Cyberpunk's Asian representation problem


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/10/11/cyberpunks-asian-representat.html


#2

Maybe the Japanese got their shit together and got off world?

But, seriously, Hollywood should be doing better these days. I noticed also that the all the nude living people and sex workers in the film seemed to be female. The only male nudity I can remember was the cadavers in the police morgue. If my cyberpunk dystopia doesn’t offer a full range of dog-ghosts and robo-zombies I will be disappointed.


#3

Cyberpunk movies/shows taken as a whole have pretty decent Asian representation, but maybe only because easily half or more of the great cyberpunk is produced in Japan. Ghost in the Shell, Ergo Proxy, Serial Experiments Lain, Bubblegum Crisis, Psycho-Pass, Texhnolyze, Appleseed, Armitage III, etc. That’s on the animated side. You might even say movies like Tetsuo: The Iron Man or A Snake of June have solid cyberpunk elements.


#4

Claptrap.


#5

The movie hints at heavy Asian cultural influence but does not go as far as to cast major characters as minorities. I can only recall a single black character relevant to the plot in the new movie and that’s about it. Also the movie takes place in California and i didn’t see any Hispanic influences. Ok then… Maybe a super-flu got rid of all Hispanics on the west coast.

It’s also interesting to note that all dystopian or futuristic movies ignore India or any Arab/Muslim country. Besides the Chinese they represent a significant portion of the population. As far as i know the only property that takes this wholly into account is Beyond Good & Evil


#6

I sure hope that game gets released some day.
Best trailer ever!


#7

How so? Lack of representation sounds like a legitimate complaint to me.


#8

The trailer is spectacular. More so for the world building, i find it really refreshing and interesting. This game has been a long time coming.


#9


#10

Do street merchants count?


#11

At some level, I think that part of the reason that the presence of lots of Asian set-dressing and the ubiquity of Asian themes in the background is because cyberpunk as a genre had it’s great flowering in the 80s. That was a time before the “lost decade” when Japan looked like an economic powerhouse that was set to completely overtake the US as an economic power. So putting some Kanji in the background became a shorthand for “This is the future,” in the same way the putting a Zeppelin in the skyline is the modern shorthand for “This is an alternate reality.” The ubiquity of Asian influences in the look of movies tends to make the dearth of major Asian characters more noticeable, even if they aren’t any more under-represented than in other movies.


#12

I will acknowledge your “shorthand” argument, though I wonder why in a movie with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, racial diversity and non-majority representation were the bottom lines that got cut.


#13

Perhaps then, but the majority of the cyberpunk i’m familiar with now references Chinese culture as the prominent culture because… well… it’s China. The industrial and manufacturing powerhouse of the modern world and their population size. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that in 100 years time it’s more than plausible to see heavy Chinese influences in the western world beyond just their food.


#14

Which is ultra weird given how asian the first one felt.


#15

Yeah my friend noted the lack of Asians as well. IIRC the original Bladerunner had the Japanese infusion because in the 80s Japan was hot, hot, hot economically and buying up American companies. I seem to recall more Asians at least in the background (maybe not, might be misremembering) and James Hong as the eye guy.

Kinda feel they should have changed it China, like Firefly, as it is the nation poised to take over at some point.


#16

When I walk through the streets of a random European or Asian city, I see lots of American brands. I see MacDonalds, I see Starbucks. I see local brands, advertised using English-language slogans. Sometimes using English that would never pass the lips of a native speaker.
Sometimes American culture is so distorted that most Americans wouldn’t recognize it as American any more, but American culture is everywhere.

Americans, however, aren’t.
There just aren’t many immigrants from America in European and Asian cities.
No matter what a person you meet at a McDonalds in Austria looks like racially, they are very unlikely to be from America, or descended from Americans.

So, what’s wrong with depicting a future American city that is on the receiving end of cultural influence for a change?
It’s a future where other countries have taken over America’s role as the biggest and “coolest” exporter of pop culture. Those people from the new “coolest” countries won’t bother to move to the US. And it might be a future where America has become less insular and more open to ideas from elsewhere, adopting and adapting them without requiring immigrants to bring those ideas into the country in person.


#17

Since we’re only a few years out from the time setting or the original, I choose to regard it as all taking place in an alternate universe from ours – the fate of almost all futuristic SF (Neal Stephenson seeming more and more to be one of the exceptions).


#18

And i buy that alternate reality thing, i know it doesn’t reflect the world we currently live in but the lack of minorities in the movie is still unexplainable unless eugenics happened at some point.


#19

What’s wrong is the casting. Populations in American cities, like those in the rest of the country, are projected to be even less white than they are now. Not almost exclusively white, as portayed in the new Bladerunner.


#20

Oh complaints are only legitimate from white men, didn’t you know? /s