‘I’m much more aware’: Gemma Chan reflects on ‘orientalist trope’ role in BBC’s ‘Sherlock’

‘I’m much more aware’: Gemma Chan reflects on ‘orientalist trope’ role in BBC’s ‘Sherlock’
Carl Samson
August 11, 2021
If given the chance, Gemma Chan may refuse to play the role she had taken in BBC’s “Sherlock” back in 2010.
The controversy: Chan, best known for her roles in “Crazy Rich Asians” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, played a Chinese pottery expert in “Blind Banker,” the second episode in the first season of “Sherlock.” The controversy lies around the character’s use of a thick Chinese accent, involvement in smuggling activities and overall portrayal of a damsel in distress.
  • From the start of the episode, Chan’s character Soo Lin Yao is seen wearing a qipao (a Chinese dress), while “Asian-sounding” flute music plays in the background. Even though Chan speaks in fluent English, she had to use a strong Chinese accent for the role.
  • The episode progresses to reveal that Soo Lin was a former member of a gang called the Black Lotus Tong, which smuggles valuable artifacts from China to London. Unfortunately, she dies in the hands of her own brother — who remains a member of the gang — before being able to decode an important message.
  • Over the years, the episode has received criticism for leaning into racial tropes. “Gemma Chan in ‘Sherlock’ [could have] been so great. They did her dirty,” one Twitter user wrote. “Why are Asians always victims?”

Chan speaks out: Eleven years after the episode’s release, Chan recalled the “racially tone-deaf” role in an interview with Vogue and expressed remorse about it.
  • “Would I necessarily make the same choices now, if given the choice? Maybe not,” Chan told the magazine. “I think I would speak up more if I felt that a role was leaning into an orientalist trope of some sort.”
  • The MCU “Eternals” star added that she’s “much more aware” now. “I think I’m in more of a position where I could say something,” she said.
  • Chan pointed out that she is not throwing “shade” or looking down at “anyone doing any position or in any job on set.” She acknowledged that while the industry has shifted, that “changing the actual culture – changing in practice – takes longer.”
Featured Image via Gemma Chan (left) and Shinra Kirigaya (right)
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