . . I can’t think of any movie I have watched and liked where I later sat back and said “You know, that part should have been played by so-and-so.

Actors come to own the characters they portray. That’s one of the reasons I intensely dislike the Star Trek reboots, and why I don’t want more Firefly or a remake of Firefly, and why I can’t imagine anyone but Ford playing Indy.

I mean, I can imagine it, but it’s “wrong”.

So we return to the cast of Firefly. It meshed. It gelled. It worked amazingly well together. It made me believe in the impossible, care about them as they go about their improbable life, and offer up a version of reality I could accept.

The author of the blog I linked at the beginning of this piece puts together an all-Asian cast for Firefly. Interesting, but I can’t see it. Those actors are different. The equation would change, the dynamics would change. Changing even one would change the finished product. Maybe it would have been better, but maybe not. I do know I like what we got.

It’s not that I dislike those actors. I know most of them, and I like them all. I just can’t see them in those roles.

It’s not that they could not have done a good job, or that the show would not have been as good. It’s just that it would not have been the same show.

So, the question is . . . what’s the point? Should we ask by Zoe would have been better played by a man? How about an all female cast? Imagine the possibilities!

Whatever the reason why there are no Asian lead actors in the show, there is no denying Joss’s vision was realized big time (ask any rabid fan). Maybe the same could have happened with an Asian cast, maybe not.

Maybe Joss worked with all those actors before (except for Inara and Book), and knew how to present them to us. Maybe he hates Asians. Maybe he hates Italians. Maybe he hates Dispersers.

I. Don’t. Care.

I would not care even if I hated the show. Why? Because it’s a show. It’s not real life.

But, but . . . what about fairly representing the distribution of people, either as a reflection of the actual society, or as representative of the given premise?

Because it’s a show. It’s not real life.

But, but . . . it denies non-caucasians work, discriminates against non-caucasian, etc. etc.

I’m not naive enough to imagine there is no discrimination or gender-bias at play in all facets of our society. But I am also not naive enough to imagine that it’s always the driving force behind what are essentially business decisions.

Entertainment responds to demand. There is real money driving these decisions, and like it or not, I think casting decisions are made with the bottom line in mind. Sure, there are exceptions, but I keep reminding myself it’s a business. And the people running it want to make money.

But what about when money is not a primary motivation? Where is the ethnic diversity in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog? . . . uh! . . . maybe Joss is a racist after all . . .  

Meanwhile . . .

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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14 Responses to Firefly Asian Cast

  1. oneowner says:

    There seems to be a lot of offended folks out there lately. Many offended by such insignificant things I wonder if I’m not understanding it correctly. The actor who played Oberyn in Game of Thrones was criticized because he is not black. The (black) actress hired to play Aaliyah in an upcoming bio was criticized for not being black enough. And on and on. The internet has given voice to a lot of easily offended people. I supposed that’s good for them and that’s what makes this country great. You can say anything and they don’t cut off your thumbs. Everyone has their little soap box and I would be the last to pull it out from under them. I just don’t have to pay close attention. Everyone has their own viewpoint and some are actually very interesting. Some not so much. I did like the casting of the rebooted Star Trek movies, though. But the guy that plays Spock is gay! Is it even possible to be a gay Vulcan?


    • disperser says:

      I’m not sure this person was offended per se. But still, it is an issue for them.

      Now, I’m not a minority so I don’t know the mindset of people who are. I can imagine, I can sympathize, I can empathize, but I can’t know.

      That said, I can have an opinion about this one issue, namely the casting of actors in roles, and peripherally characters in fiction. The opinion I have is that that people creating fiction-related media should have the freedom to create however they see fit.

      I don’t think they “owe” anything to anyone.

      For example, many movies and shows use different settings than what are portrayed in the work itself. Northern Exposure was not shot in Alaska. Many movies that are set in US cities are shot in Canada, and sometimes Europe. Spaghetti Westerns were often shot in Spain. The audience has the right to enjoy the show or to hate the show, but not to demand how it is produced and shot.

      Is it fair to Alaska that aspects of life there were recreated in Washington State? Should it demand inclusion of its panoramic views in the show (too late now).

      As for Star Trek . . . I don’t know when you started following this blog, but:

      One of the problems I have with those movies is that they called them Star Trek and used the same character names. Then, aside the poor plots, the other issue I have is that the characters were not likable. At no time is Kirk redeemed as a person. He may “win”, but he’s still a jerk. Other than Bones, I found the rest annoying as well.

      Know that I am not a Trek fanatic (or even a huge fan). My objections are based purely on the way the characters were portrayed . . . and the storyline, or lack thereof.

      As for gay Vulcans, I agree . . . when have we ever seen a happy Vulcan?


  2. I agree with you – and I disagree with you. I haven’t watched Firefly, just to have mentioned that – and probably won’t. But I agree with you that an artist or in this case a director don’t have to use Asians in a movie such as you describe Firefly. It might feel more authentic if he or she does, but maybe authenticity isn’t his or her concern (and like you I have seen films about Vikings without Scandinavians that suck but not because there weren’t any Scandinavians mind you). There we are on the same level. But I also think anyone is entitle to raise his or her opinion about a piece such as Firefly and convey the feeling they were disappointed by the fact that there weren’t any Asian actors. You might not like it and the director might not like it. But, so what? It’s an opinion. Of course the artist have freedom to do whatever he or she does – that’s not the question. And just the same anyone else has the freedom to say whatever he or she means or feels about the piece. The artist can listen to the argument – or not.


