The Pod Nod: We’re Not All Ninjas Explores Asian Representation in Hollywood

We’re Not All Ninjas just started their second season and it’s a great time to jump on board this podcast! Focusing on Asians in Hollywood, the hosts – Alex Chester, Melissa Slaughter, and Rachel Liu – are three extremely insightful and intelligent Asian American women who don’t shy away from delivering the real talk on the film industry, casting, representation, and so much more.

I feel a special kinship to We’re Not All Ninjas because I am also hapa like the hosts and many of the guests they have on the podcast. ‘Hapa’ is a borrowed Hawaiian word that means ‘half,’ and specifically in this context means half-Asian. Often, this podcast delves into not only the Asian experience, but specifically the hapa experience in Hollywood and beyond.

The first season discussed classic films like Mulan, Better Luck Tomorrow, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, and Memoirs of a Geisha, but also talked about films with lesser Asian representation like the (only) two Harry Potter films with Cho Chang and Kill Bill Pt. 1. They were also able to cover more recent classics like Moana and the injustices that were The Great Wall and Ghost in the Shell, amongst other films.

By reading that list, which isn’t even all of the movies, it’s easy to see that the genres of films reviewed run the gamut. It’s also refreshing to listen to the hosts talk about films they both loved and hated, rating them using a scale they’ve dubbed ‘The Abacus.’ All films start with 5 points and lose them for typical tropes like the white savior, Asian erasure, stereotyping, tokenism, and more. Once a certain number of points are deducted for the negatives of the film, points are added for positives like breaking stereotypes, intersectionality, showcasing role models, and more.

It was always interesting to see how the points worked out for certain movies. Rogue One scored high praise, while Harold and Kumar was widely beloved by the podcast, but didn’t fair as well points-wise when it was held up to the same standards.

But throughout the season, there are breaks from discussing specific movies to explore more general topics concerning Asians in Hollywood. There is an episode discussing what it personally means to each person to be hapa, the casting of Henry Golding in Crazy Rich Asians (and the split in excitement between men and women discussing the project is amazing), the controversy around Death Note casting, the first Taiwanese American Film Festival, and more.

These discussions are the ones I found myself enjoying the most because they showcase how much thought and care the hosts put into making these episodes. For each one, there were specific guests who offered unique perspectives and brought their own insight to the situation at hand. As someone outside of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, many of their concerns and struggles shed new light on issues I wasn’t fully aware of before (Casting directors legally can’t ask what kind of Asian you are? Casting directors ask what kind of Asian you are???).

Season two promises to tackle just as many movies and Hollywood issues as the first season, with a few new surprises (a live show, anyone? More info at the bottom of this post!). The first episode is out now, discussing Okja, the Netflix Original movie, and spoiler alert: not everyone enjoyed the film, which made for contrasting views and engaging discussion.

For anyone interested in learning more about representation in Hollywood, specifically Asian but there are kernels of knowledge and universal experiences shared by all minorities talked about often, this is the podcast that will help open your mind. We’re Not All Ninjas tackles a serious topic with aplomb and has a great time doing it!

Spodlights

You have to start with the Mulan episode because it’s a classic. And stick around for the Mulan bonus episode to hear a prescient call-out that white actors “have to learn to say no” to parts meant for Asians (Ed Skrein!).

The sorting of movie characters into Harry Potter houses in some of the bonus episodes! I’m obsessed, all of the characters need to be sorted every time!

If you didn’t think Baze and Chirrut were gay space dads in Rogue One, Melissa will do her best to persuade you in the Rogue One episode (and bonus episode)!

The hosts and their guests not only watch and comment on Hollywood happenings, but so many of them are involved in the entertainment industry in one way or another. It’s like getting a secret insider’s peek at what goes on.

If deep-diving movie discussion isn’t your thing, but you’re interested in the subject matter, listen to guest episodes without a specific movie focus. ‘The Casting of Henry Golding’ episode was especially fascinating.

Seriously, if you’re only going to listen to one episode of this podcast, ‘Hapa Hour: The Casting of Henry Golding’ should be the one.

In the second season, We’re Not All Ninjas has joined Hard NOC Media, the podcast collective focused on producers of color.

The balance of movies that the hosts liked and hated. Good and bad movies are discussed and there’s always something new to be learned from the discussion.

Melissa, one of the hosts, actually writes for Nerdophiles and everyone should definitely check out her work on our site!

Listening to this podcast is like vegging out on the couch with your friends and having a serious, life-affirming conversation about what are usually shared experiences amongst Asians (and Asian Americans).

Listen on: iTunes | Stitcher

If you’re in the NYC area, We’re Not All Ninjas is recording a live podcast with Becky Yamamoto (Uninspired, My So-Called Life) on September 20! You can buy tickets here.