August 5, 2020

Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’ Asian problem is really Hollywood’s bigger Asian problem

By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Last weekend, during an online panel focused on the series “Daredevil,” actor Peter Shinkoda said former Marvel TV executive Jeph Loeb explicitly told the writers of the superhero series not to expand Shinkoda’s character, Nobu, because “nobody cares about Chinese people and Asian people.”

(Neither Loeb nor Marvel Studios have responded to the claim, but season one showrunner Steven DeKnight tweeted, “No one ever tried to get me to downplay any of the characters in season 1.” DeKnight did not, however, address Nobu’s arc in season two.)

The words themselves may be shocking, but I want to be clear: The sentiment is not. It points to a much larger problem, both within Marvel Studios and Hollywood itself: the dehumanization of Asian — in this case, specifically East Asian — characters, by reducing them to their often-evil foreignness.

Shinkoda appeared in nine episodes of “Daredevil” during the first and second season. He played Nobu Yoshioka, a villain from the mysterious Asian organization the Hand that — over the course of the interconnected Marvel series “Daredevil,” “Iron Fist” and “The Defenders” — emerged as the main threat to New York City. The organization was introduced via Nobu and another Asian villain, Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho). Yet by the time the overall story came to a climax in “Defenders,” the Hand’s leader ended up being a white villain played by Sigourney Weaver. Essentially, “Daredevil” used Nobu and Madame Gao to introduce a “foreign” evil, only to give the final villain arc to a white actor.