Image courtesy of GeekBomb.com
Pictured Above: Actor and martial artist Donnie Yen portraying the blind warrior-monk, Chirrut Îmwe, in Star Wars: Rogue One.
Star Wars, despite being one of the top film franchises of all time, often misses the mark when it comes to gender and racial representation. In terms of Asian representation, The Force Awakens featured more Asian characters than in the previous six films combined. Despite this, no Asian character was much more than a background character. So, the appearance of Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus in Rogue One was particularly exciting.
Whereas Baze is more of a protector to Chirrut, Chirrut himself is a blind warrior-monk, who is immediately identified to the audience as nothing short of a martial arts master. Though he is completely blind, Chirrut is an incredible martial artist. As Rogue One is a completely new and original story, with no source material, there was no source material to dictate that Chirrut needed to be an Asian karate master.
The actor portraying Chirrut, Donnie Yen, is an incredibly notable actor, director, fight choreographer, and martial artist. Yen has been involved in numerous of Hong Kong action films, such as the Ip Man series, a franchise based loosely on Bruce Lee’s martial arts teacher, Yip Man.
“I asked him a very blunt, frank question: “Why do you want me to be in your film? The China market? The Asian market?” Because originally I thought, ‘Oh, they just want me to kick some Stormtrooper’s butt.’” –Donnie Yen
Though there is nothing to say that an Asian character should not also be a fighter, the fact that Chirrut is blind raises some questions about the stereotyping of this character. Chirrut cannot see, and yet, he can still be a masterful martial artist – does this perpetuate the stereotype of Asian kung fu warriors, to the point where Asian characters do not even need to be able to see to be a master of martial arts?
However, it also important to consider the line between stereotyping and casting Asian characters as action heroes. The difference lies mainly in intention, in whether an Asian actor or actress was purposely cast to fill the role of a martial arts master, particularly with no backstory as to why they have such tremendous fighting abilities.
Colorblind casting sessions should very much be considered the norm in Hollywood, and in North American media production. This would aid in eliminating stereotypes, as actors would not be subject to as much racial typecasting.
Whether Chirrut Îmwe’s character was intentionally or unintentionally stereotyped, Donnie Yen was enthusiastic about the much-needed diversity that Rogue One brought to the Star Wars franchise.