Shaun and fellow podcasters Stephanie Williams (The Lemonade) and Lauren Warren (Nerds of Prey) discuss an interesting past week for Marvel’s next Netflix series, Iron Fist.
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Sometimes we’re able to get transcriptions to episodes, and it turns out that this is one of those times! Please enjoy this full text transcript of episode #154!
LAUREN: I’m not… I’m trying not to be a smug person, but holy shit!
SHAUN: Wait, what? I’m sorry, I follow you on Twitter, so I know a lie when I hear one.
LAUREN: I wasn’t actively trying to be – if you notice, I didn’t say anything until like 11:30. I spoke only in GIFs and memes. So I was like, I’m not going to say words until close to noon. But I had to go to lunch so I just broke it early. I broke my own embargo. My petty embargo, I broke it early.
SHAUN: (laughs) Petty embargo. That would be a, if you need to start another production company, I like that one for you.
STEPH: I like that too.
SHAUN: Petty Embargo Productions.
LAUREN: (laughs) The working title of another project, sure.
SHAUN: Alright, so, let’s see. I forgot – I just forgot how to podcast, so I’m just gonna try to do this. It’s been a long time. Hello, and welcome to ‘No, Totally!’ My name is Shaun, I am here in beautiful Koreatown in historic… Koreatown, near downtown Los Angeles. I’ll clean that up in post. No I won’t. I have guests with me tonight to talk about the initial reaction to the Marvel Netflix Iron Fist series. First I want to introduce you to Stephanie Williams, who is the host of The Lemonade podcast, and the co-host with Jamie Broadnax of Misty Knight’s Uninformed Afro. Hello, Stephanie.
SHAUN: Do you prefer Stephanie, or Steph…?
STEPH: Steph, Stephanie…you know, whatever you wanna do, it’s totally fine, it’s a wonderful day.
SHAUN: Nice. We also have, from the Nerds of Prey podcast, which, you’ve actually heard one of her fellow co-hosts on an episode of this show, her name is Lauren Warren. And she, in addition to being on one of my favorite podcasts of all time, also has a production company called Valid Victorian productions and, you are – what was it? You’re shooting in July?
LAUREN: Yes, yes we are.
SHAUN: Oh my goodness.
LAUREN: Yep. Happy early birthday to me.
SHAUN: That’s very, very exciting. So, this is a brand new production company, that’s already gonna do something soon.
LAUREN: Yep, we’re not wasting any time.
SHAUN: So when you have fanbros in your mentions saying “Why don’t you make your own?” you get to say…
LAUREN: Hey guess what, I did, now gimme some money!
STEPH: And then they’ll in turn, say, “I can’t. I still live with my mom.”
LAUREN: “Oh, no, I didn’t get my allowance.”
SHAUN: Then they disappear right quick.
LAUREN: That’s right!
SHAUN: So, uh, Iron Fist. Let’s jump right in, because Iron Fist, as a thing, has had a very interesting few days. This morning the reviews – the advance reviews – for the show have finally started coming out. The show itself doesn’t release for about nine days and – let’s, actually, can we take a step back and talk about Finn Jones, and his little…uh, Twitter pout? His little, “I’ma run off of Twitter because I’m scared of this woman of color questioning me?”
LAUREN: I still think that was some PR person just pulling a Dikembe Mutombo and just snatching, knocking the phone out of his hand. You know, “we have a show to sell in less than two weeks, and you’re sitting here, neck high in cultural discussion with no floaties on! So give me your phone.”
SHAUN: It was so….so, so, so weird. And I had just gotten done dragging comments that Finn Jones made – I’m frantically trying to look this up ’cause I’d forgotten I wanted to talk about this, but – he had made some comments in an interview about how, kind of unbidden, he just kind of stepped in and was like, “Oh, by the way, let me just tell you, just for no reason, just to say it, the show is very women-centric, and women are at the center of everything and they’re propping up these broken male characters.”
And I read that as very much reacting to the Asian American “feedback” that they’d been receiving about not casting an Asian American Iron Fist, and not really seeming to understand or deal with the cultural insensitivities and Orientalism. There was certainly an aspect of it that was very Feminist 101 debunking, right? The idea that, like, women, or something that’s powerfully feminist, is when women do all the emotional and mental labor for men? Which, correct me if I’m wrong, but is that feminist?
STEPH: No. The exact freakin’ opposite.
LAUREN: It’s the opposite, yeah. (laughs) I mean, do we want equality? Yes, but we’re not meant to be mules. We’re in no way, shape, or form meant to be mules. That is the complete opposite of feminism. “You’re supposed to carry the burden, carry the load, and we are supposed to have equal opportunity.” That….yeah. I’m not sure where he was going with that.
STEPH: What happened was, he googled, right? And instead of, he said, “I’m not gonna go for the first thing. Let me scroll down. In fact, let me go to the next page.” He went to the next page, clicked on that, and then, boom.
SHAUN: So, his understanding of feminism needs a bit of a tune-up, along with his understanding of Orientalism. Basically, he’s a white man. Right? Like, there’s no…it just seems like there’s nothing inside that wrapper. Like, he’s a white man and he’s giving us all his thoughts, and that’s what white men tend to sound like. So I’m looking, right now… we had a very… it was an interesting conversation because Finn Jones, out of everyone who was dragging him throughout the day on that, he kind of took issue specifically with a woman of color, who works for our friends Geeks of Color. And I…do either of you know how to pronounce this name? Because I don’t and I feel terrible.
LAUREN: I don’t, but I think you should give it a shot. Because it’s your show, your house.
STEPH: Mhm. What she said.
