In an ironic twist, the woke community demands that a show about karate include more Asians doing karate. Isn’t that a massive stereotype and aren’t stereotypes bad? Or are they only bad in some cases?
Consider it an axiom of woke culture: If something becomes popular, however fun, charming, or diverse, it will come under attack at some point. Nothing can simply be enjoyed without squeezing the literal life out of it until the creators succumb to the increasingly insane demands of today’s censors. Thus, Netflix’s popular Cobra Kai is now in the sights of the woke warriors.
The LA Times reports that “At Netflix, whiteness of Cobra Kai is under new spotlight.” Even before Season 3 debuted earlier this month, NerdsofColor.org was bemoaning that the series “severely lacked Asian and Asian American representation.” Claiming, it’s “not too surprising. While the creators Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg have proven themselves to be the Karate Kid fans they are, it’s also clear as day that they are three white guys who probably have overlooked this particular aspect of what made the films so special.”
Reyzando Nawara writing for Digital Spy piles on, griping that “Cobra Kai season 4 needs to make some big changes when it comes to Asian representation. And why wasn’t it done sooner?” Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that it was created by white dudes, ergo it’s bad.
Before we continue, can we discuss how racist it actually is to associate karate with the need to count Asians? Think about it for a moment: Isn’t it a monstrous stereotype that all Asians are into karate and, therefore, a show about karate needs to include a lot of Asians? I might be missing something, but that seems to be the association, karate equals Asians.
Amazingly, Nawara actually seems to like the show before he drops the stereotype-driven hammer. “Throughout its first three seasons, the show has mastered its storytelling approach while giving us plenty of nostalgic and kickass moments such as the one-take fight scenes at the end of seasons two and three.”
Sounds great, right?
Then, we get to the gist of the unfounded concern. “Unfortunately, there’s still one thing that’s lacking from the show, which is authentic Asian representation in the main story. In fact, Cobra Kai features almost no Asian characters at all, aside from Kyler (Joe Seo), the school bully, and Nathaniel (Nathaniel Oh), the kid who switches from Cobra Kai to Miyagi-Do.”
So, it actually does feature two Asian characters as part of the main story. Nawara also neglects to mention at this point in the article that a chunk of season 3 actually takes place in Japan, introducing several Asian characters, including two actors from Karate Kid II that reprise their roles. Yuji Okumoto returns as Daniel-son’s nemesis, Chozen, and Tamlyn Tomita as his former flame, Kumiko.
How is a storyline actually set in Asia not considered Asian representation? We’ll get to that later.
In the meantime, Nawara continues, “Some may argue that this shouldn’t be a problem, especially considering how diverse the main cast is in general. Few shows are as diverse as Cobra Kai, but to not include integral Asian characters in a series that focuses on East Asian culture is disappointing at best and feels like a missed opportunity.”
There you have it. The show is diverse. It features Asian characters and storylines, but it’s still “disappointing at best.” What is it at worst, pray tell?
In order to counteract this tragedy of casting, Nawara then recommends the most ridiculous stereotype of them all: “Imagine if Kyler had an arc where he learned to reconnect with his cultural identity through karate.” Even worse, he knows it’s a stereotype and then hedges, “If the writers wanted to avoid defining Kyler by his Asianness or Asian-Americanness alone, there are still plenty of ways to give him depth and expand his role from that of a one-dimensional bully – even when that’s already far from the usual stereotype faced by Asian actors.”
So, if we define Kyler by his Asianness alone, as in by karate, that would be defining him by his Asianness alone, but he’s already not playing an Asian stereotype? Does this make the slightest bit of sense to anyone?
Here I was operating under the assumption that stereotypes were bad, yet an Asian actor playing a role against type, should now be put in a role according to type.
Elsewhere in woke culture, stereotypes are very bad of course. For example, the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game had a popular supplement in the 1980’s, Oriental Adventures. Players could choose from samurai, ninja, and monk characters, mastering karate and other martial arts.
