Chinese American actress Chloe Bennet, famously known for her portrayal of Daisy “Skye” Johnson on the television series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“Abominable” tells an adorable story of a young Chinese girl named Yi, voiced by Bennet, who discovers a young Yeti on the roof of her Shanghai apartment building and soon embarks on an epic quest to reunite the magical creature with his family.
This comes as a welcome addition following the announcement of several other Asian American-centered cinematic projects announced within the last several months. “Abominable” is an opportunity for young Asian children to see themselves represented on the big screen in the form of a vibrant and relatable animated character.
Bennet spoke with NextShark about the upcoming film, her own cultural roots, and the importance of being authentically represented in Hollywood.
For the actress, being a part of this project was a nostalgic and personal experience:
“Every part of Yi feels so much more familiar than any character that I’ve ever played, and a big part of that was just that connection with her Chinese roots,” she revealed.
“There’s so much nostalgia wrapped in so many of the different situations and just the themes of the movie, of trying to figure how to deal with grief and with loss and how family means that you’re there for each other. And there are many themes like that that are so parallel to my life and getting to play her was really therapeutic in a way, like to be centered back to my nostalgic roots.”
Throughout the film’s conception and production, the most emotional and touching aspect of her role was always the thought of young Asian children who will eventually watch the film:
“I’m excited for Asian kids to watch it and see just a part of them represented in a really cool way and it’s all about these kids stepping outside of whatever it is that scares them, and for each character that’s something different. It’s about getting closer to the things that inspire you and it’s about adventure.”
Yi certainly appears to be the strong female character many Asian girls could only dream of seeing on screen in previous generations. “It’s just such a good heartwarming, funny and sweet film, I’m very excited for young Chinese girls to see themselves in Yi because she’s so fiercely independent and really learns the power of vulnerability throughout the film because I think that’s one of the most important lessons for all of us to learn.”
“I’m excited for kids, not just Asian kids, I’m excited for White kids to see themselves in an Asian character because that reversal is also just as important because Asian kids have been doing that for a very very long time and now I think it’s equally as important for everyone to see it,” Bennet added,
Like many other Asian children who grew up around the influences of media, primarily Western media, Bennet understands the lasting effects of diverse representation on a child’s mind and why characters like Yi are so necessary:
“It implants in your mind what you believe you can do and what you can’t. When you’re a young kid and you don’t see anyone that looks like you on screen you think you have to be a certain way to be the princess or to be the hero or to be the superhero, you think, ‘Oh if I don’t look like that, then I don’t think I can be that.’ I know it did that for me. I thought that I’d have to be a certain way to make it and that shouldn’t be the case at all,” she tells us.
“I wish that I had a Yi when I was a kid, I think it would have changed my perspective on a lot of things so I hope this does that.”
The discussions regarding authentic representation within the Asian American community have often debated who is truly “Asian” enough to represent us in the media. As a person of mixed heritage, Bennet was ready to address these concerns for viewers:
“I lived in Shanghai for two years and my Chinese culture was so much more prominent than any other part of me growing up, so I feel much more connected to that side of me than I think people think upon looking at me,” she explained.
“If you don’t look a certain way, people can kind of assume ‘Oh she’s not really Asian,’ but there are so many little intricacies in parts of my relationship with my family that are so culturally Chinese. It’s so embedded in who I am and my family that this is like a nice little peek of that, I think, for people who don’t know me or my family very well, so that was fun.”
For all viewers, whether they are of mixed heritage like Bennet or fully Asian, the actress says “Abominable” can be relatable to all groups. “There’s such a specific thing of being in between both worlds that you feel that can be really isolating and lonely at times and I think a big part of this film kind of touches on finding yourself and what that means,” she says.
Hollywood’s increasing acceptance of a more diverse narrative has affected Bennet as an actress and the environment it has created for her in her work:
“It’s really fun how much more of a community there is for Asian Americans in this business, I just want to see Asian people play dynamic characters on screen and continue to do that. I think that the past few years have been a huge step for us and I think we have a lot more work to do.”
Of course, Asian American stories like “Abominable” are important, but as many audiences already understand, a story is only as authentically Asian as the people behind the camera, creating the vision and the narrative. As an actress in Hollywood, Bennet understands these issues of the lack of diversity both on and off screen, and she’s hoping to continue to tackle these challenges in future projects:
“We have so many interesting and different and normal stories to tell, and if a character is constantly being told through a white lens, then it’s not going to be authentic to our story,” she explained.
“I want to see stories about people that are not just white men, and I’m not super stoked about how it’s happening in Hollywood, so I’m ready to get behind the camera and tell the stories myself.
“The importance of relatability for other people who may not be Asian, or may not be half, seeing a genuine and honest, authentic story that they can relate to, that’s not just the doctor character or the character that’s over-the-top Asian, or the character that’s the nail lady… I want to humanize Asians in a really genuine way where it doesn’t have to be like, ‘We’re ASIAN,’ but where it just happens to be that they are and the stories are also relatable, funny, good, well shot and well directed.”
“Abominable” is set to premiere in theaters on September 27, 2019.
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