SHAUN: That’s convenient. I, so…I feel terrible. [Asyiqin Haron] It’s A-S-Y-I-Q-I-N. I’m sure I’m butchering it, and I just wanna…
LAUREN: We apologize. I’ve been referring to her as ‘the young lady.’
SHAUN: Sure, yeah. I just…I just wanna at least get the attempt out there.
LAUREN & STEPH: Yeah.
SHAUN: Yeah, I’m sorry. We’ll get in touch with her directly and see if we can get the pronunciation, because, I… that’s always my issue. Okay, anyway. So, Finn Jones decided to respond to her specifically, and I mean, it always – I think the two of you have some expertise in this situation, it does kind of always seem to be a woman of color that eventually gets responded to when one of these people, kind of, loses it on Twitter. Do you have any comments on that?
LAUREN: Well, because, how often do you quote-tweet someone and actually get a response back?
SHAUN: Especially a celebrity, yeah.
LAUREN: Yeah. Sometimes it’s just a way of sharing something with your timeline, and opening a discussion to them. Very rarely do you actually get a response back. And I think her, with her initial statement like, “Are you for real? Really?”
SHAUN: Basically, yeah.
LAUREN: I would have never interpreted that as an invitation to start having word-vomit about sociology.
SHAUN: Yeah. Absolutely.
LAUREN: Yeah. But how often, how often does that happen? You know, oftentimes, depending on the subject – and Steph can attest to this – but the minute we start talking about anything comic- or nerd-related, that’s when the “Well, Actually” crew will roll up and start a whole new thread about what they think we got wrong. So, yeah.
STEPH: It’s fascinating.
LAUREN: It’s always us, on the receiving end.
STEPH: And then I’m thinking, right, she definitely wasn’t the first person to quote-tweet what he, you know, that post that he put up about diversity being important, and I’m pretty sure her “Are you for real?” is probably, possibly the tamest he got. Because, I mean, let’s be real, we’ve been talking about this for… it feels like eons. And it’s a hot-button issue for a lot of folk, so, you know… you can’t go quoting that, knowing that he took the part as just someone taking a job, you can’t fault someone… no, you can.
But he took a job, he needs a paycheck, I understand that, and I get it. But, you know, the shitstorm that has been surrounding this, and the topics of representation, the topics of inclusion and diversity and so on, and this is the first time, really, that we’ve heard you speak out about any of this, in the past what, two weeks or so, and the show’s getting ready to drop in what, a week and a half? And this is the most active we seen you speaking out on these things?
The article, Shaun, you were talking about, and most recently, I guess, a couple of days before, he tweeted Riz Ahmed, where he was talking about not being divisive and so on. Like, a bunch of gaslighting trigger words. So I find it hard that, you know, he just didn’t know. And then, on top of that, that her saying “Are you for real?” was, you know, the meanest thing that he heard that day, that he read that day, ’cause I know it’s not. But it was probably the last straw, and then on top of the fact that she was a woman, and a woman of color, it’s probably like “Well, I’m gonna respond.”
LAUREN: Of course, in record time too, she becomes the villain.
STEPH: Exactly. And I heard someone saying, like you know, because of the way, because she responded with “Are you for real?” the argument was that that was a quote, unquote “attack.” And…
LAUREN: I remember, yeah, seeing the phrase “altercation.” “He got into an altercation.” (laughs)
SHAUN: Right. Someone, actually, I believe to you, someone tweeted to you, Lauren, that she was cyber-bullying him.
LAUREN: Yes! She was harassing… “Finn, I hope you reported her for harassment.”
SHAUN: (despairing laugh) Oh my goodness…
LAUREN: And they put Jack [Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter] in the tweet, too.
SHAUN: Yeah, yup. It’s amazing. There is this thing where, you know, he’s getting it kind of from all sides, and… you can never really say anything concrete about it, ’cause who knows what’s going through their heads? But given the fact that, women especially, and especially women of color, are marginalized and forgotten in our culture so often, they are – you know, you all are – easier victims. Like, you’re easier targets.
People don’t expect others to, kind of, stand up for you, right? And that’s one of the reasons why you can become such an easy target. Like, you know, if I was saying the same thing, as an East Asian man with the privilege of white proximity, if someone came after me then maybe they might get some pushback based on me having that white proximity privilege.
And also that I’m a man, you know, I might have more back-up than a woman of color is perceived to have. So, just, kind of, right off the bat, going after someone who is a woman of color is just incredibly bad optics, and incredibly bad politics, if you are someone in a prominent position who is trying to make the argument that they understand these issues, even a little bit.
STEPH: Mm, optics matter.
LAUREN: But it makes me wonder, too, like… I’ve been really trying to be understanding, like, maybe it’s not just him. Maybe it’s the people around him. The PR people, too, you know what I mean? And I just feel like a lot of people are just so out of touch.
LAUREN: So out of touch. And, like you said, they’re googling things, they’re skipping to page two, they’re picking and choosing words to throw into these statements, and it just comes out so. Tone. Deaf.
LAUREN: So incredibly tone deaf.
SHAUN: Yeah. And then, just to throw back to Tilda Swinton, when they’re not googling they’re contacting, you know, Asian Google, by giving Margaret Cho a phone call, for some reason.
STEPH: (sigh) That whole thing. I mean, for her to turn around and then release those emails, or whatever, and it’s just like… that pissed me off so much, because it’s like, you’re being one of those just “nice white ladies,” and then here, like, you’re still kind of putting this woman in a position to explain something to you. And then, it’s just like, “well, we explain these things to you, and then you still really don’t understand and get it.”
STEPH: I mean, what did Scarlett Johansson just say, she took the role because–
SHAUN: (tired groan)
STEPH: –it was “more of a Feminist thing than race?”
