I’m a sucker for a good mystery. It doesn’t matter whether the detective sports a deer stalker cap, a rumpled raincoat, a string of tasteful pearls, or my name (sistah detective Tamara Hayle. Check her out!); whether the action takes place in London, L.A., the English countryside, Maine, or Newark—give me a suspicious death, a handful of clues and red herrings, and an intrepid sleuth, and I’m in.
My long love affair with the mystery genre (love you, Quinn Martin!) has taught me many life lessons: for instance, no one—no matter how benign the questions—wants to give up information to the po-po; professors, waitresses, street toughs—all resolutely anti-snitching. I have learned to avoid both the University of Oxford (Inspector Lewis) and fictional Hudson University (Law & Order), as they are hot beds of murder and mayhem. I have also learned that my invisibility as an aging woman will make detective work a perfect career in my dotage. (Can’t wait for the little old lady detective parties, where Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple explain how being unassuming lets one uncover all the dirt.) And I have learned that race and gender matter, even in the fictional detective world, thanks to a currently quite popular mystery genre type: The White Dude Super-Detective.
“Elementary” stars Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller. Via TVFilmNews.com
By Guest Contributor Kendra James
Here’s the thing about Elementary: whether or not you like it isn’t going to have everything to do with Lucy Liu’s playing Dr. Watson.
It would be a disservice to Liu to rave about the show just because she’s in it. So let’s keep it real: when it comes down to it this show is nothing more than your average CBS procedural. That said, I like CBS procedurals, and I also happen to like Sherlock Holmes adaptations, so I can easily give you a few reasons why the pilot of Elementary is worth checking out on CBS.com. Continue reading →
When I first skimmed Joanna Robinson’s Pajiba post on the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson in Elementary, CBS’ upcoming remake of Sherlock Holmes, and her call to have Liu play the titular protagonist instead, I thought, “Right on.” Though mainly staffed by white writers, I’ve always considered Pajiba to have a fairly critical sense of race and gender in their film and television reviews for a site that’s … mainly staffed by white writers.
But then I really read Robinson’s piece.
Robinson’s main rationale for Liu taking the lead in the modern reboot is that she’s too sexy to play Watson. While I understand her angle that traditionally Watson is the more amiable, less aesthetically pleasing counterpart to a more fly-yet-caustic and emotionally detached Holmes, perhaps there was a cultural competency oversight or two in her analysis of Liu’s sexiness:
Hell, I’m all for Asian women getting prominent roles. Lord knows Grace Park, Sandra Oh and that fake Hot Topic punk on “Glee” could use some company. But this is the most ill-fitting casting news since they announced Jonny Lee Miller as their Holmes. Listen, you TV executards, we all know sex sells, but Holmes is supposed to be the icy, removed sociopath. Not Watson.
Liu is a sexy, charming performer, but sweet she ain’t. Anyone who watched her try to Manic Pixie Dream grind her way through “Watching The Detectives” will understand. You know what Liu does well? Chilly. She’s like sexy ice water in your veins. Seriously, cast her as Holmes, make the doughy-featured Miller your Watson and I am fully on board.
It seems at least one scene in the upcoming film Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows will involve Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes disguising himself as “a Chinese beggar” for laughs. Because crude racialized cosplay is funny, y’see – especially if there’s a British accent involved!
At least, that seems to be the reaction from some movie bloggers: The Huffington Post breathlessly reported that Downey’s yellowface get-up signifies director Guy Ritchie “has his hero going multicultural — to great comedic effect.”
Actually, what this bit threatens to do is continue a disconcerting trend: the creative teams behind the most recent attempts to “reimagine” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories can’t – or won’t – let go of some of their most xenophobic elements. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World