The supplement was incredibly popular and well-reviewed when it first came out in 1985, but has since become a flashpoint because of, you guessed it, Asian stereotypes. The situation is so serious that Daniel Kwan, the co-host of the Asians Represents podcast, wanted the publisher to literally ban the book. He wrote on Twitter, “When you buy [Oriental Adventures], you show [Wizards of the Coast] that you are okay with Asian people being represented by blatant stereotypes.”
Comicbook.com reported, “He also noted that by having Oriental Adventures available for sale, it shows consumers that these legacy products are to be consumed despite their use of dated and racist stereotypes.” Not to be outdone, Kwan himself added that Oriental Adventures was “harmful,” and “When you buy this, you show them that you are ok with Asian people being represented by blatant stereotypes.”
Which is it? If it’s a blatant stereotype to portray ninjas, samurai, and monks as Asian, how is it not a blatant stereotype to demand Asians be more represented in a karate show? Can you imagine if Cobra Kai had Asian characters walking around with accents and doing a lot of karate? You can be sure that would be the number one complaint.
Apparently, the solution is to have the Asian characters and also the overall culture more “fleshed-out.” According to Nawara, who finally mentions that two episodes actually take place in Japan in the second half of his meandering rant, after of course noting with dismay that a popular black actress from the first two seasons isn’t in the third, “the show still fails to give us fleshed-out Asian culture and representation.”
Only it is fleshed-out. Nawara even acknowledges that “Yes, we get a glimpse into traditional Okinawan dance in small detail.” and “Also yes, Tomita’s portrayal of Kumiko and Yuji Okumoto’s role as Chozen are both beautifully written.”
What more do you want in episodes that run about 30 minutes? Footnotes and appendices?
No, Nawara wants something “new” whatever that may be. He’s also frustrated that “Kumiko and Chozen are still only there to advance the white character.”
Yes, the white character the entire franchise is based around. Imagine that, the story arcs in a show advance the story of the protagonist. He imagines this newness might happen if the show delved “deep into the origin of Miyagi-Do karate – what makes it different and special from the original Japanese karate.”
Huh? Is Nawara aware that there is no Miyagi-Do karate anymore than there is a Cobra Kai karate? It’s a plot device in the show. Miyagi wasn’t actually a sensei. Pat Morita was an actor. Of course, he’s also upset that “we still don’t know much about Kumiko aside from the fact that she’s now teaching Okinawan traditional dance” or “we don’t know anything about Chozen outside of the new karate moves he shows to Daniel in episode five.”
What else are we supposed to know? It’s a show, not a biography of real people.
Of course, it doesn’t help Nawara’s argument that we know quite a bit about Kumiko. We know she travelled the world as a dancer and lived out her dream. We know she returned home to Okinawa and inherited her mother’s house. We know she kept it to preserve the traditions of her culture, and we know that her mother and Miyaga were in love even though they were apart for decades. We also know she never got married and had children. What more could you possibly cram into an hour of television?
Of course, nothing the creators do would ever be enough. Nawara closes with “It wouldn’t be considered cultural appropriation if the writers learned how to treat the culture and the people they want to represent with care and respect…Let’s hope the damage can still be undone.”
The assumptions packed into this single statement are legion, revealing far more about the rabid woke mindset than about any criticisms of Cobra Kai.
First, nowhere does Nawara or anyone else indicate that the writers haven’t treated anyone with care and respect; indeed, they have been the ones treated disrespectfully by being dismissed as merely white dudes. Because the creative team didn’t meet Nawara’s quota for Asian representation or didn’t take the story in the direction he preferred doesn’t mean they lacked care and respect, and it’s an offensive insinuation to say so. Second, Nawara clearly places himself in the driver’s seat: It’s cultural appropriation when they say it is, be sure to submit your script in advance for criticism or risk being cancelled.
Lastly, who is Nawara to tell anyone they need to learn anything?
He’s basically recommending a woke re-education camp, not even to learn about an interesting culture, instead to learn how to “treat” the culture. Of course, that’s what they want: Conform to the increasingly tired stereotypes of the woke or be cancelled.