The Fairy Princess has been looking around at the television landscape, and she is greatly…ok, ‘greatly‘ may be exaggerating
…but she has been much encouraged about what is happening in American Television in regards to API Representation.
First off, this week – HELL ON WHEELS on TMC – they have finally included the Chinese in their story!
For those who do not know – HELL ON WHEELS is about the building of the railroad across the United States of America.
Now, TFP did like the first season, but she did not return for the second, third, and fourth because…while yes, she is Irish, she had a problem with the lack of representation of the Chinese on the show.
A show about the Railroad? With no Chinese? C’mon, HELL ON WHEELS, really?
Only because..well…without the Chinese, the railroad likely would not have been completed. The first Chinese workers were hired in 1865. They were paid $28 dollars a month, and had to pay for their lodgings and food – unlike the Caucasian workers.
Historians estimate that there were 10,000 – 15,000 Chinese laborers working on the railroad at any given time after 1867, until completion on May 10, 1869.
The number that died working on the railroad has no official number, but the work was brutal and back breaking, and one had the added danger of potentially being blown up.
TFP has watched the first episode of HELL ON WHEELS this season, and now, in Season Five – they have (Finally) started to delve into the Chinese workers of the Railroad, represented for the most part by actors Byron Mann as Chang,
Angela Zhou as Fong, and Tzi Ma as Tao. (More will likely show up, but this is only the first episode of the season)
Their inclusion has given her a reason to watch the show again. In fact, they seem to be laying the groundwork to go into the Chinese Railroad Workers Strike of 1867, which should be both historically and dramatically interesting.
In 1867, Chinese Railroad workers went on strike, demanding higher wages – from $35 to $40 per month, and a reduction of the work day from approximately 12 or 14 hours to 10 hour shifts. That did not go quite so well – the owners refused, so the Chinese upped their request to $45 per month.
The workers did not riot, they did not scream loudly, they simply did not go to work, and they thought they had the upper hand – except for that pesky racism that pervaded the country in regards to the Chinese.
You know, the same kind of racism that led to that massacre in Rock Springs later in 1885….the kind where they do not consider you human?
Yeah, that kind.
Anyway, back to the strike – the owners refused to have food delivered to the camps of the Chinese Railroad workers- they also added an armed posse for ‘persuasion’.
The Chinese eventually capitulated – it was that or starve to death. Thus ended the 1867 Strike.
Some have mentioned to TFP that they are uncomfortable with Chang being a ‘bad guy’ because they do not like the idea of Chinese preying on their own.
This is counterproductive to TFP in this regard – if we try and self-regulate what parts Asian American Actors and Actresses get to play, they will not get to play anything. Why? Because when the API community starts demanding only ‘certain kinds’ of roles that fall more in line with the ‘model minority’ thinking, that is the death knell for creativity.
What we should want is for our Actors to have colorful roles.
Asian American Actors and Actresses should have the ability to play roles that make us uncomfortable, roles that make us think, roles that inspire them. To wish otherwise is to rob them of their tools, and eventually of their livelihood. If you get rid of the API Actors, by constantly second guessing or trying to ban their productions, who wins?
Not your children, who will grow up…as we all grew up…without almost any API representation on television.
Not yourself, who will look to things like the casting of Tilda Swinton as a 500 Year old Tibetan Man, and wring your hands, but know that once again, there is nothing to be done.
No one wins, it is that simple.
Actors do not go to your job and say you cannot do it simply because they do not like the look of your job now, do they?
In the theater, we say ‘you vote with your ticket’ ie: if you do not like something or you do not like what a show represents, or the message it sends, you vote by either purchasing or not purchasing a ticket.
In television is it actually similar – you vote by changing the channel, By watching or by not watching.
Before we decide, however – let’s just watch the show and see if it dramatically makes sense. If the characters are interesting. Not ‘moral’, not ‘good’, not ‘comfortable’, but are they interesting?
Because that is what ‘we’ should be concerned about – multi-layered, interesting characters with motivations, right?
TFP’s opinion – the character of Chang is completely within the realm of possibility – particularly when one reads part of this statement by Leland Stanford, President of the Central Pacific Railroad at the time:
“….No system similar to slavery, serfdom or peonage prevails among these laborers. Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month, are divided among them by their Agents, who attend to their business, in proportion to the labor done by each person. These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them their supplies of food, the value of which they deduct from their monthly pay. We have assurances from leading Chinese merchants that under the just and liberal policies pursued by the Company, it will be able to produce during the next year, not less than 15,000 laborers..…”
In TFP’s opinion, any time one is unable to connect directly with one’s workers, and relies on intermediaries, there is the opportunity for misbehavior. As is often said –
The character of Chang is a wealthy businessman with several interests including, lest one forgets, a brothel. Most people would say brothel ownership is distasteful but Chang, as a character, is interesting.
TFP has no issue with it, there is a historical basis for this plot – she looks forward to seeing more inclusion of the Chinese journey in the United States on television, and how, dramatically, this gels with the rest of the show.
Look again at that statement “…are divided among them by their Agents“
Yaaaas Grrrl.…now you are getting it….let’s just see how this storyline plays out this season, all right?
One episode does not a season make…this could get very, very interesting….and we Chinese love to wish interesting times upon people, do we not?
Roll on, HELL ON WHEELS, Roll On…