May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, so I have the perfect web crush for us today. They Call Us Bruce is a fairly new podcast, but it’s a timely one: hosts Jeff Yang and Phil Yu started it in March of this year to talk about Asian-American issues in pop culture, just in time to catch up with the explosions of wrong that were Death Note, Iron Fist, and Ghost in the Shell. And ever since its inception, the podcast has only gotten better and more insightful in its commentary.
Jeff Yang and Phil Yu are exceptionally well-positioned to discuss Asian-American issues in pop culture: Jeff is a writer/columnist for publications such as CNN and The Wall Street Journal (and notably, is the father of Fresh Off The Boat’s Hudson Yang); Phil is the founder of Angry Asian Man, a blog focusing on Asian-American news and issues which has been running since the early 2000s.The two of them are fast friends who have long gotten together to have conversations about race, and after one too many of these conversations, decided, fuck it, let’s just make this into a podcast.
They Call Us Bruce is not only a candid discussion of issues affecting Asian-Americans today, but Jeff and Phil also bring in pop culture experts to shed some light on the issues facing Asian-American artists in the industry. Iron Fist‘s Lewis Tan shares what it was like to work on Iron Fist and talks about other leading roles that he was passed over for, Hollywood Reporter writer Rebecca Sun and YA author Sarah Kuhn discuss the mess that was Ghost in the Shell, and comics veterans Gene Luen Yang and Greg Pak talk about writing Asian Superman (Kenji Kong) and Asian Hulk (Amadeus Cho), respectively, into comics. So They Call Us Bruce goes quite a bit further than other podcasts or critique pieces: it actually discusses the gains Asian-Americans have made and the challenges they are still facing, and the contributors have both the lived experience and the knowledge necessary to move the conversation past “this sucks” and into “what are we doing about it?” Jeff brings up an idea for an Iron Fist reimagined as an undocumented immigrant that was pushed at Netflix before Netflix came out with its whitewashed trash, and Greg Pak shares how he saw Hulk as an Asian story long before he started writing it and talks about how his comic is creating roles for Asian actors in Hollywood (in this case, Helen Cho, mother of Amadeus Cho, in Ultron).
On a personal level, I can really appreciate how Jeff and Phil try hard to show that the Asian-American experience isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. Jeff is Taiwanese-American and Phil is Korean-American, and when faced with audience questions about being a transracial adoptee, for example, they call a transracial adoptee (Amy Anderson) and get her to weigh in instead of speaking for all Asians. Even the title, They Call Us Bruce, was something that was new to me as an Asian—it’s partially a reference to an old movie, but Jeff and Phil also explain that as kids, they were often called “Bruce” (after Bruce Lee) as a cruel jibe about their presumed martial arts skills and general presumed nerdiness. This never happened to me as a young Asian girl—I was generally praised for being quiet, polite, and articulate, compliments which I now understand to be different sorts of stereotypes in and of themselves. Though the podcast certainly offers new insights to non-Asian listeners, and you should all go listen to it regardless of ethnicity, it’s particularly meaningful to me because it’s a chance to to hear other, older Asians discuss Asian-American issues with insight and nuance. I don’t have a lot of Asian-American friends, and the ones I do have aren’t that interested in talking about race, so I’m often left with the impression that there just aren’t a lot of Asians who’re willing to do the work to combat racism. Not true. They’re out there, and they’re a pleasure to listen to.