I have now rolled my eyes so many times over this ridiculous kerfluffle over Lucy Liu having the temerity to play Dr. Watson in CBS’s Sherlock Holmes adaptation that they are now stuck in the “please go fuck yourself” position at this point.
There’s a valuable argument to be made that there’ve already been numerous TV shows in the US that utilize the man!Holmes/woman!Watson dynamic - “The X-Files,” “The Mentalist,” “CSI: Original Gangsta,” “House,” (although Cuddy was more Lestrade than Watson, really) “Castle,” etc. And with the exception of “Bones,” and “Rizzoli & Isles,” not nearly enough shows where a woman gets to be the eccentric genius who doesn’t quite understand people. But that’s not the argument I’m seeing - what I’m seeing is anger over the fact (undisputed as far as I’ve seen) that John Watson must be weaker by sheer dint of being female. That only certain aspects of Watson’s character - his wartime service, his womanizing, his infallibility as a doctor, his ability to shoot a gun - are valuable and should be preserved at all costs, while other aspects - absolute and immediate loyalty, “years of humble but single-minded service” (direct quote from Doyle btw), concern and worry over the health of a friend - are weak and girly. Joan Watson is a woman, so if she has any stereyotypical characteristics that anyone ever associates with women, she is? All together now kids: a terrible character.
Every single post that I’ve read can be boiled down to: “Joan Watson is another example of the wrong kind of woman, so none of you should watch this show.” Or, more basically, ”Joan Watson is wrong. John Watson is right. Only a man - who’s been to war and is MANLY and STRONG - is believable as Watson.”
Fuck that noise.
Also, people who are Disappointed or Never Thought She’d Sink This Low at Lucy Liu: I don’t understand you, and I don’t think you understand. I can’t profess to know what Lucy Liu was thinking when she auditioned/took the job/blackmailed the casting people/accidentally rollerbladed onto the set/whatever, but I know what I think, and what I hope thousands or hundreds or dozens or even just one other person is thinking: ‘fuck yes, finally, I can’t wait, I hope this is good. Yes, she’s a lady. Yes, she’s a lady of color. But really, really, yes, she’s Asian American, and I am so fucking excited.’
I hope she kicks ass and takes names or just makes kickass tea or is a brilliant skylight next to Sherlock’s brilliant fluorescent light or is down to earth or is flighty or is empathetic or is fallible or is relatable. I hope. But I know, I know, and this is what matters, that she will be there, and she will be Asian American.
I’m not going to pretend that for me, seeing an Asian American woman as the iconic Watson on television will change my life, boost my self confidence, help me see myself in a different light. It won’t. But in a world where I can think about Asian American women on American television for 3 minutes and come up with just 1) Sandra Oh on that doctor show, 2) Kono from Hawaii Five-O, 3) the heiress girl from that Disney show, and 4) fucking Wanda from the Magic School Bus, we have a problem. Not because these characters are problematic (hint: they’re not), but because, guys, FOUR PEOPLE. I thought for three minutes and came up with four people! Granted, I’m not much of a reliable tv resource (see: “on that doctor show”), but I could probably name you at least that many famous WOODLAND CREATURES on television.
John Cho talks about watching George Takei as Sulu while he was young. “Whenever an Asian would come on TV,” he says, “we’d just go WEOFIJE:LKFJ:SD! THERE’S AN ASIAN ON TV! COME HERE! HE’S GONNA DISAPPEAR SOON!” It’s not like that for me. It’s probably not like that for a lot of people.
But what it might be like is this. It might be like just seeing someone who looks a little bit like you on television. It might be like making that Asian American girl watching from the doorway after her bedtime realize that Asians can be actors. It might be like that little girl becoming an actress. It might be like that little girl, all grown up, making other little girls feel the same way that she felt with bare feet and bare dreams. It might be like a world where celebrity doppelganger week on Facebook doesn’t mean suddenly all of my Asian American friends are Lucy Liu. It might be like a step on the way to making that friend who said “Asians can’t act, they’re just not good at it” think twice. It might be like a little dream, it might be like a big hope. It might even be like a different - better - world.
Have any of you seen A Bug’s Life? Do any of you remember this exchange?
Flik: Here, pretend - pretend that that’s a seed.
Dot: It’s a rock.
Flik: Oh, I know it’s a rock, I know. But let’s just pretend for a minute that it’s a seed, alright? We’ll just use our imaginations. Now, now do you see our tree? Everything that made that giant tree is already contained inside this tiny little seed. All it needs is some time, a little bit of sunshine and rain, and voilá!
There are seeds out there already. The seeds I’ve mentioned, others that I don’t know about or have forgotten. Some have been watered, some have been lost. But each seed? Each seed will be a tree, and only a tree. Only if we keep planting will we ever have a forest.
YES. YES. Everything about everything about this entire post. And what John Cho says about TV when he was younger may not be true for shuf, but it’s definitely at least partially true for me, if only in my head. Now let me try listing Asian American women actors off the top of my head.
- Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy)
- Brenda Song (Disney’s token Asian)
- Grace Park (Hawaii Five-O)
- Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars)
- Margaret Cho
- Lucy Liu
- Michaela Conlin (Bones)
- Naomi Scott
- Hayley Kiyoko
That took me about 15 minutes, yo. And I didn’t know some of the actors’s names, so I had to Google their characters.
Lots of good points made here. Well done my internet friends.