SHAUN: Yeah. Yeah, “it’s more about Feminism than race.”
STEPH: Right? Than what??
LAUREN: See? There’s that page 2 googlin’.
STEPH: So when actors go in, and they take these roles that are gonna be filled with controversy for whatever reason, mainly because of the lack of inclusion and the fact that it really could have went to someone else of color, and then they’re come off so generic, and so tone deaf, and so missing the point. What else do you expect?
You’re really setting yourself up for failure. He had to… I mean, if he didn’t know, he needs to fire his publicist, because if you’re sitting up and you’re tweeting off about being divisive, and we all need to act as one, and then you turn around and you also tweet out about how diversity is important and you’re, you know, quote-tweeting Riz Ahmed, what do you expect?
Either you should, possibly, just stay quiet about the situation, if you aren’t fully knowledgeable about what it is people are going to be coming at you with? I’m not saying you can’t say anything, but if you say something stupid, then you gotta be open to the fact that you’re gonna get checked.
LAUREN: Yeah, I hated seeing around election time when people would tell celebrities, “Oh, don’t talk politics! Just be an actor!”
LAUREN: They are also a citizen; they have every right to speak politics. It affects them too.
LAUREN: However, and you need to put an asterisk next to this… semi-colon, however, comma…. when it comes to a topic such as representation, diversity, inclusion, appropriation versus appreciation… these are things that need to be well-researched in advance. Your speaking points either in a note on your phone or a freakin’ index card in your back pocket, because you get one shot to get this right. One shot.
And there is no recuperating from this. You get one shot to make that first impression on, “Do you understand why this is a problem? Do you understand why we’re not mad at you per se, but the role that you have? Do you understand why this is problematic?”
And for someone like Scarlett, do you understand how, as a producer, you could have changed things? Because she is producing that movie too, so she wants to line her pockets and get her shine, when she could have picked one or the other: “I’m gonna line my pockets, but I’m gonna give a chance for someone else to have the shine.” But that didn’t happen.
STEPH: (laugh) That never would happen.
SHAUN: Right, and especially given Scarlett’s already known history making movies that hear from “the Asian peoples.” I forgot the name of that ridiculous movie…
SHAUN: Yeah? All the commercials were just her killing Asian men.
LAUREN: Yeah it was ‘Lucy’. And I, I…mm. Mm.
SHAUN: Yeah, so this happened a little bit before: Finn Jones released a statement on Monday, and I think, over the weekend is when all of this stuff had kind of blown up, and then, fast-forward to today, which, we’re talking on March 8th, and we have the embargo ending for advance reviews for Iron Fist and… guess what? They’re not that good!
SHAUN: So the reason that I wanted both of you on this show, on this episode, is because the two of you, along with other people, but I think the two of you have been very shining lights on this. You have been very vocal… I was gonna say “on behalf of;” not so much that, but “in solidarity with” the Asian American community.
We’re all in this together: representation, trying to get people to see us for who we are, and present our stories and our selves, and our faces, on screen, and as an Asian American man I feel very lucky to have people like you in my life, and on my Twitter feed, that have been, just… Any time any Iron Fist thing comes out, I know I can count on both of you, for, not only for really solid points that make people think about these issues in a more conscious way, but also just hilarious GIFs and hilarious quotes. Stephanie, in particular… just these long form stories, about imagined episodes of Iron Fist, where it’s basically the “Gentri-Fist” series.
LAUREN: (Laughing hard) What was my favorite? Oh, “He is in a stance! What do I do?”
SHAUN: So amazing. Just taking all the publicity photos and adding quotes to them. And then Lauren, of course, is the GIF queen of Twitter. Lauren’s first reaction this morning to all of this was just a long string of animated GIFs of ‘I told you so.’ So, you did not let me down, again, this morning. I just, before we get into it, I just wanted to thank both of you. I think I have, but on the show. Live, here.
LAUREN: No thanks needed.
STEPH: Yeah, no thanks needed at all.
SHAUN: You’re both amazing, and I’m so happy to have you both here. So, let’s do this. We were talking about this before we started recording and… the headlines are delicious. Tell me what your favorite headlines have been, of the advance Iron Fist reviews.
STEPH: Oh, I mean, I don’t even know. Where do I even begin? Alright, this one’s from Uproxx. It’s, ‘The Limp Iron Fist is the first complete misfire of Netflix’ Marvel Shows‘.
SHAUN: Did he say “limp?”
STEPH: Yeah, he said “limp.” “The Limp.” Damn.
SHAUN: Well, you had to try and follow Luke Cage, and maybe he didn’t… measure up?
STEPH: Can’t be faked!
LAUREN: I liked Comic Alliance, I think, and it was ‘Like Batman Begins, but if Bruce Wayne was an idiot man-child’
SHAUN: (laughing) Oh, these are amazing. So, my favorite was a tweet, and, of course, I closed the window right before I started mentioning this. But, yeah. I’m gonna need a second to find it. But what are we liking most about the recurring themes in these headlines? You know, even if they’re not calling out the inappropriate whiteness of everything that’s going on here, what… I guess, what makes us really stand up and cheer about these headlines, as opposed to, maybe, let’s say, the ones about Scarlett and Ghost in the Shell and those kinds of things?
STEPH: Ooh, I’ll go first. If you notice the irony in this, is that a lot of these reviews, for the most part, are lacking diversity as far as the writers are concerned. And they’ve been a lot of white guys and some white women, and, usually… I feel like, for me, that fact to me is just delicious.
Because now, I mean, people, trolls, will still find ways to justify whatever, but it’s not (dudebro voice), “Oh the people of color, they’re upset because it’s not an Asian American, so they’re just writing bad reviews” and it’s, like, no; your mama, or your auntie, or your sister, is writing this review, or your daddy, so… I mean, that right there, that struck me, because I did pay attention to that, for whatever reason, and I thought that was delicious.
