HomeHAPAHenry Golding's Snake Eyes avoids White supremacist story line

Henry Golding’s Snake Eyes avoids White supremacist story line

By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture reporter

Snake Eyes is a loud, unapologetic violent vehicle that stars two Hapa heroes: Malaysian actor Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) and British actor Andrew Koji (Warrior). The casting avoids the White superiority angle of the previous GI Joe releases (more on that later) while director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2009 and The Divergent Series: Insurgent in 2015 and The Divergent Series: Allegiant in 2016) supplies clanging katana and banging guns at a frenetic pace.

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins begins 20 years ago, somewhere in Washington state. A father, (Canadian who is part Chinese and Indian Steven Allerick) is taking his son (Max Archibald)  to his safe house, a cabin out in the wood. Suddenly, the father, tells his son he has to leave immediately, but it is too late. He tells his son to stay put and be quiet. Exiting the front door by himself, the father finds two red lasers on his chest. 

“You were almost hard to find,” the bad guy sneers as his two henchmen escort the father back in the cabin. The father has only one chance, dictated by the roll of two dice: “Win you live; lose you die.” The father rolls snake eyes. He dies and the bad guys set the cabin ablaze.

The son escapes and in the present-day becomes a cage fighter called Snake Eyes who fights until his reputation results in no takers and then he moves on. The slimy Kenta Takamura (Takehiro Hiraganas) makes him an offer: Takamura will find his father’s killer if Snake Eyes will join his organization. Kenta is running a smuggling ring in the Port of Los Angeles.

Kenta was thrown out of his ninja clan, the Arashikage, for his lack of honor and he now asks Snake Eyes to kill his cousin, Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), heir to the clan. Instead, Snake Eyes helps Tommy escape as he explains to Tommy, “I’m not a murderer; I looked into your eyes and saw honor.” 

Tommy now owes Snake Eyes a blood debt and takes him to Japan. His home in Japan is a spacious white castle with ninja training in session. At the castle, Snake Eyes meets the head of security, Akiko (Haruka Abe), who is neither related to Tommy nor emotionally involved with him. Romantic chemistry is there between Snake Eyes and Akiko, but she’s suspicious.

Tommy wants Snake Eyes to become part of the clan, but Snake Eyes must first pass three tests. Only 20 percent pass the first challenge which is given by the Hard Master (Indonesian actor Iwo Uwais). The second challenge is presented by the Blind Master (Ghanaian-British actor Peter Mensah) and asks Snake Eyes to view his own weaknesses and how he harms himself. The third challenge involves a pit and possible death.

The Arashikage are still battling the ambitious smuggler Kenta who has allied himself with the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó). The Arashikage aren’t alone. Besides Akiko, they have another kickass woman: American agent Scarlett (Samara Weaving).   

Sides will be chosen and Snake Eyes will have to decide how far his need for revenge will take him. This origin story has some plot holes, but at least it gives us a conflicted character that Golding brings off gracefully and he plays off Koji well enough. They both waiver between good and bad, hero and anti-hero, driven by anger over real familial threats.

The original portrayal of Snake Eyes was as a blue-eyed blond White man. 

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In the 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, Snake Eyes was portrayed by a Scottish actor Raymond Park as a man who had taken a vow of silence. Thomas Arashikage/Storm Shadow was played by South Korean actor/singer Byung-hun Lee. Hard Master, the ninja master for both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow was played by Japanese American Gerald Okamura.

After reading some earlier discussions about the decision to change the race of Snake Eyes, I realized some people don’t get it. The original Snake Eyes was a White men do it better proof of White supremacy. A White guy goes into an East Asian culture, takes a few comparatively brief lessons and becomes better than the masters and ultimately a superhero. In this context, the original Snake Eyes represented cultural appropriation. There are some questionable aspects of this script, but the casting of hapa Henry Golding is a step forward and, as one person pointed out, not unlike the change of Nick Fury from White to Black. That doesn’t mean this is a good story or good cinema. It’s just good to see Hasbro coming to a better solution than Marvel did with Doctor Strange or Iron Fist

Snake Eyes was originally scheduled for release on October 23, 2020, but opens on July 23, 2021. In English with some Japanese (English subtitles).

