Back in 2002, you may have watched a little old show called Firefly. It was a Joss Whedon brainchild, a unique sci-fi show that tried to mesh together Asian and Western cultures as a backdrop for space cowboys. No, really. Whatever the case, Firefly became known as a show with a Sino-American background, as evidenced by its Asian/Western aesthetic and the phrases of Mandarin Chinese used right alongside the English in the dialogue. However, one major question remains: why were there never any Asian characters of note in all the episodes or the movie?
In the commentary for the Firefly movie Serenity, it’s stated that China and the U.S. were the two superpowers who took the human race to the stars, and so, by the time the series starts, these two cultures have merged into the default “human” culture. However, if the two cultures really merged, one would expect them to, well, merge—the prevailing theory that the Asians settled on the richer central planets instead of the poorer ones in the Outer Rim doesn’t hold water, because no ethnicity is inherently smarter or better than another. Asians should have been on all planets, rich or poor.
Which brings us to our main cast. There were only a couple of extras who were Asian, which is a shame in and of itself, but none of our main cast—Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Jayne, Shepard Book, or Simon and River Tam—were Asian. So we’re left with a bunch of mainly white characters who all speak some amount of Mandarin Chinese, use chopsticks, and dress up in Asian-inspired clothes and hairstyles. Without an Asian character in the cast and without Asian values reflected in the storytelling, this little bit of otherwise creative worldbuilding smacks of cultural appropriation.
Fortunately, however, Firefly is an old show with a huge fandom (hello, Browncoats), and many of them have written extremely nuanced and articulate posts on why Firefly’s cultural appropriation is a big problem. So I won’t go into that here. It did occur to me, though, that Firefly’s problem could easily have been fixed by racebending. That is, the producers could easily have changed one or more of the characters’ ethnicities so that they were Asian. But which ones would be best?