SHAUN: Yeah, absolutely. No, that’s a huge point, because you’re right. One of the things that comes up, time and time again, is, “Well, you’re just a small group of people that are complaining about things, and you complain about everything anyway,” and yeah, it is a problem that the vast majority of these critics are white men, but in this case it does create that interesting dynamic, where you have white men calling out, you know, essentially, whiteness. Do you have any thoughts, Lauren?
LAUREN: Well, I was searching for anyone– to piggy back off what Steph was saying, I was searching for the phrase, “real racist” or “racist,” for that same reason. And I actually tweeted, “well, if a white person says something’s too white, are they racist?” I’m not sure how this works. So then, it becomes, “well, you just don’t know anything about comics”. You know, they throw those old arguments in.
But what I took away from it, because of the way my brain works, I’m looking at the critiques about the writing, and I’m looking at the critiques about the route that they chose to take. The fact that they do like a gaslighting-type episode so early in the season – I think it was episode 2 – you know, “none of this really happened, it was all a dreeeeeeam…” That’s lazy.
SHAUN: What? Really?
LAUREN: That’s lazy writing. You have all of these tools available, and this is the route you go? I just watched that in Star Trek, from 1998. Have we not moved past these lazy storytelling devices? And there, sometimes you can forgive bad dialogue, if the actors onscreen are worth looking at, or if you care about them, but also, a common theme was, not only was the dialogue bad, I don’t care about who I’m looking at. I don’t care who I’m looking at on screen. Unless it was Jessica.
LAUREN: That was it. So, not only did he sound like an idiot, but I don’t care. I don’t care about him. They gave a couple of lines and I thought, “wow, okay. That’s it?” The dialogue sort of clunks and thuds, right at your feet.
STEPH: And then another thing– I forget what review because there’s just so many of them– but they mention how, because Lauren mentioned lazy writing, it’s not like they’re pulling from amazing source material. Because– all tea, all shade– it’s not like the Iron Fist… I’ve gone back and I’ve had to read this for Misty Knight’s Uninformed Afro, because Misty doesn’t have her own damn book, so she shows up in Iron Fist a lot. So I had to go back and read Iron Fist, and, you know? There are some good stories, I will say that, but for the most part, it doesn’t work.
It didn’t really work then, and it definitely does not work now. And because the writing is lazy, and they’re pulling, they’re deciding to pull, from the source material, it’s like, see, y’all didn’t really want to win. Because Iron Fist? That requires some creative writing. That requires a fresh take. And I’m just, really befuddled, that they decided not to go that route, and instead decided to stick to that source material that is not really poppin.’ I mean, hell, Luke Cage couldn’t really stick to the source material. Not to the comics from the 70s.
SHAUN: Yeah, absolutely, and I think it’s important– one thing that you’re both saying– just to clarify for people: We wouldn’t enjoy, for example, a stand-up act that was just 90 minutes of somebody holding their eyes back so that they’re slanted and closed, and mimicking one of those ‘Chinamen’ accents, right?
And, obviously, that would be offensive, and obviously there’s all that, but also it just wouldn’t be funny to watch someone do that, for 60 minutes, or whatever. And I think that goes a lot to what you’re saying, Steph, where it’s not even necessarily that these tropes are harmful, which they really can be, and are, in my opinion. But it’s also that these– and this is what Lauren was saying too– it’s just that these stories are old.
SHAUN: We’ve seen them so many times before, and there’s not… for whatever reason, some stories, like the stories of white people being better users of culture than the people who created that culture, for some reason those stories don’t get revamped over time because– I don’t know, just throwing it out there– maybe because people think that’s a constantly-fresh story? Because there’s always a hunger for whiteness to be centered
And, like, we’re finding out, like, Moonlight wins Best Picture– there’s a whole debacle there– but, at the end of the day, that was a story that was nothing about whiteness, and people responded to it. We’re getting a situation here, in Iron Fist, and, to greater and lesser degrees, in these other things we’ve seen, like Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange, The Great Wall, where whiteness is somehow centered, even though we’ve been telling them over and over again, “This is the central problem. Nothing else.” This… not, none of the deflections they’re trying to make us think it’s about. None of the words they’re trying to put in our mouths are the actual things we’re talking about, because, what we said is what we said, right? So.
LAUREN: (laughs) Right!
SHAUN: So, like, not being able to accept that the centering of whiteness is the issue, here. It, just… results in this kind of, really… obviously, this take, that I would call “ignorant” on Finn Jones’s part, but also these headlines that are, essentially, kind of, like… the joy that I find in them, personally, is that they’re taking a show to task for being so ignorant about itself.
LAUREN: And this is a tough year, and we’re only in March, but it’s been a tough year for that, already. I know Ben Affleck’s Live by Night lost $75 million for the studio. Matt Damon’s The Great Wall lost $75 million…
LAUREN: …for his studio. And now, this. Now, it’s like, okay, in one column you have, “But bankable stars! Bankable stars!” and then, in this column, you have, “But he’s always been white! Always been white!” and now, in the third column, it’s, “But we’re not watching it, are we?”
No one’s watching your movies, and I’m pretty sure… you know, lemme just say this. We don’t know Netflix ratings, because they guard them closer and better than nuclear codes, which is fine. But, I don’t think this show is going to break Netflix, like Luke Cage did.
