Monday News: Hong Kong publishing, facial recognition, whitewashing Dr. Strange, and more accurate world map
WRITING ON THE WALL: DISAPPEARED BOOKSELLERS AND FREE EXPRESSION IN HONG KONG – PEN America has weighed in on the relationship between China and Hong Kong publishing, and in particular the recent case of the disappearing booksellers. The report “examines the wide-reaching impact for Hong Kong as an international publishing center and safe harbor for free expression,” and considering the growth of China in the international publishing arena (and the way the country is being celebrated in events like BEA), the issue of censorship is especially concerning. As the report’s Executive Summary (PDF) notes:
When it became clear that the Chinese government had forcibly kidnapped five Chinese sellers of potboiler political books – apprehending them in Hong Kong, during visits to the mainland, and, in the case of Gui Minhai, while vacationing in Thailand – the sense of security attached to Hong Kong’s protected status was shaken. As detailed by PEN America in “Writing on the Wall: Disappeared Booksellers and Free Expression in Hong Kong,” the booksellers’ disappearances were a vivid indication that the long arm of the Chinese security state could and would reach into Hong Kong and beyond. The ambiguity of the case, the questionable nature of criminal charges, and the absence of any indication that these specific booksellers were engaged in anything beyond standard commercial activity in Hong Kong—albeit with books that depicted Chinese leaders in an unflattering light—has cast a chill on book publishing. The mysteries and uncertainties of the case leave a lingering doubt about what conduct can put authors, publishers, and booksellers at risk, instilling fear and further caution that will narrow the range of ideas and stories emanating from Hong Kong. For international publishing and media representatives, these developments call into question whether Hong Kong can continue to serve as the steady host and anchor on which they have long relied for business across Asia. – PEN America
Facial Recognition Technology Raises Privacy Concerns – A very interesting story about facial recognition technology that also picks up on your emotions, which is expensive but available and not explicitly outlawed, at least not in the U.S. Facial recognition technology is already used in advertising, law enforcement, and even document scanning (passports and driver’s licenses, for example), and a new film, RIOT, at New York’s Future of Storytelling allows the viewer to experience a riot scenario from the inside, their experience guided in part by their emotional state.
“What we’re really worried about facial recognition and identification is secret surveillance at a distance,” Calabrese said. “It means that I can identify you and know where you are going in public, I can record and keep that information and you don’t know it’s happening. I know where you are, I know whether you’ve just visited a protest rally, I can identify everybody at that protest rally and I can keep records of that. It has a chilling effect.” [Chris Calabrese, Center for Democracy and Technology] . . .
But unlike the technology currently used for security purposes, “RIOT” utilizes facial expression recognition, a system that can detect human emotions and that is presently available off the shelf. . . .
There is no U.S. federal law at the moment that directly protects the privacy of American citizens from the potential surveillance using facial recognition technology. Illinois and Texas, however, have passed legislation that requires an individual to give consent for their biometrics to be used, protecting its application in a system that it was not originally intended for. – NBC News
Asian Actors in Comic Book Films Respond to ‘Doctor Strange’ Whitewashing Controversy – The casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange has raised whitewashing concerns. The moviemakers argue that casting a woman was a diverse choice (collective groan), and Swinton’s coloring certainly mirrors that of the original male character. Benedict Wong also defends the film, not only on the basis of what he sees as broad diversity in the cast, but also in ways the film actively resists certain stereotypes of Asian characters. However, organizations like the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) and actors like Kelly Hu are concerned with the wider effects of choosing a white British actor over an Asian actor — characterizing it as a significant failure in both representation and respect.
[Benedict] Wong further explained how Derrickson and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige dispelled stereotypes around his own character. “The idea of a man servant and tea-making sidekick isn’t that appealing,” the British Chinese actor said. “Scott and Kevin said vehemently ‘we’re not doing this.’ And I said, ‘Fantastic, because neither am I.’” . . .
Kelly Hu has been fortunate to be cast in roles true to their source material, including Japanese cyborg Lady Deathstrike in “X2” and supervillain China White on “Arrow.” “I think it’s a shame,” the Chinese-American actress said of “whitewashing.” “From what I’ve been told and what I’ve read, it’s because [studio executives] think that Asian actors and actresses don’t pull in the numbers — that people aren’t going to pay to see Asians on screen. With all these borders opening up and movies going global these days, Asians make up a huge part of the population in the world, and I hope that will start reflecting in Hollywood. – Variety
A More Accurate World Map Wins Prestigious Japanese Design Award – One thing that’s particularly cool about this map is that it can be folded into different shapes and still maintain its accuracy. But I wonder how long it’s going to take to genuinely change the paradigm from the globes we all grew up with to a model such as this one. Will it ever actually happen?
Unlike the Mercator projection, the 1569 mapping technique that you’d probably recognize from the world maps you saw in school, the continents on the AuthaGraph aren’t lined up straight across—they’re angled in a way that provides a more accurate representation of the distances between them. “AuthaGraph faithfully represents all oceans [and] continents, including the neglected Antarctica,” according to the Good Design Awards, and provides “an advanced precise perspective of our planet.” No longer does Africa look the same size as North America, or Antarctica look like one of the biggest continents (it’s smaller than everything but Europe and Australia). – Mental Floss
I have mixed feelings about the Dr. Strange casting thing.
Whitewashing a canonically Asian character is definitely a bad, and sadly far too common, decision, but casting a woman in the role of a canonically male character is actually a pretty big deal for a comic book film.
I suspect the only reason they aren’t taking a lot of flack for that part is because the people who were up in arms over Idris Elba as Heimdall don’t want to side with people outraged over the whitewashing of the role.
As Hollywood becomes more reliant on foreign investors and sales to turn a profit on its exorbitantly budgeted films that can’t break even domestically, casting more actors who have draw in markets like China and India will be a good financial decision for studios. Money, not humanity, will drive the shift.
The destination may ultimately be more important than the route used to reach it, but it’s so disheartening that we can’t just BE BETTER even in the absence of projected profitability.
What a fascinating map! Thanks for posting the link, Janet.