INTO THE NEXT STAGE: ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’s’ Chloe Bennet: Wait a Minute! She’s Asian?!

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AOKI, GUY-colorBy GUY AOKI

Before the networks unveiled their fall line-up, we kept hearing that one of the best new shows of the season was ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

One, it was co-created and co-produced by Joss Whedon, the creator behind fan favorites like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” “Dollhouse,” and 2012’s mega-hit “The Avengers.” Two, this was an off-shoot of “The Avengers” starring Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, who was supposedly murdered by Thor’s evil brother Loki. And three, it couldn’t miss.

So it debuted to big ratings with a 4.7 in the 18-49 demographic. But then it fell to 3.1 and this week, to a 2.8. Why? Uh, maybe because none of Whedon’s television series has ever been a real ratings hit and this really isn’t that good?

I can’t be the only one disappointed by the show. The plots are boring, two of the tech people — Fitz and Simmons — are Brits, and I literally can’t understand a word coming out of the latter’s mouth. That’s quite a fatal flaw if anything she says can’t contribute to a viewer’s understanding of what’s going on.

In the comic book of the ’60s, the top-secret organization was run by Nick Fury and other middle-aged men he fought alongside in World War II like “Dum Dun” Dugan and Gabe Jones. Here, besides Coulson, the only non-20-something agent is Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). It makes no sense that such a professional organization would be populated by so many young people… except that ABC, like all the networks, wants viewers between the age of 18-49 to watch their series.

May is supposed to be a legendary pilot and combat vet, yet when she gets into fights, her scenes are edited so quickly, we know it’s a stunt double doing all the work, and we don’t get the sense of how tough she really is.

Skye, a hacker who is brought on board to become a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., is the only reason to watch this show. Let’s face it. The woman who plays her, Chloe Bennet, is hot.  I can’t take my eyes off of her.

Chloe Bennet as Skye in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (ABC)

Chloe Bennet as Skye in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC)

Tuesday night, as I was gazing into her eyes (uh, for research purposes! Ahem!) I tried to figure out her ethnicity. She has a dark, sorta Italian look, which could also pass for Latino. Well, imagine my shock that night when someone on Facebook posted a Chicago Sun Times article that revealed the real name of 21-year-old Bennet (a Chicago native) is Chloe Wang — her Dad’s Chinese American!

Wang even spent her two of her teenage years in China becoming a successful singer. To see one of her videos of her performing in Mandarin, click here:  http://voices.suntimes.com/arts-entertainment/the-daily-sizzle/chicago-native-goes-from-chinese-pop-star-to-co-star-on-marvels-agents-of-s-h-i-e-l-d-video/

It makes sense because when I received ABC’s annual report on what Asian actors have been cast in their new season, a “Chloe Wang” was listed for “S.H.I.E.L.D.” So I searched high and low for her but couldn’t find her. So now I know she changed her name. Why?

We have a growing dilemma with Hapa actors. If they can pass for white, that’s often what their characters are. Yet the networks count them as Asian. As I’ve told them before, while that benefits their company to show how “diverse” they are, it doesn’t benefit the community if no one knows they’re part Asian.

One of the regulars of another new ABC show, “Back in the Game,” is Griffin Gluck. You wouldn’t know he’s part Asian from looking at him. In fact, in the show, he plays the son of blonde actress Maggie Lawson, and his grandfather is played by James Caan.  We haven’t seen Gluck’s estranged father, but unless he shows up someday and is Asian, the audience will never know Gluck’s part Asian.

As I explained to NBC when the Olympics were going on in 2010, when people watch Apolo Anton Ohno getting ready to take on his competition and see his Japanese father in the stands, they’re reminded he’s half Japanese. People love Ohno and would love to be his friend. Making anti-Japanese or anti-Asian jokes wouldn’t bring them closer to that possibility, so they’d be mindful of what they felt and said about Japanese and Asian people.

The same would be true of fans of Chloe Bennet, er, Wang.

Channel Surfing Department: So I checked out NBC’s remake of “Ironside” starring Blair Underwood in the classic Raymond Burr role. I won’t be checking it out in the future. Underwood plays an “I’m bad-ass!” cop who snipes at colleagues for merely offering theories about why someone was killed “Hey! Who’s running this case?!”

Kenneth Choi (“Red Dawn,” “Captain America”), is miscast in this, playing Ironside’s by-the-book boss Captain Ed Rollins. I think Choi would be better used as a wise-ass rebel himself (though not here).

The critics don’t like it, and it debuted last week to a not-very-good 1.4 rating in the 18-49 demo. I don’t expect it’ll last very long.

On the other hand, “Unforgettable,” the CBS show starring Poppy Montgomery as a detective who remembers every detail of every day of her life, was brought back as a summer series and did well enough to be renewed for next summer. The network went with a different supporting cast this time around and included James Hiroyuki Liao as a tech guy, so it’s nice to know he’ll be back as well.

But so will ABC’s trashy “Mistresses” featuring “Lost’s” Yunjin Kim, which I couldn’t stomach watching for very long.