LAUREN: There’s no option to choose, “are you hate-watching this? Or watching it because you enjoy it?” If you watch, it you watch it. But I do not think it’s going to have the legs, and longevity, like the other shows did. And Finn will work again. He will be fine. But I think, and I hope, and I’m going to be very optimistic, that these creators, and that these showrunners, and writers, and studio heads, are realizing that this is not a small dent in their pocket, this constant centering of whiteness. This is going to cost you money, and you may not be able to recover. So you need to start making some serious changes in how you all operate.
SHAUN: Yeah, absolutely. That’s so well-put. And to go back to what you were saying in the beginning, about, “oh, we need a known quantity, we need a Matt Damon, we need a Scarlett Johansson,” yeah, because Finn Jones is a household name? Like, nobody… when I talk to people about Iron Fist, and they’re like, “Who’d they cast?” I say “Finn Jones,” and they’re, like, “Who?” Nobody knows who Finn Jones is. I’m sorry.
LAUREN: “If you watch Game of Thrones, he got blown up!” “So did a lot of other people?” “Well, you know, I can’t help you.”
SHAUN: “He was the white guy in Game of Thrones who died. Remember him?”
STEPH: “Who’s that?” “White Guy 52 on page 27…”
LAUREN: Right. “British import number 53.” “Oh, yes! I remember him!”
SHAUN: Yeah. One by one, all the arguments are coming crashing down, and God, I love the fact that The Great Wall didn’t do well. I want to go back and, just, stick on that point, and let it marinate in my head for a second.
SHAUN: (Happy sigh)
STEPH: And so, that is awesome, and that is great, and then you have folks that say, “Well, you know, that hurts everyone that was involved,” and it does. But what were we talking about? Protest is not supposed to be…
LAUREN: Not supposed to make you feel comfortable.
STEPH: …it’s not supposed to make you comfortable. And it is unfortunate, that that is the case, but changes are not going to happen if these movies, and these shows, continue to be successful. Now, I am sorry for the folks that worked on The Great Wall, and it didn’t do well, but I really hope that, moving forward, they stop casting white folks for these roles.
Because, for what? And that’s the problem, and I get a little irritated, because people get upset and say, you know, stop beating a dead horse with the Finn Jones casting, but you’re not seeing past that. It’s upsetting, because him being cast is meaning that they’re just gonna keep with these white-centered characters. That’s the bigger problem.
SHAUN: It’s not only that, “beating a dead horse,” or whatever, because the thing is when these movies are made, when these TV shows are made, there are stages to the advertising, and when a new batch of stuff drops from Iron Fist, you gotta expect us to have a reaction, right?
It’s not, like, “Oh, I said this last time, so I’m good. I’ll just let the show come out, and I’ll just let them advertise, and market, and I’ll keep my mouth shut, ’cause I said it three months ago.” No. That’s not… for someone that wants to jump in, with one foot, into this debate, and they have no stakes, then yeah, I can see maybe doing that. I don’t know, did I just subtweet the Women’s March? By saying that?
STEPH: You know what, Shaun? You just brought up an excellent point, though, because you know, you don’t want somebody just to show up once, say their little spiel, and then disappear in obscurity because it’s been said. Like, no, I’m going to remind you every single time. It’s something that I have to take the opportunity to do, because if I don’t, you’re going to forget. I’d rather you be sick and tired of me talking about something than for me to just… be quiet, it happens, then I still gotta hear, “how come you guys weren’t saying anything about it?” You know, it’s a catch-22, either way it goes, so I guess I’d rather be insufferable.
SHAUN: Or, “amazing.” Amazing is the word I would use, instead of insufferable. But, yeah, it is really a catch-22. They’ll really come up with anything. But… ugh. Before I devolve this into reacting verbally against the trolls, which– they’re honestly just not worth the time– I wanna change direction, just a little bit, and ask both of you… and, let me know if this question is not comfortable, or whatever. We can deal with this however you want.
You’re both Black women. Black Panther is coming out. Luke Cage has come out, and huge props, especially to Cheo Hodari Coker, the showrunner, who really made that a Black show. Not just a show starring Black people, but a very Black-centric show. Marvel seems to have understood the push for diversity and representation in a certain way, and if I can just be very direct: it’s Black men, right? It’s Luke Cage, Black Panther.
There were incredibly strong, incredibly complex Black women in Luke Cage and we expect the same from Black Panther. I guess I want to ask a number of questions, but first of all, let me ask: why, as Black women… I think a lot of people could say something, like, “Hey, you’re getting your representation. Marvel clearly cares about you. Why do you give a shit about this other group? Why are you going so hard for Asians against a company that has already started showing progress towards you?”
STEPH: Because if we’re not all getting represented, then nobody’s really winning.
LAUREN: Exactly. It’s not a competition, right? “Well, I got mine, you gotta wait for yours. I reached the finish line first, so screw you.” Absolutely not. How the hell can you make progress if you don’t all bond together and try to reach that line together?
LAUREN: This is not a race. This is not a competition. What you’re trying to do is enact institutional changes to an industry that has been sluggish to react to how the real world looks and works. And, we can’t keep… you can’t keep the “crabs in a barrel” syndrome when we’re all after the same thing. You gotta pool your resources.
STEPH: And I just had a thought. And, this might be cynical, but… what if someone in Marvel, or, just, any studio company, has enough sense to know how things kinda work, in a messed up way, where it is the “crabs in a barrel” syndrome, right? And they think, “Hey, if we give inclusion and diversity to this one group of folks, they’ll shut up. And then they’ll probably not champion for the other group of folks, who are probably still lacking that.’
LAUREN: Oh, so they’re counting on us to be jerks to each other.
STEPH: I mean, I wouldn’t put it past them. I honestly wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. Because…
LAUREN: It’s like representation Hunger Games!
STEPH: It really is representation Hunger Games, and… uh, oh. Somebody write that down. That could definitely be a really great Netflix show.
