The Asian is the Martial Arts Expert


Agents of Shield, the Whedon-crew TV series spun out of the Marvel superhero film universe has been picked up for series. Lots of people are very excited! I’m quite excited too actually. But take a look at this:

Back in October, Bleeding Cool was one of many places with the casting notes for the five characters:

SKYE: This late-20s woman sounds like a dream: fun, smart, caring and confident – with an ability to get the upper hand by using her wit and charm.

AGENT GRANT WARD: Quite the physical specimen and “cool under fire,” he sometimes botches interpersonal relations. He’s a quiet one with a bit of a temper, but he’s the kind of guy that grows on you.

AGENT ALTHEA RICE: Also known as “The Calvary,” this hard-core soldier has crazy skills when it comes to weapons and being a pilot. But her experiences have left her very quiet and a little damaged.

AGENT LEO FITZ and AGENT JEMMA SIMMONS: These two came through training together and still choose to spend most of their time in each other’s company. Their sibling-like relationship is reinforced by their shared nerd tendencies – she deals with biology and chemistry, he’s a whiz at the technical side of weaponry.

About three weeks later, Ming-Na Wen was cast as Agent Melinda May:

Soulful and slightly damaged by her combat experiences, Melinda is an ace pilot, a weapons expert and a soldier who can – and has – gone beyond the call of duty… In the original casting call, Agent May was listed as Agent Althea Rice, aka The Calvary.

Then the announcement of the series pickup, as reproduced at Bleeding Cool included character descriptions:

Coulson’s team consists of Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), highly trained in combat and espionage, Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) expert pilot and martial artist, Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker); brilliant engineer and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) genius bio-chemist. Joining them on their journey into mystery is new recruit and computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet).

So Althea Rice, a weapons expert and pilot, morphed into Melinda May, martial artist and pilot, somewhere around the time an Asian actress was cast in the part. Is this another instance of that All Asians Are Martial Artists trope? (No other characters appear to have changed names or basic descriptions.)

No point jumping to conclusions – this might be a PR flack writing a press release and making assumptions, for a start. But it’s a curious change nonetheless. File it away for now.

(Big nod to Mike Foster and Steve Hickey, who spotted the Asian martial artist trope in the announcement and talked about it, sparking my interest.)

11 thoughts on “The Asian is the Martial Arts Expert”

  1. I haven’t given up on the show entirely, but what I’ve seen so far isn’t filling me with confidence. Why no Agent Sitwell?

  2. Finally saw Thor last night, and Gorillamydreams is getting rather good at picking up the threads seeded in these movies now (we’ve already seen Avengers). As cool as Coulson is, I dunno about the set-up for this series either. Take away the title and the character bios and we could be looking at another CIS/SVU/Criminal Minds set-up, couldn’t we? Mind you… Whedon. Might make the difference.

    And does the Bio writer really mean ‘Calvary’ or ‘Cavalry’? Bceause the quiet, slightly damaged person appearing out of frame at the 11th minute to shoot the baddie in the back just as he’s about to clock the hero seems like the person you’d name The Cavalry, yes?

  3. Ha! I hadn’t even noticed that about Cavalry/Calvary! It was definitely misspelled that way in the original documents. Or is Whedon doing some very-on-the-nose Christ allegory thing with Agent Coulson?

  4. Actually if the Cavalry/Calvary character is also Asian then does the name Rice become slightly rac- no, don’t go there, Simian…

    Still on the same character – hmm… Whedon + femme with crazy weapons skillz + quiet, damaged type = haven’t I already seen this character in Firefly?

    But as I said, I’m quite prepared to be proved wrong!

  5. Just saw the trailer, pretty sure Ward is going to annoy me. He seems superfluous.

  6. Ummm of course it is possible that Ming-Na Wen actually has some martial arts or dance skills that they decided to utilise for the show?

  7. Yup, someone else checked out that possibility over on the Facebooks – no evidence that she could find that this is the case. But it might be.

    Having seen the full trailer which has a badass Melinda May takedown, my current theory is that she’s just a straight up close combat beast like she woulda been regardless of ethnicity, and whoever wrote that blurb just chose a phrase that calls to mind the stereotype of “Asian martial arts expert”.

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