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Just because someone trains in martial arts does -not- mean they “appropriated their culture”. By your logic Chuck Norris and every thing he has accomplished in his life is “cultural appropriation”. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes have always been fairly evenly matched. But when someone that has no idea about actual martial arts comments something as laughable as OG Snake Eyes was based on White Supremacy I have to step in. Americans generally have had bigger builds than Asians, especially in the past. If two people learn the exact same techniques, whichever of them has the best build is likely to be the most effective. Plus, you know, Snake Eyes was a military trained soldier (and not average by any means) and learned the Arashikage style on top of that while Storm Shadow only ever trained with his clan. Obviously Storm Shadow gets his butt kicked more often than not. There are variables sure, but when I get dunked on, I can’t be mad I’m not 6’9″ then replace the other player with someone I’d rather play against. Then blame it on “Random Race” Supremacy. Lol. Be mad at DragonBall Evolution, I’m right there with you. Otherwise, quit advocating reverse cultural appropriation. I’m with Stan Lee. How about creating new content instead of bastardizing our already established comic and cartoon heroes? Hmm… black Ripcord in G.I. Joe RotC, black Nick Fury, black Captain America, black Jimmy Olsen, asian Snake Eyes, black Nordic god (2 if you count American Gods), black Johnny Storm (FF), 2 black catwomen, black Kingpin, , black Gunslinger in The Black Tower, black Ford Prefect (Hitchhikers Guide, not a car), black Deadshot, black Harvey Dent, black James West (Wild Wild West), black Robert Neville (I Am Legend) (boy, Will loves playing white dudes), black Perry White (Mr. Fishburn), black actors (Halle Bailey) can voice white roles (Ariel) but white voice actors can’t voice work characters of color, and a black Karate Kid that was taught KUNG FU!?!

  2. As a hapa Asian woman, I have a few thoughts on this comment.

    Learning martial arts isn’t cultural appropriation, but inserting a white man into an Asian story just so he can save the day implies that Asians can’t take care of themselves. The US government has used that premise to justify colonizing non-white nations throughout history, which hurts the people of color who live there. It may not seem like a big deal in a movie, but this mindset causes huge problems in real life.

    Now let’s address your argument that Americans are better at martial arts than Asians because “Americans generally have bigger builds than Asians”. Henry Golding and Andrew Koji are 6’1” and 5’11”, respectively. While the average height for East Asian men tends to be a bit shorter than the average height for white American men, both Golding and Koji are well-built men who are perfectly capable of fighting. It’s not like they cast a 5’1” guy to play Snake Eyes and showed him defeating tons of guys who were a foot taller than him.

    “Quit advocating reverse cultural appropriation”? What does that even mean? Golding is an Asian guy doing Japanese martial arts. It sounds like you’re upset because the original Snake Eyes was white, and you seem to dislike that they cast an Asian man in this version. But since this is a story about Asian martial arts, it didn’t make sense why Snake Eyes was white in the first place. In my opinion, Golding’s Snake Eyes is an attempt to reclaim Asian martial arts for Asian stories. You can’t appropriate a culture that is already your own.

    (I do want to clarify that Golding is Malaysian and British, not Japanese. Ideally, Snake Eyes would’ve been played by a Japanese-American actor. But that’s a separate conversation).

    The fact that you used the word “bastardizing” to refer to casting people of color as characters that were originally white honestly gives me the impression that you think people of color are inherently less valuable than white people. No one gets hurt from diverse casting. White characters still make up the majority of characters in mainstream media. Look at the cast of the original 6 Avengers: white Iron Man, white Captain America, white Hulk, white Thor, white Black Widow, and white Hawkeye. Even if we switched out one of these characters for a person of color, we would still have five white Avengers out of six. If you’d rather not watch movies that feature people of color, fear not – there is an endless supply of movies featuring predominantly white casts. For every Snake Eyes, there’s 5 superhero movies with white protagonists. But people of color have the right to see themselves reflected in movies just as much as you do. If seeing an Asian man in the role of Snake Eyes makes you uncomfortable, no one is forcing you to watch it.

    Please, just let people of color enjoy movies with characters that look like them. I don’t expect you to understand how much representation matters because you grew up surrounded by action heroes who were white like you. But many people of color didn’t have heroes who looked like them until recently. For example, Disney has been making princess movies since the 1930s, but they didn’t create a Black princess until 2009. For over 70 years, white girls had multiple princesses to relate to, but Black girls didn’t have any. Black Panther didn’t come out until 2018, and Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings came out in 2021. Diverse casting is still an extremely new concept.

    Stan Lee said no such thing in reference to race. He was simply saying that he’d like to see people create new stories rather than rewrites of old stories – and that’s valid. But judging by the long list of Black characters that you say are “bastardizing” classic characters, it seems like your issue is more about the fact that people of color are finally getting big roles in major movie franchises rather than the fact that Snake Eyes is based on a story that has been previously depicted.

    If I’m misinterpreting your words, feel free to clarify. But I think you’re missing some important points about the situation, and I urge you to consider what I’m saying.

    By the way, Chuck Norris has made lots of bigoted comments throughout his career, so I would suggest looking for a new hero.

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