SHAUN: Starring Finn Jones.
STEPH: Yeah, no, I think that’s some BS. With any movement, liberation in itself, nobody is free until we all are. And the same thing goes for representation. We’re not all getting what we are just due… if we’re not all getting our just dues… it’s not just some folks.
And I don’t know what Marvel, somehow, thinks, that by giving… by highlighting all of these Black, male characters. Luke Cage does a great job of centering Black women, and women of color, period, but by just, kind of, ‘Hey, you guys are there, we’re writing you, and you’re there,” but, no. I still want more. And I would like to have trans characters, gay characters, queer, I mean, all of that. I’m not gonna be happy until I see that.
SHAUN: I think there’s certainly this perception that people, kind of, get in their corners and stay there. And one of the thousands of reasons that I love both of you is that neither of you takes that shit and is okay with it. Like both of you said, we’re all fighting for the same thing, and we’ve got to be together on it.
And actually, what you said, Steph, what you said about Marvel potentially knowing they could pit two groups against each other: that’s literally the basis of the model minority myth for Asian Americans, right? To pit us against Black folk, but also darker folk. Native Americans, Indigenous people, even brown Asians. So, that’s been a part of the white playbook for a long time, so I completely would not be surprised if that were the case.
And then, also, with representation Hunger Games, it’s worth noting that Finn Jones knocked himself out when he deleted Twitter. Like, that’s the equivalent of getting knocked out of the representation Hunger Games.
LAUREN: Yeah, pretty much.
SHAUN: I don’t care that he came back. He gave up. That’s death.
LAUREN: He came back and then posted like a Youtube video about “finding your chi.”
STEPH: Yeah! Like, what the hell?
LAUREN: Which slayed me. I’m pretty sure somebody was like, “Okay, so what you gotta do, is you gotta put something neutral, and post something nice. Here, post this video, they’ll love it.”
STEPH: And I feel some kinda way about that, too. I really do, because he’s not…
LAUREN: Listen, hire us! As foolery-preventers. There’s a much better term for that, I know.
SHAUN: No, I don’t think there is.
LAUREN: But we can tell you, “don’t post that.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t say that.” “Your audience won’t like that; you should tweet this instead.” You need to train the trainers. You need to train the people who are supposed to know how to connect with the audience. You need to tell them who their audience really is.
And I’m pretty sure the people surrounding this program don’t know what a “Black Twitter” is, don’t know Asian Twitter and Black Twitter form a Voltron that they weren’t ready for, and that’s what happened to Finn.
SHAUN: Ahh, a hundred percent.
STEPH: And it’s an unfortunate casualty, but you know what? When you take that role you sign up for a lot of stuff.
LAUREN: You do!
STEPH: So, I mean, that’s… hey.
LAUREN: I know I even said on your show, Steph, when you and I spoke about the trailer, I said, “You know what? I got no issues with the kid. He’s tryna get a check, and I get that. He was probably sold a bad bill of goods.” You know, “This is a great role for you, blah, blah, blah.” You know what? If I’m young, and I’m hungry, and I’m trying to get my credits up, I might believe any and every thing somebody tells me.
LAUREN: And I gotta look at the people around him, because these are the professionals– these are the so-called experts– the executives, right? I put more onus on them, I guess, because I’m older, and I expect more from older folk, to advise these young folks, like, “You shouldn’t be doing this.” They should, just, have a little bit more sense.
And I’m so optimistic– I really need to stop that– but I just feel like… he probably got sold a bad bill of goods, and now he’s just out there, sort of flailing in the wind. And I even said, “Whoever’s letting him tweet without speaking points? Shame on you.” Because you clearly either don’t care, or you’re asleep.
SHAUN: Well, here’s the thing though: when the trailers started coming out, and the publicity shots started coming out, they really did seem to confirm everything that we were afraid of, as far as how this show was gonna happen, and then when Finn got on Twitter, he did it again, right? Because one thing I hear a lot, and I’m sure you two hear a lot, is, “Oh, you gotta give people a chance, they’re not racist at heart, blah, blah, blah.”
But the thing is, when Finn came out and tweeted that stuff, and he gave his statement to, I believe it was to Deadline, on Monday, after all this stuff had happened over Twitter, he did use language, like, saying, “We can’t all be divisive,” or whatever. That shit… those are well-known microaggressions towards marginalized people who are, really, just speaking about their experience, when they’re confronted with this kind of culture.
LAUREN & STEPH: Mmhm.
SHAUN: So, for him to, just, fall directly into this, kind of, Trumpian language, to try and shout down a woman of color who tried to bring these issues to his attention, guess what? He is proving that he’s got some issues with white supremacy, with race, with all this stuff.
I don’t like calling people “racist,” I like calling actions racist, because if people get this whole idea about, like, you are or you are not something, and that’s not provable, and so it’s best to stay away from that. But the things Finn Jones has said over the past week have been extraordinarily racist, and that might be in a dog-whistle kind of way… that might be in a way where, people of color, especially, have heard this so many times that we know that it’s racist, but it’s, you know, it wouldn’t be considered “racist” in, kind of, white society, but he’s showing us who he is. So, at a certain level, yeah, I understand blaming the publicist, and blaming the people around him, but…
LAUREN: Yeah, he’s still a grown-up.
SHAUN: …in the last few days, he’s branched out, and started using these words and terms on his own, and so now, he’s gotta be held responsible. And I’m trying to think: who did not come out and show their ass? Who, just… when you think about Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johannson, “feminism over race,” she showed her ass, right? They got C. Robert Cargill, the co-writer on Doctor Strange, talking about, “Oh, we did this ’cause of China,” which makes no sense whatsoever: showed his ass, right? All these situations where, very early on, communities were like, “Hey, it looks like you’re about to fuck something up. You might, you might wanna just…”
LAUREN: “Have you considered not doing that?”
