Adi Tantimedh writes,
Blindspot premiered to good ratings this week, a gimmicky thriller about a woman who woke up in Times Square with no memory and a tattoos all over her body that are clues to future crimes and acts of terror. It's one of those dumb-smart high concept pitches that Hollywood is so fond of, a McGuffin-based show that generates Plot.
So far, so Blacklist-wannabe. What surprised me was how weirdly and lazily racist the pilot was. There were only five Chinese characters in the pilot, and they were all uniformly negative. The Villain of the Week was a Chinese would-be terrorist who wanted to bomb the Statue of Liberty. The Feds and heroine raid his apartment and find his flatmate cowering in a closet because he'd overstayed his student visa and was afraid they were there to deport him. Then came the really ridiculous part: Jaimie Alexander hears a woman screaming downstairs and she goes to investigate. There she finds the Chinese landlord, already said to be "not a good guy", beating his wife. He proceeds to act like a frothing-at-the-mouth Yellow Devil to Alexander and his henchmen shows up out of nowhere and suddenly she gets into a fight scene where she beats the crap out of both men.
This fight scene had nothing to do with the plot. It was only there to show that Jaimie Alexander could kick ass. It was one of the most pointless fight scenes I've ever seen on a TV show because it served no real purpose other than maybe there was a network note saying they needed to show Jaimie Alexander could kick ass, so why not have her beat the crap out of two Chinese guys who just attack her for no good reason other than that they're bad guys. They weren't even bad guys who had anything to do with the story. They were just a couple of Johnny Foreigner bad guys for the heroine to beat up because one of them was beating up a helpless Chinese woman, another stereotype. They were presented with no real context other than Bad Guy and Victim so the heroine could appear heroic. She doesn't get any action scenes for the rest of the episode because that's left to the square-jawed white dude to be the hero at the end while she stands by watching. The sloppiness of the writing is so crass that it stands out. This is the type of sequence writing students are expressly told not to write because it's just plain bad racial Othering notwithstanding.
Of course, some people will say "But there are bad Chinese guys in real life!" Yes, but this is fiction, where the creators get to play God and put in anything and everything they want. in this pilot, there were only negative Chinese people in it. And for no good reason other than what looks like script laziness. That the Chinese would-be terrorist turned out to be a pawn under some white guy with a beard who's the Mastermind of the show's arc doesn't make it better, since now the Chinese baddie is also a dupe. Most shows try to temper this kind of casual and thoughtless racism by at least having some good guys of the race or culture, but Blindspot didn't even bother to do that. That's what made this show's racism stand out, considering the dozen-odd new network shows premiering this week, only Blindspot comes off as so openly racist. I don't think the writers and producers even set out to racist or thought they were being racist, but that they were this negligent in the writing of the script betrays the extent of their privilege and carelessness, even if they were under pressure – as every production of a new pilot is – to deliver a show that pleases the executives and focus groups.. By next week's episode, the racism of this pilot will be forgotten as the show moves onto the next disposable plot.
Hollywood has a tendency to portray non-white people as Other, though that's slowly changing, with all the talk of racism and the need for diversity in the representation of people of different skin colours and cultures in movies and TV. That they're actively making an effort means that the instances where a movie or show is outright racist now stands out like a creepy guy at a playground. Out of the dozens of movies and TV shows that have come out in the last few months, it's notable that only two have stood out as crassly racist: the Blindspot pilot and the summer movie No Escape, which crassly portrayed brown people in Asia as rampaging, murderous mobs as its entire premise. That many reviews slammed it for its racism is notable and heartening.
At a time when Hollywood is desperately trying to do business with China, I can't imagine the Chinese are going to look upon the pilot of Blindspot kindly. They do tend to notice when Hollywood makes them look bad. They don't mind when they're portrayed as ideological antagonists in Cold War politics as in House of Cards – that show is hugely popular in China – but as Yellow Peril stereotypes? Not so much. Hollywood is currently very careful about not portraying the Chinese in a negative light lest their shows and movies aren't picked up for the lucrative Chinese market. It's surprising the makers of Blindspot totally bucked the trend with overt xenophobia for no good reason. It'll be interesting to see if there's any blowback.
Tattooed brain at email@example.com
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