Still Not Too Late to See It Department: I continue to urge you to see Christine Yoo’s “Wedding Palace.” I’m not a broad humor/sitcom kinda guy, so I admit some of the over-the-top scenes of the Korean mothers fretting and screeching are not my cup of tea, but there’s enough in the romance between Brian Tee and his Korean love interest to recommend this. They’re adorable together.WeddingPalace-move poster_two of them

Another one of the aspects lost about this film is its cool soundtrack. The scenes of nightlife in Korea are particularly well shot, and the romantic music playing in the background (especially “Starlight”) is hypnotic and haunting. It stayed with me after leaving the theater.

“Wedding Palace” is playing in Pasadena (last day is Thursday, today!), Irvine and Oahu and continues to expand across the country into Washington, D.C., Chicago, Queens, New York, and New Jersey.

The filmmaker tells me more than 50 percent of the audience has been white, black, and Latino, so tell your friends about this. They’ll probably enjoy it. Go here for showtimes in your area: www.weddingpalacemovie.com/

Yoo has stuck her neck out by taking five years to make a movie with an all-Korean American cast (no obligatory white guy stuck in for the white audience to “relate to”) and we need to support her and to prove there’s an Asian American market for films.  Otherwise, Asian American-themed movies won’t be green-lit nor promoted by the studios.

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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8 Comments

  1. I don’t recall when we did the election to give Guy Aoki the position in the Asian American movement as chief officer to the office that determines who is considered a “REAL Asian.”

    This guy has definitely jumped into a world of delusion if he thinks he has any right to claim that any multi-ethnic person who has Asian & Pacific Islander American (APIA) roots is not authentically APIA.

    If you can’t handle the politics of our multi-ethnic brothers and sisters, then retire and get out of the way. We don’t have any need for your outdated sensibility of what is a “REAL Asian.”

    Also, complaining about not being able to understand two characters because of their accent? That’s the kind of stuff we protest against. If a white writer said that about two Asian characters with accents, you would be all over that…but hey, double standards I guess.

  2. Guy – Honestly?! This is what you are going to write about? How you couldn’t stop salivating over Chloe (and her mixed-race un-knowableness) only to later stand in judgement of her because she made a business decision to change her stage name to Bennet instead of Wang?

    “We have a growing dilemma with Hapa actors.” What is the dilemma? That YOU find yourself desiring them & judging them? And then YOU go on to celebrate what I assume is “an Asian looking Asian” getting a job with a name like Rollins.

    And your annecdote about Anton Ohno and how comforted you feel because you see his father and KNOW Anton belongs holds Apollo Ohno up as a good hapa and Chloe as a bad hapa. Apollo is a good Hapa because he made it easy for your discomfort w/ his hapaness to be interrupted because his Japanese dad is a big supporter? As a hapa artist – I can tell you – my dad is not always on the sideline to prove that I belong.

    The dilemma is not on the part of the actor but on the part of the network and how they are ‘counting’ the actors. The dilemma is not on the Hapa individual who strives to live their life and navigate what they are born with and the world they are born into. The dilemma is not about whether or not Chloe uses her last name Bennet or Wang. The dilemma you articulate is that your pro-API loving watchdog self – can’t keep up with the changing face of API Americans. I’m sorry that there are mono-racial Asian Americans who have a hard time accepting the ‘coloring’ of our Hapa community.

    This is not a DILEMMA. The reality of multiracial and multi-colored APIs has existed for centuries. Please don’t make us the scapegoat for your DILEMMA.

  3. i feel for Chloe tbh Guy. I mean this is America after all. What are the odds of a struggling actress getting a great role and not being judged or objectified as some exotic creature of the orient unless she pretends she’s not? since we’re up to episode 6 now I kinda agree with the decision now. She’s already gotten a sex scene with some white guy. If too many people know she’s part Chinese it’ll just be another oriental minx giving it away to some white guy. Better if its just a hispanic/white girl named Skye.

    What I feel is worse like WAY worse? Episode 5 last night. Let’s forget the small stuff like fake bad English from Asian American actors and seducing a Chinese street performer as easily as some egotistical westerner. How come Coulson and crew gave it their all to save some black guy with Extremis poisoning going beserk and not this guy who is going through the same thing? Only 2 reasons come to mind for me. 1 he doesn’t have a kid. 2 he’s Chinese. They had every opportunity to use the same cure on him that they used on August Richards but they killed him instead. O and he killed the only other Chinese guy there. It kinda makes the moral of the story to save all the lives you can unless its asian doesn’t it? So far this is the only time in the show where they actively kill somebody they could have saved. (btw yes I realize that he fire shielded Coulson’s shots but what about Mei’s? When she got the drop on him he coulda fire shielded the extremis and Mei but he didn’t so why wasn’t those injectors the remaining bottles of his platelets and a shot of the cure?)

