By Guest Contributor Sunny Huang
Two weeks ago, Big Hero 6 premiered to critical acclaim at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Even earlier, it made a big splash at New York Comic Con. And it will open tomorrow as a likely box-office success — a projected $51 million in its first weekend — in the U.S. But with less than a full day to go, I am surprised by the lack of substantial criticism for it.
Frozen generateda firestorm of controversybefore it was released in mass and niche publications, yet there is little for Big Hero 6, which goes to show just how much Asians and Asian-inspired media are pushed out of the conversation. And the only criticisms that have appeared focus on the film’s episodic storytelling and choice of Fall Out Boy for the soundtrack, instead of its lackluster Asian representation and continued cultural appropriation by Disney. In fact, Big Hero 6 is being lauded for transcending these problems, when it is the very embodiment.
After spending my childhood barely seeing myself and my people represented on screen, I immediately made my brother watch the trailer. As a 20-year old, I was so happy that my 10-year old brother would have the chance to grow up without self-resentment. I was so grateful to know he would have the chance to not loathe his race because he would see characters who looked like him be appreciated. It was a chance I did not have.
When the trailer was over, I yelled at him. Look, look!An Asian character! Another character who’s Asian besides Mulan! From the biggest animation studio today! Do you know how many people like us will see how progressive this movie is?! To that, he just stared at me and said—
What? I thought he was white.
It was then I realized something was wrong. This movie was being marketed as progressive and beyond its time for giving its studio the opportunity to address “its historical reputation for ethnic homogeneity and cultural appropriation.” But if an Asian-American kid could not identify the main character as Asian, as part of his own group, then what else was wrong?
Turns out, a lot. The protagonist’s racial ambiguity just started the conversation.
The film is based off the Marvel Comics characters of the same name, but with major differences—many of them questionable, and some of them outright wrong.
SPOILERS for both the movie and the comic under the cut.