SHAUN: Yeah. And then, the pushback comes, like, “Oh, wait until you know more about it,” and you’re, like, “I kinda don’t have to,” because every single time in the past, they have come out, and shown that they are exactly who we thought they were.
LAUREN: I know, every time I touch a hot stove, no matter which hand I use, it’s gonna burn.
STEPH: And then that whole, “wait and see.” Are y’all..? I mean, no. Like, no. No.
LAUREN: “I know I lit the house on fire, but let’s just wait and see if it really all burns down.” No. It’s fire. That’s what fire does. We know what fire does. What are we waiting for?
STEPH: “Wait and see” is… I’m starting to really notice when people say it, and the types of people who say it is very interesting. Because I feel like there is a correlation. It’s always, just… it’s just interesting to me.
LAUREN: “Wait and see” is just as bad as, “to be fair,” or, “I bet you didn’t know about it before,” or, “you don’t really know what this is about.” And now, you know what, Shaun? I’m thinking about what you said, and you’re right.
At the end of the day, he’s responsible for what he says, and, ultimately, what he does. And now, all I see is that picture of him, standing next to Luke, Jessica, and Matt, with his shirt open, and his finger on his nipple. That’s the person I see. When I read these tweets, and I see that picture, I’m like, “Yup. This is gonna be a mess.” So, these fans are going to get the show they deserve.
LAUREN: Because, out of every show, every sort of nerd thing that I’ve seen on these Twitter streets– online in general– I have to say this particular fandom– the Iron Fist fandom– is particularly trashy.
SHAUN: Oh, yeah.
LAUREN: And there is no discourse. It’s like speaking with Trump supporters.
LAUREN: There is no discourse. it goes from, “Hello, good morning,” to “You’re a bitch!” in one tweet. One tweet! These fans, they think they’ve got the biggest “gotcha” on you.
SHAUN: Oh, yes.
LAUREN: “I bet you’ve never even heard of him.” And then some poor soul got upset with me last night because I out-gotcha’d his gotcha. “I bet you didn’t know of it before Netflix, and I bet I knew of it before you were an itch in your daddy’s boxers.”
SHAUN: I saw that. That was amazing.
LAUREN: And then he was like (dudebro voice) “Oh, you insulted me.” Well, no, no I didn’t. See, you thought you were going to school me? And, who was it, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, just did a review of the show, and she said, “You wouldn’t believe the ten billion people in my mentions who just informed me that Danny was white, like I didn’t know.”
SHAUN: Oh, I got a bunch of that today. Danny’s white? Didn’t know that! Oh, okay.
LAUREN: Oh! That just negates everything I said!
SHAUN: Yeah, sorry.
LAUREN: Yup, my bad.
SHAUN: Whiteness makes everything better. Okay.
STEPH: Right. ‘Cause I’m like, what does that matter? What does that matter?
SHAUN: As long as we just continue the tradition of racism, I guess then it’s fine. If racism has a tradition…
LAUREN: Why change it?
SHAUN: Yeah, exactly. You know, it is really interesting, and I’d love to talk to you both more about this… I think this is probably too large a topic for this particular episode, but we’re at these different stages, with representation, and I think there is something about people not… white people not being used to Asian Americans actually having something to say about these things.
And so, the backlash to us does take somewhat of a different tone, and I kind of referenced this earlier, but their self-righteousness is so increased, because they, they don’t believe that they’re going to get pushback, if that makes sense? And, again, not to… I’m not trying to do this “Oppression Olympics” thing, but, for instance, if you go at the Black community, and you say, “Oh, this complaint about lack of representation for Black people is so bullshit, because XYZ,” you know you’re going to get chased after.
You know there’s a large faction– there are people on TV, and people who are famous, celebrities– who are in these TV shows, or movies, that could potentially come after you, but if you go after someone who is calling for Asian American representation, and speaking out against Asian American erasure? Really there’s just Ming Na Wen, Constance Wu and, like, occasionally John Cho will come out and say something.
Margaret Cho does say a lot of things, but she doesn’t get covered quite as much. Point being, that there’s not… it’s not seen as something that you’ll potentially face a lot of pushback for. I guess, quickly, what are your thoughts on that? Because I did lay a lot out there.
LAUREN: You know what it reminds me of? And, I think, Steph, you might know: The Color Purple. When Miss Anne… who was the woman Oprah worked for? Harper worked for? And Sophia worked for? And she was, like, “I’ve always been good to you people! I’ve always been good to you people!”
And I think that’s what that is. That pushback that you get is, like, “Well, I’ve always been good to you, and I’ve always kept you close by my side; how dare you repay me this way, by speaking up for what you want! I’ve always been good to you people!” And, we get it, you get it, the Latinx community gets it, the LGBTQ community gets it, “we gave you a walk-on. Is that not sufficient?” No, it’s not. Until it’s reversed, until, you know, whiteness is the token, then that’ll be okay.
STEPH: And on a more horrible level, I think that it’s, because, I don’t know… I think it speaks to how white people, in general, view the Asian community. I really do. I really think it speaks volumes to that. And, I mean, we could talk about a word that I’m about to butcher because I’m tired tonight: Orientalism?
SHAUN: Yep, you got it.
LAUREN: Good job!
STEPH: Usually I can say that– it just rolls off the tongue– but I’ve had too much wine. But I think that, because of that, and just the history of Asian Americans in America, it, just, speaks volumes to how they really actually view you all. And I’ve been noticing that; like Lauren said, “Oh, we’ve always been good to you,” because some Asians are white-passing. So they just, kinda, “Well, we’ve accepted you as one of us, so how dare you say anything?”