    I’m gonna level with you I know it won’t change. In fact I saw an article recently about why someone else thinks it won’t change and I guess she’s onto something. ABC is owned by Disney and Disney thinks its audience is white suburban and rural men between the ages of 18-49. That means Asian men are definitely out. BUT I think I wanna think about it another way. Have you watched Castle? Back in 2011 they had a few episodes with something to do with Asia. Not a single one painted a good picture. Then in the next season they had a 2 part special where saving the Chinese diplomat was crucial but they also had another episode about corrupt triad people and some poor kid trying to run away from his horrible evil Chinese family in order to become a stunt double some day. That was AFTER he gave an incredible heartfelt performance where he fooled his brother into thinking he was shot dead. Stunt double. Last year there was another show that actually had a recurring character who was Asian and crucial to the heroes. It was on a different network but still. This year that character is still with the show with the same big role. They just had an episode based in 1 of the many Chinatowns in America where a character gets a tool to protect himself. Back to abc and its only the 5th episode and we find ourselves in Hong Kong with a central plot around Asians and the stuff they’re going through. What I’m trying to get at is I know it sucks to be an Asian American watching shows that have nothing to do with you on networks that think your some kinda 3 eyed alien but its getting better. No it won’t ever get to be that a Franklin Watanbe will be the main character who is all american and saves the girl does the heroic thing and has a supporting cast of white guys. but it might get to a point where every odd episode of every other show will have something Asian about them like characters stories supporting cast or w/e just like they’ve upgraded other races already.

    You know Joss Whedon the creator and his brother Jed probably don’t like it any more than you do. Jed is married to a Thai woman and Joss Whedon’s shown with his other shows that he loves East Asian culture. I mean the katanas his characters use the Japanese characters in the Buffy comics the ancient Chinese texts his mystic research teams often reference Firefly and its The Alliance and like all the East Asian (yes poor Chinese and Japanese but their still speaking East Asian) he makes his actors say in a few of those shows. Nathan Fillion the actor from Firefly even carried over his Chinese to Castle and Castle’s on ABC so. Why don’t we just leave it to Joss and Jed to figure out something for this series?

  4. I think Ming Na must be Eurasian like Bennett on Agents of SHIELD, despite no evidence of White ancestry has been disclosed about her, considering she looks more Eurasian versus Asian. It’s like having two Eurasians in the main cast. And if you include two Eurasian actors or actresses you could think of as their siblings and/or parents, I guess it would be believable or so.

    @Kris- Most Asian guys would never give it away to a White or Eurasian girl who openly asked, like they normally would. They’re very strict in their ways and can’t stand sexually aggressive girls, especially Westerners and those mixed with Western.

    “We have a growing dilemma with Hapa actors.”

    I’m getting to believe Aoki is being racist towards mixed race Asians here. And if there were to be a mixed race Asian actor or actress, even if they had two parents that were mixed race Asians, replacing the African female detective who was just killed off on “Person Of Interest”, for example, I’m sure Aoki would have a problem with that, especially if they can’t be cast as pure blood Asians but rather non-Asian or mixed Asian instead (even though I’m not much of a fan of the show) and would want pure blood Asians instead. I know there is a mixed race Middle Eastern actress who is part of the main cast of the show but she isn’t cast as Middle Eastern. Instead she’s either White or Latina.

  5. Shes definitely half Asian. Her father is Asian, and her mother is Jewish. Min Na looks Asian. Chloe Wang looks almost entirely white or at least hispanic. Its pretty common for Asian mixed children to not look as Asian as the Asian parent. Apolo Ohno, Jennifer Tilly, Nancy Kwan. They all have one Asian parent, but the child just looks mostly caucasian.

  6. I think its mostly reversed when there is black in the mix. Obama is half black and half white. But he looks mostly black. If his white ancestry was never mentioned. People would just assume he was 100 percent black based on his appearance.

  7. I’m half japanese too!! It’s funny that so many of my felolw hapas are mistaken as hispanic (me too ). I also get you look totally asian from white people, and get totally look gaijin from Japanese people! I personally know right away when I see a hapa, and I also think I look like nothing but a typical hapa 🙂

  8. Although Marvel AOS has become so much better, I agree with Aoki that Chloe Bennet is the only reason (or at least the main reason since the show got better) to watch this series. She steals every scene she’s in. She’s very beautiful, charismatic, approachable, and much smarter than she lets on. Her (Chloe’s, not her character Skye’s) self-deprecating humor is part of her charm and she knows what she’s doing and where she wants to be. She’s definitely someone to watch in the near future as she’s a quickly rising star and one who could easily evolve into one of America’s top (A List) actresses.
    I also didn’t realize she was half Chinese at first, but was pleasantly surprised to find out. I kind of wish she’d stuck with the name Wang, but then she probably wouldn’t have got on a major show. It’s the kind of decision only a smart actor or actress would make versus a culturally minded one, but then again, Chloe has been really good at playing it both ways, cunningly declaring her Asian heritage in almost every interview, also admitting to her pop music career in China, while celebrating her more recent achievements in American media and television.
    Her development as an actress is almost as exciting to watch as the profound changes her character is experiencing in the show – becoming a virtual superhero. You’d think both Chloe and Daisy Skye Johnson are actually the same person.

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