[Mabuhay Bitches] From Queens to Erasure

I tend to feel tepid whenever major corporations make diversity statements or open positions for diversity and multicultural management. While, yes a diversity of people in media – behind and in front facing – are always important. It’s when a statement is made but the company continues to keep up hypocrisy.

That one company in this post is Lucasfilm.

The tweet was made in response to a Black actress on Kenobi receiving harassment. The internet and fandom went in full defense of the actress.

Yet, when I sat down and watched Kenobi, I noticed something no one was talking about. Kenobi debuted in May, AAPI Heritage Month (Asian American Pacific Island Heritage Month in the United States). I was still on fire in my Asian activism having been heavily involved with organizations like Dragon Combat Club. When I saw Leia’s adoptive mother, Queen Breha, on screen she looked different.

Firstly, let’s talk about the history of Filipino elements in Star Wars.

The Ewoks in Return of the Jedi spoke Tagalog. I didn’t believe my parents when they told me the Ewoks are Filipino. Yet, when one of them spoke a Tagalog phrase, I was like whoa! “Ayon-Maganda” (translation: Hey Beautiful!) said one of the fuzzy wuzzies.  That George Lucas integrated the Tagalog language to the short fuzzy wuzzy brown bears that lived in the forest! For a while, Filipinos have claimed Ewoks as their representation and cultural mark on Star Wars. I’ve known a few in university that integrated “ewok” in their AIM handles. Even comedian Rex Navaratte talks about this in his comedy routine. We never saw it as cultural appropriation, but something we claimed because we felt in on the joke.

Additionally, light saber fighting and choreography in the prequels is very much based in Filipino Martial Arts. My university professor would talk about stories about former students working on the prequels as fight choreographers. Also, Dooku’s lighter saber hilt is based on Filipino weaponry. You can read more about that here!

And when I saw Leia’s adoptive mother, played by Rebecca Jackson Mendoza, at the end of episode 3, I was like, “Omg! We can be queens of the galaxy!” After all the elements used in the movies, we finally got a HUMAN! While she only showed up for a few seconds, she still regal, held baby Leia lovingly, and I would wonder what mother / daughter adventures Breha and Leia have. Knowing that one of the coolest characters in fiction is raised by a queen that looks like me was a totally awesome thought. Padme may have given birth to Leia, but Leia was raised by Breha. When Leia was asked by Luke, “Do you remember your mother, your real mother?” I’ve always interpreted it as her adoptive mother versus the one that lost her will to live.

For context, when episode 3 came out, there wasn’t a lot of positive representation of Filipino actresses and even in Filipino media, Filipino women were given roles of true life sexual assault victim or woman crying like every 5 minutes. I mean, Kris Aquino made a career for herself as rapeslay victim.  To see a Filipino as a queen, donning real regal-ness was a sight! Even if it was for a moment – regal, elegance, and in a happy relationship. A single shot is all you need sometimes.

And they even made merch of her!

And she even appeared in the comics!

The actress was replaced by a Māori actress in Kenobi. They look nothing a like. And while a lot of folks also want to see more Māori rep as well, it really should not have been done at the expense of removing Filipino representation. Even if Rebecca Jackson Mendoza wasn’t available, there’s a TON of Filipino actresses out there that are looking for work! I mean, Broadway and theatre have a huge pool of Filipino talent. Most of my idols have come from Broadway.

My original tweet that “inspired” the “Actually…” crowd

What was most upsetting by Star Wars and Kenobi stans was “Well, she’s Māori so that’s the same as Filipino since that’s also Pacific Islander!”  Um…Pacific Islander folks are not a monolith. Also, Filipino’s are South East Asians, not Pacific Islanders. Folks in Asian and Pacific countries don’t view themselves as “AAPI” but rather their culture. Even though my original tweet mentioned “AAPI,” I made a correction tweet on my socials acknowledging that the new actress is Māori. Yet, people were convincing me that Filipinos and Māori were interchangeable. This came from the people who are pro-diversity. Yet they fail to acknowledge that  Filipino and Māori folks are not the same culture.

Want to know a Taisho secret? You’re not as woke as you think you are.

If anything it is much more upsetting than one of my favorite comfort characters from the prequel era is when the fandom gaslights your identity and culture. I can assure you my lived experience as a Filipino American is vastly different from that of a Māori in New Zealand.

And I repeat, the fact these stans from the pro-diversity side of the force. It’s attitudes like this that make me have trust issues with diversity statements. Or you know…learn that Asian and Pacific cultures are not the same and neither interchangeable especially when it’s this obvious.

So to the people who think they’re so woke and think that Māori and Filipinos are the same, to you I say “Mabuhay Bitches! Mabahong pwet mo!”

Written by Dame Aznable


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