LAUREN: Right. And “it got bad, but did you die? No.”
STEPH: And I think that’s something to really pay attention to, ’cause that actually crossed my mind the other day, and I was like, “that’s fucked up.”
SHAUN: Yeah. You know what, I think it… and again, it’s not an effort on my part to say, “here’s why pushback against Asian Americans is so much worse, and harder to deal with, than pushback to Black things.” You know, that’s not what I’m saying, but all of our communities… we stand in solidarity with one another, but at the same time– not “but,” AND at the same time– we are all perceived differently by the standing culture of whiteness. So, the ways that we’re going to be reacted to, and the ways we need to react to those reactions, are not going to be the same across the board.
And, so, I think it’s something really interesting to think about, you know, especially when I find myself tweeting about a Black issue, and getting way to the edge of my lane– hopefully without straying completely out of it, but getting right onto that line between my lane and somebody else’s– that the language that I’m using, and the ideas that I’m putting forth, are not appropriative of the language and the work of Black activism, and that kind of thing. So, yeah, I think… this is all very important.
So, we have been speaking for about the length of an episode. Do either of you have anything that we didn’t touch on, that you wanted to talk about?
LAUREN: I think, for now, I’m just sort of like… I guess you could say we feel, sort of, vindicated? I don’t want to, sort of, “Neener neener, told you so” but, like… we kinda told you so. And, ’cause, like, I don’t like to see any new production fail, because it is an insurmountable amount of time, and money, and effort, and marketing that goes into it, and it is not easy. But when it’s preventable, I can’t feel sorry for you. And I think that this was preventable.
SHAUN: Yeah. I mean, especially given websites like The Nerds of Color, who just laid out road maps for how you could work an Asian American Iron Fist. All this stuff was available to them before they even cast anybody in the show. So, very preventable, not only preventable but very… shit was not hard to find! It was a hashtag! If you really wanted you could type, whatever that is, 7 or 8 characters in your phone, and all of a sudden, you have all this information at your fingertips. But, no. They tried it.
STEPH: Yeah, they just wanted to be stuck in their ways. It’s not hard… I finally, finally watched Doctor Strange, just for shits and giggles, just because I was like, let me prepare myself for Iron Fist, and… I mean, other than the graphics, I guess, it’s a tired story. White guy… I dunno, something tragic, goes… how did he even get the money to go to where he went? Where was it, Nepal?
SHAUN: Oh, he was rich.
LAUREN: Yeah, he was a rich surgeon.
STEPH: Oh, yeah. I forgot. That’s right. Sorry, because white, rich…
LAUREN: Generational wealth.
STEPH: Oh, you’re right, generational wealth.
LAUREN: Generational like a mug, yup.
STEPH: We’ve seen this story one billion times, and Marvel, the fact that they release them back to back like that, and it’s the same damn story, pretty much? In my opinion, to a degree, y’all gotta do better. Period. And, also, I’m going to need some folks that have gotten their quote, unquote, “representation” to shut the fuck up.
LAUREN: Please, and thank you.
STEPH: Yeah. Because it’s real easy to tell somebody else to wait their turn, or, “Well, what about, wait for this character,” when you got three or four of them, left and right, and you’ve gotten several of them, over the years.
LAUREN: And this change has to be in front of, and behind, the camera, and behind the scenes. Writer’s room, production team, and the performers, all of it. It has to be sweeping changes. Otherwise nothing will change.
SHAUN: Totally agree. I think Luke Cage, with the same people in front of the screen– and amazing people, amazing actors and actresses on that show– but, if you put them in front of the camera, and then did not have the framework, behind the scenes, that Cheo Coker created, to really focus on a Black perspective, you would have had a very different show. And it may have been uncomfortable.
STEPH: Mmhmm. It’s not even a “may,” it would have. And we would have been having this conversation– well not the same exact conversation– talking about reviews in the same light as Iron Fist about, what, six months ago?
STEPH: So, I mean, that’s real.
SHAUN: Yeah. All right, well, I really appreciate both of you being here, and… I forgot. I had something. Oh, okay, you’re gonna want to follow both of these women on Twitter. Lauren is @iamlaurenp, and Steph is @steph_i_will, and if you wanna have a really fun time, search Steph’s handle and the word “Catwoman.”
STEPH: You’re in for a good time. You will understand why I don’t take no shit when it comes to representation. Tellin’ me Catwoman is the best we’re gonna get… all right. I been forever changed.
SHAUN: If you talk to Steph, you can say, “the Catwoman era of your life,” and she will know exactly what you’re talking about.
LAUREN: Oh, my gosh.
SHAUN: That’s what it’s come to. But yes, I’m so glad I know both of you on Twitter, I’m so glad you were both able to come and talk about this. All of your work– all of your tweets, everything that you say and do about representation, everything that you do for your communities, the communities that you’re not specifically a part of, everything– I just love both of you to death. Thank you so much for being here.
LAUREN: Oh, thank you, Shaun
STEPH: Thank you so much.
LAUREN: Thank you for having us.
SHAUN: Take a listen to Lauren’s podcast, Nerds of Prey, with the three other “NOPes.”
SHAUN: See, I said that like I don’t care about their names. But, uh, so now I gotta say their names: Shannon, Mel, CG, I love all of you, as well.
And, this show: it’s called No, Totally! Remember? You’re listening to it. Visit our website at nototally.com, follow me on Twitter @NoTotally, and, if you have extra spare change, I could really use your help on Patreon, which is patreon.com/NoTotally. And I think that’s all I got. Anybody else got anything?
LAUREN: I think that’s great, that’s fine.
SHAUN: Yay! Bye everybody.