Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
AMC’s Into the Badlands premieres this Sunday, November 15th. It’s been described repeatedly as genre-bending, a dieselpunk martial arts drama that hopes to elevate kung fu action in the way that Walking Dead revolutionized the zombie thriller.
Racebending was invited to two press events with star Daniel Wu. He spoke extensively about his initial role as producer, developing the show behind the scenes, and stepping up to headline a major television show as an Asian American.
From the beginning, the show was envisioned with an Asian lead.
“I really respect AMC for being adamant that the role was an Asian American role,” Wu said. “An Asian American actor to play that role, because if it wasn’t for that support we wouldn’t have had that.”
But it wasn’t until they had finished production and started doing press before it sunk in how groundbreaking the casting would be.
“I think we’re doing the first round of promotion and people […] start to say, ‘Hey this is kind of groundbreaking.’ And I say, yes, right that is true. And I think I mentioned at Comic-Con in July, that it was a great feeling to be able to do this show, knowing the history of Kung Fu, the TV series that Bruce Lee tried to get going but then was stolen from him because studios were not ready to put a Chinese in the lead. And that felt really great 40 years on to be able to right that wrong.”
Wu has always been conscious of the roles he’s accepted and, as an Asian American who grew up in the Bay Area, is keenly aware of Asian stereotypes in media.
“I knew that putting an Asian in the martial arts genre show is very stereotypical, but I wanted to see what the character was like. [Y]es, the martial arts and stuff is very stereotyped, but what we’re seeing is a strong Asian male lead who has a girl, who resists and is not just part of a team, and leading this whole story, it’s something that we haven’t seen before. […] It’s because it didn’t have all the kind of stereotypes that you normally see. It started with a stereotype and kind of blossomed into something else and that’s what really attracted me to want to do this role.”
When asked if the show was conceived with the intention of tackling stereotypes, Wu offered a nuanced response.
“I think [we were] unconsciously trying to do that. We weren’t consciously trying to change the face of Hollywood by creating more diverse roles for Asians, but it just happened to be that way because the team I work with are people who are less close-minded than the executives in Hollywood.”