When I first saw an ad for ABC Family's new show Samurai Girl, I'll admit my interest was piqued: An Asian-American woman starring in a prime time show? And she's not Lucy Liu? Progress! But Samurai Girl may ultimately disappoint. I haven't seen the show, but in the commercial, lead character Heaven, 19, says to some white guy, "I need you to train me." Yuck. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samurai Girl began as a series of books written by "Carrie Asai" — not a person but a group of writers employed by Alloy Entertainment, producers of Gossip Girl. The books sold less than 100,000 copies in the U.S. - Gossip Girl sold more than 5.5 million copies - but a three-part miniseries was pitched — and sold — to ABC Family anyway. The actress playing Heaven, Jamie Chung, who was on Real World; San Diego is Korean-American. Playing Japanese. No big deal. "It's just like how Mel Gibson played a Scotsman in Braveheart," Ms. Chung says.Since this fake girl power show was written by a fake Asian, who cares if the actress is Korean and not Japanese, right? It's totally not relevant that Japan occupied Korea and oppressed its people and forced girls and women into sexual slavery. Bygones! Samurai Girl plays on pop culture audiences desire for strong females. Jamie Chung tells PinkRaygun.com that her favorite part of being on the show is the action. "It's playing a young female, a strong character. And I feel like there is not enough of that on television, and I think it is an honor to be able to play that for the younger generation. I think that's cool." She's right: There aren't enough strong women on TV. There aren't enough Asians on TV. But where Gossip Girl revels in its lack of feel-good message and advertises itself as a guilty pleasure, Samurai Girl wants you to think empowerment. It just doesn't seem like the show has the ability to deliver.
I have to say, though, I think it's a crap argument. Since technically she was a member of the oppressed people, if she doesn't care, who are we to be so sanctimonious? And even so, it's ACTING. The character is Japanese because the plot is about a samurai, but I don't believe the fact that she's written as Japanese means that the character has some emotion or depth of personality that a Korean woman can't play. Was Schindler's List bullshit because Liam Neeson is Irish? Was Boys Don't Cry less compelling because Hilary Swank isn't actually transgendered? No and no. It's a bullshit argument and I'm sick of hearing it. If it's a racist portrayal, that's one thing, but actresses don't have to BE the thing they're hired to ACT as.