In March of last year, producers announced a live-action film based on the popular Dynasty Warriors (Shin Sangokumusō) series. The tactical, hack-and-slash video games, based on the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese antiquity, use wuxia style to blend historical fact with supernatural fiction. Fans were understandably excited to see historical legends using martial arts to beat down entire legions of armies.
That was until the cast was announced.
Following on the trends set by recent movies, the production company decided that the best way to market a film set in 3rd-century China was to hire the biggest names in Hollywood. A leaked cast list revealed some major players and not a single one is Asian, let alone Chinese. Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and Emma Stone were among the leads, with rumors they were also courting some cast from 21 and The Last Airbender.
When asked about the casting, an anonymous spokesperson simply stated, “We’re not sure the US public was ready for a movie set in Asia with Asian leads. That was a bit too ethnic for current Americans, as evidence of their latest political and social woes.” When pressed further for an explanation on this particular cast, all they said was, “We figured we’d use actors who are familiar with Asian culture, to add authenticity. These are the best people for the job of portraying Chinese historical figures.”
There was some small support when the casting list revealed two African-American actors: Samuel L. Jackson and Hally Berry. That elation disappeared, however, when they discovered they would play Meng Huo and Zhu Rong, who are portrayed as barbarians from the south. When queried about this stereotypical casting, the company only said, “Both of these actors are familiar with race-swapping, so we figured they’d be comfortable portraying Whi… we mean, Asian roles.”
Whether Dynasty Warriors will succeed given the controversy is hard to tell. While many people have voiced their distaste for similar casting decisions in the past, modern American audiences are still full of fans who tell others to “get over it.” Audiences will have to wait until 2018 to find out whether the upset is worth it or not.
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