    • disperser says:

      Everyone certainly have the right to their opinion . . . For instance, I don’t see the big deal with what many people claim are works of art (the Mona Lisa comes to mind, along with a few other notables and everything from Picasso).

      But . . . what if I were to write the following?

      “That Picasso guy! His work troubles me and makes me uncomfortable. The premise of his work is the depiction of humans, and yet other than disparate details (an ear here, a nose there, an eye way out of place) there is nothing remotely human about the aggregate. I’ve taken the liberty to look at his work, and rearrange the pieces in the correct order, smooth them out, proportion them correctly, and basically make them a much better representation of what he was trying to portray, more realistic . . . and don’t even get me started on Dali!”

      The point is that Huang did not dislike the final product. What he objected to was something personal to himself, specifically drawing on ethnic loyalty/preference.

      I personally find that strange, even as I do not wish to silence him (I would not have linked his piece if I did not want others to read it). I can even see a bit of his point regarding the premise, but the story is about those nine people; I don’t see the point of saying they should have been different people.

      More to my argument, why even take notice of the ethnicity issue? I’m not trying to put myself onto a pedestal; FSM knows I have many faults, but not one of them involves keeping ethnic/racial/gender score when I read a book, watch a movie, or watch a TV show. Certainly when I watch the many fine offerings from China (they make sweeping historical, if consistently tragic, sagas) I don’t yell out “Where the white folk at!?”

      I don’t know the right way to counter white-centric culture (across all media). Perhaps pointing it out and suggesting it be otherwise is the right way to go, but I would prefer it to be a natural process, whereas we integrate as humans. I don’t think we’ll get there by keeping score and being aware of the very thing I wish people would ignore.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment (and the artist, Joss, certainly ignored some things fans wanted . . . big time).

      By the way, telling me you haven’t, and probably won’t watch Firefly? . . . I’m struggling as I try to re-evaluate the kind of person you are. Of course, it would be much worse if you told me you watched the show and hated it; much, much worse.


      • To answer the last question first – it goes right to whom I am. I hardly ever watch TV-series. I just don’t feel I have time for it – and I hate being hang to dry between episodes. I do watch some, though, and my favourite to this day is Wired. But I watch them on DVD so I can see the whole season in one batch if I want to – and have time…

        To the rest I think I have already said most of what I believe in, but just to the white-centric culture; in my view particularly Hollywood has not been very open for anything but exactly that (not all the time though). For me that is exertion of power and arrogance, and I think it rightly may be pointed out.


        • disperser says:

          Firefly is 14 episodes. It aired in 2002 (one season).

          Available on DVD (and also streaming, depending where you are).

          While there is a slight arc (and undoubtedly would have built on it had the series continued), they can be viewed as stand-alone episodes. There was a subsequent movie made in 2005 (Serenity), but I would watch the series first.

          Of course, if science fiction, comedy, westerns, romance, drama, and mystery are not genres you are interested in, you probably won’t like this show . . . and I might think less of you. Perhaps it’s best you don’t watch it, this way I have an excuse to reserve judgment.

          In case you are interested:


        • How did you deduct that science fiction, comedy, westerns, romance, drama, and mystery aren’t genres I am interested in? :-)


        • disperser says:

          . . . you don’t look the type . . . yes, yes, I know; we should not judge on looks.


    • disperser says:

      By the way, did you click on the last link? The one right after “Meanwhile”?


      • I did. And I think it’s funny, but also has a good point. Of course Tolkien took his world as a base for making his stories. That doesn’t make him a racist, but maybe he could consider changing the white British kind of dominance in his next book. Yes, I know it will have to be written in a different world not accessible to us…


        • disperser says:

          See, I find that interesting . . . when you say “he could consider”, what do you mean by that?

          I ask because I write. I don’t go out of my way to describe how my characters look, so they could be anything. Someone sensitive to the topic we are discussing might choose to see certain characteristic (idioms, turns of phrase, etc) that might scream a certain ethnicity to them, but to me it would be transparent (my speech and writing is not something I tweak to make especially white, green, black, yellow, red, or any other color anyone might imagine). When I write characters I have very little image of them beyond gender and age. I do have a strong image of how they feel, and I think that is somewhat universal barring specific situations.

          I’ve been criticized for that lack of physical description, but to me it’s irrelevant . . . I’m trying to make them human and realistic. Someone anyone could relate to.

          Now, where I writing about life in the ghetto, and all my characters were white, well, I can see how someone might get their tail feathers in a bunch.

          On the other hand, I do know about whites living in poverty, and I know zero about other races living in poverty. Would it not be presumptuous of me to write “the other’ (lingo for writing outside your gender or ethnicity) when I have no basis of reference?

          And yes, I realize the visual medium conveys more information than writing.

          Anyway, not a big deal; I think we are pretty close in our views of how the world should be (but unfortunately isn’t) and we only differ on nuances.


        • I think your last paragraph is something we can agree upon. And I certainly don’t mean to tell you what or how you should read. But if your (or some of your) readers are complaining about lack of physical description, I think it could be worth consider the implied suggestion. And if you find that is not what you want, that’s what you should keep doing. I think that’s all I am saying. Whether it’s you or Tolkien.


  3. AnnMarie says:

    Well said . . . all you guys . . .

    . . . ah, and there we have it . . . no ladies . . . someone might take offense . . .

    . . . and round and round we go . . .

    By the way, thanks for the Meanwhile Tolkien.


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