The fine line between representing and appropriating Asian culture

Originally published at: The fine line between representing and appropriating Asian culture | Boing Boing


It sort of sounds like you feel you should criticize the show for something, because all things must be criticized, but you are unable to focus on the wrongness. And there must be some wrongness somewhere, right?


Part of the problem, as an Asian American, IMHO, is a LOT of the criticism may have been “manufactured” for the eyeballs.

Just putting it out there: I am Asian, but not Southeast Asian, and I’m not Muslim.

Remember when Mass Effect Legendary Edition came out, there was the “bootygate” outcry, when Bioware decided to update 2 scene’s camera angle? And this immediately lead to the creation of reversion mods that “restored” the camera angles that focused on Miranda Lawson’s… booty, not to mention a ton of defenders, claiming original vision was “ruined”, the character is exactly what she is, any “censoring” changes her character, and other commentators cheerfully poured more fuel on fire while they amplified the outrage?

Somehow I feel something similar is at work here.

People expect Kamala to be a perfect character, and ANYTHING she does is put under a microscope. Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. There’s no appeasing everyone. SOMEONE will be outraged, and Disney’s job was almost to offend the least amount of people, and often, that end up falling on playing up a trope or sin for laughs, like “smelling infidel meat” (aka pork), then someone will complain: that’s such a lame trope, and it’s such lacklustre lukewarm bowl of spit (or something like that), that left EVERYBODY disappointed.

And now I’ll get off my soapbox.


That’s certainly true. Some Muslims are big fans of the show and have praised its authenticity. It’s cool to have a variety of opinions out there, like people should have on any piece of creative work.


Pakistan is not in Southeast Asian. The term you’re looking for is South Asian.


Thats exactly it.

I’m glad some people feel represented by it. I wouldn’t want to take that away from them.


I think its the growing pains of more representation. Not all of the examples are going to be good or authentic. A lot of media is, honestly, average, and a distilled down story that is less about authenticity than it is about looking for a broad audience.

Just looking at American TV media of the past, when white people were playing nearly all the roles and nearly all the stories centered around them - they was so much of it that was extremely mediocre, formulaic, relied on lazy stereotypes and archetypes, and chose romantic or idealized portrayals vs authentic ones.

But as representation becomes more and more common, you are going to have a mixture of mediocre story telling and characters, lazy writing short cuts, and relying on tropes. You will have a mix of people writing characters they don’t have first hand knowledge of who may be well meaning, but get things wrong. Or you will have people with first hand knowledge, but their views on how the character would act or feel may be different to others of the same group. It isn’t a monolith, as you said.

So, I think it is good to make critiques of media. Highlight what is good, and what could be changed. Some times things aren’t “bad”, per se, you just wanted something different. But defiantly, do call out things that cross a line. (Though even then, depending on the seriousness of a story, there may be a reason for crossing that line.)


There’s also a single episode of the series out.

I think there’s also a certain amount of zeroing out of the actual people involved in this take.

Maybe that’s Marvel/Disney’s fault for patting themselves on the back a little too aggressively for a sort of universal, bare basics representation. But:

The character was inspired by and her creation instigated by Marvel editor Sana Amanat. An actual no shit not wearing a hijab, Pakistani American, Muslim woman from New Jersey.

G Willow Wilson who wrote the comics is also a Muslim Woman, also from New Jersey.

TV series creator Bisha K Ali. Pakistani British Woman. So unfortunately not from New Jersey, but like Amanat, the daughter of immigrants.

The “Marvel sanitized it” or whatever hot take here is a little uncomfortable. Given that it just drops the very real, significant behind the scenes representation that got us here. And given how Amanat’s actual biography is wrapped up in the character’s creation and back story. It’s all very fucking weird.


I think that representation gets a lot trickier when intersectionality comes into play. The show is not just about Muslims, but about Pakistani Muslims. And not just about Pakistani Muslims, but Pakistani Muslim immigrants. There are layers there that are not going to represent all Muslims or all Pakistanis or all immigrants because each aspect cannot be separated from the others.


The source of inspiration for Kamala Khan’s character and the writing team behind her story being authentically the thing they’re writing about makes me think of similar criticisms of a lack of authenticity that were lobbed at ‘Turning Red’ and it’s depiction of Chinese-Canadian immigrants and residents of Toronto. Despite that film also being directly inspired by, and directed by, an authentic Chinese-Canadian Torontonian.

I’m not represented in either case, but if the genuine articles aren’t producing an authentic enough representation of their experiences, I don’t know who the critics expect to be doing a better job of it.


So this is not another Star Wars topic then?

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It’s probably because Kamala and her parents aren’t very religious to begin with. To the point where her father pokes fun at her brother Aamir for praying so much at meal times and because Aamir is waiting until he can find a job that is acceptable to his beliefs.

But also, this was very much a choice on the part of the character’s creator, not a decision by Disney or Marvel’s editorial board.

She wants to participate because her peers do so and she considers herself one of them, a teenager of Jersey City. And It’s not her religion that bars her, it’s more a culture issue that’s more deeply felt by children of Asian immigrants to the United States.


I keep trying to think of something that @dnealy might find better represents him in US pop culture and… I’m drawing a blank here. There really aren’t that many movies or shows that represent American Muslims, and especially converts to the faith.

It really is a shame that there aren’t more of their stories out there, because Muslims make up a large and growing part of the melting pot that is America.

The only example that I can even think of off the top of my head is the character of Sahar on Resident Alien. But then again, she is a minor character…


In the second episode, Kamala’s biracial friend Nakia actually talks about her reasons for putting on a hijab, and about her struggle to find acceptance in the communities of each of her parents. Pretty nuanced, I’d say.

Also, the show is getting review bombed on IMDb, apparently by men over thirty.


starts about 18min 30sec – a fairly positive review/discussion.

(also available on Spotify)


… the usual gang of entitled children who can’t comprehend the concept of something which is neither for them nor about them, and would rather destroy something than let someone else have a go.


Maybe we should review bomb the next Joker movie. That will melt their tiny brains.

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Black Girl Magic GIF by Identity

Pretty much any show that centers women, especially women of color get this treatment.


Oh lord, the shit I have seen moaning about the “MSheU” and “why can’t we just have our white, male superheroes like they were intended to be!” Haven’t seen Ep.2 yet, but was pleasantly surprised at Ep.1 and hope they are able to continue at that level. As was mentioned above, I am very much an outsider looking in at this, so really don’t feel I can comment on anything like “authenticity,” but given the background of the creators of the character, the directors and show runners, I feel like it is probably on point for what it is. Like Moon Knight trying to accurately portray a location and environment that most of us will never directly know.