The second episode of our monstrous podcast has debuted. And boy is it a doozy!
This installment takes us deeper into the world of Monster New York and we are introduced to Sax Rohmer's character Fu Manchu. Or more accurately, our version of the character.
During these blog posts, we hope to give you insight into what led us to create the series, and this seems like a perfect place to start.
There existed a movement in literature and entertainment known as The Yellow Peril. It produced an insane amount of creative works (Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers, the above mentioned Fu Manchu). Mostly centered in the pulp corner of media, it was tinged with a blatant and obvious racism. I mean, just look at the name.
Character archetypes like the Dragon Lady, or Lotus Blossom, or the bumbling incompetent Asian man were invented in this era and spread like a volatile disease. All stemming from a fear of the Easternization of the Western World, of Chinese influence, of Asian sexuality and intelligence, and a general xenophobia.
Fu Manchu is a perfect representational embodiment of that problem. Portrayed as a genius, who could only use his intelligence for evil, Manchu's pursuit was always world domination. Appearing in well over 200 different productions of film, television, books, radio broadcasts, and theatrical performances...we could only find a handful of examples of Asian performers actually playing the character. The vast majority of the time, it was a white actor with intense makeup...putting on broad and caricature accents. A systemically racist impersonation of the racist notions that had fearfully produced the material in the first place.
This time in history was the equivalent of minstrel shows, of black face, of Birth of A Nation. And the vast majority of society seemed okay with it. For a while.
There was slowly an effort to strike back against the demonization of Asian cultures. Even the inception of the character Charlie Chan, master detective, was an effort to combat the stereotypes that the Yellow Peril had propagated. In recent years, there has been an effort to reclaim Manchu as something he had actually never been...a genuine Asian character. And that's sort of the side of the argument we're falling on.
It's fine that Manchu's a villain (not saying he is in our story, you'll have to listen and find out). Him having villainous qualities makes him more complex and interesting. The thing about Lando Calrissian from Star Wars that was so impactful, was his capability of being both heroic and vile....you know, like a real person. It was a rousing moment for the progress of black characters in genre pieces...and we're not saying that our Manchu will have anywhere near the same level of impact (but that's the fault of our writing, David Haddad's performance of the character deserves all the awards) but perhaps it's a step in the right direction.
There is a lack of Asian representation in media. This is a fact that cannot be argued. And for years, even the Asian characters that were written were cast white. Giving a faux semblance of Asian presence. Part of our mission in doing this series is to give those opportunities back. To allow Asian talent to reclaim what should have been theirs from the beginning and define it with the complexities they want to.
We are not race relation experts by any stretch of the imagination. We're just a couple of dorks who thought the character of Dr. Fu Manchu was cool, and would be even cooler if done right....and not just white.