British Malayasian Henry Golding Cast for SnakeEyes. Colourblind Casting or Racial Stereotyping?
A new G.I.Joe film was announced! This will be a reboot of the series completely unrelated to the original films. The first of these new G.I.Joe films will be called SnakeEyes: G.I.Joe Origins and be centred on the silent American ninja SnakeEye who was previously played by British martial artist, stunt man and actor Ray Park. Whilst Ray Park never showed his face without the mask or spoke, true to the comics, he did pull off all of his own stunts for the film. Making him the perfect actor for the role especially when you consider his other famous role of Darth Maul another stoic martial arts badass but an evil variation, it makes sense. But for this new reboot series we are getting a brand new actor to play the role of SnakeEyes. Here's below is a little interview clip of Ray Park when he did play SnakeEyes for all the fans curious about the man under the mask.
Playing the titular lead of the film, is British Malaysian actor Henry Golding. Golding is best known for his lead role in Crazy Rich Asians. An actor known for his charming voice, good looks and charisma, wait why would he be cast to play a voiceless Ninja that never removes his mask? he is unfortunately everything the SnakeEyes is NOT. Check out the skills that made Ray Park the perfect SnakeEyes.
Hear us out. SnakeEyes in the G.I.Joe comics was a White American Vietnam war vet that joined a clan of Ninjas in Japan. He would be known for his mutism and almost always wearing a mask due to receiving an injury and having his throat damaged and face disfigured. In the films, he was portrayed as an orphan (played by Leo Howard) of unspecified white ethnicity lost in the Far East (Likely Japan) and was adopted into a Ninja Monastery where he took a vow of silence after the death of his master and almost never seems to remove his mask as an adult. It should be noted that even though SnakeEyes was implied to not have always been a mute in the films. Young SnakeEyes is never seen speaking in any of his scenes whether he was extremely introverted or had some form of speech/learning impairment is unknown. We are not going to psychoanalyse him. Here's Leo Howard as Young SnakeEyes with Brandon Soohoo as young Storm Shadow.
British actor Ray Park was best known for his roles as stoic martial arts warriors and for do all his own stunts including somersaulting over a car whilst on a truck. Golding is unfortunately the complete opposite to Park, having no martial arts or fight experience prior to this role and it's likely most of the stunts will be the stunt double which will disappoint hardcore martial arts fans of SnakeEyes. The controversial side of Henry's casting for SnakeEyes had fans feel divided and is comparable to Marvel's casting issues with Inhuman's Karnak and Netflix's Ironfist. Chinese American Ken Leung being cast for Marvel's Karnak the martial artist of the Inhumans, only problem is much like Golding, Leung is not a martial arts actor and even in Rush Hour where he played a villain, Leung did not fight so much, more just ran, held a gun and winked. Some have accused this as typecasting to be stereotyping and racist as it is based off ethnicity rather than ability.
Golding and Leung are both Oriental actors, they are being cast for Martial arts roles despite having no experience in any. It's more notable that 4 of Leung's on screen family in the Inhumans series are played by White actors, the implication that the martial arts guy has to be Oriental but the rest don't? In fact the casting of Karnak as Chinese and his cousin Gorgon as Nigerian has had some strange ethnic stereotype undertones that did not go unnoticed by fans especially the 11th comment on this article by a user of the name ChristopherLBennet:
"I agree that Ken Leung and Eme Ikwuakor were the highlights acting-wise. Although I did find it bothersome that the show’s attempt at diverse casting ended up playing into hoary ethnic stereotypes — the big dumb tough guy is black and the super-smart, calculating intellectual is Asian. But both actors do a good job of not playing into those stereotypes. In particular, Ikwuakor makes Gorgon easygoing and levelheaded rather than angry and brutish, and regardless of how the part is written, he gives it an air of thoughtfulness. (Though how the character ended up by the conclusion of the mini-season played very much into racial cliches.)"
The other side of the controversy is SnakeEyes being considered a "Mighty Whitey" character much like Ironfist is in Marvel. A white American goes to the Far East of Asia and become the best martial artist even more so than his Asian sparring partner who becomes envious of him. Many Marvel fans felt that casting an Asian American for Ironfist could help avoid the Mighty Whitey implications whilst others felt that it only encouraged the stereotype "all Orientals do Martial Arts" and therefore all martial arts characters should be Oriental. It also doesn't help that Marvel changed Greek Ninja Elektra to Asian (played by Elodie Yung, at least she was a martial artist before she was cast) and Karnak too whose on screen family are mostly white but his actor Ken Lueng is a non fighter and Chinese American. So we can understand the controversy in Henry being cast. Though why they didn't cast an Asian martial artist actor like Jon Foo for example is beyond our understanding. At least he can do all the same stunts as Ray Park with out needing a stunt double.
HOW WILL HENRY MAKE SNAKEEYES WORK FOR HIM?
For what we think will be the case of this film. It is an Origin film. Henry will likely portray SnakeEye's before he becomes the mute bad ass Ninja we know and love. This means not only could we get a more comic accurate SnakeEyes (Origin and Personality-wise at least) but we may get to actually see Henry act and not just be a silent warrior in a suit (or a silent stunt double in suit). Whilst SnakeEyes did suffer from not belonging as a White guy in Japan, Henry could easily use his experience as a mixed Ethnic Eurasian living in Asian and European countries to relate to the character and even Asians raised abroad can feel like outsiders in an Asian country so this could be what we need to humanise SnakeEyes as the films gave us a more dehumanised fighting machine. While we hope Henry will be working hard to live up to the martial arts fans high expectations for SnakeEye's skills, this film could end with SnakeEyes become mute like his comic counter part but hopefully the film will maybe work around SnakeEyes being a disabled character in future films having Henry Golding be allowed to take the signature mask off to show facial expressions and communicate using sign language in the sequels. It at least not be wasting his potential and maybe give the sign language community a super hero to watch. He wouldn't be the first sign language hero as Anson Mount portrayed Blackbolt in the Marvel series Inhumans who is voluntary mute due to the destructive nature of this sonic voice powers forcing him to use sign language and stay mute.