Blade Runner 2049: 30+ Years of Getting Asian Culture Wrong

As in chapter one and three of Yellow, Frank H. Wu emphasizes the idea of discrimination of Asian descendants as the west loves the idea and culture of the east but does not accept the reality of the East. From class discussion and from the reading, I aim to explore and expand on the appropriation of Eastern cultures and peoples and discuss how the West fails to see their hypocrisy of loving the ideas and not in the individuals.


In the section “Back to the Future”, Wu discusses the concepts of futurism and how Western Cultural productions have clung to the idea of Eastern culture ideas and not the individuals or reality of Eastern Culture. Specifically on page 117 where Wu mentions the “cult classic film Bladerunner”. Although it was produced in 1982, its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, was released in October 2017. Wu mentions that the film utilizes “Asian culture [that] has taken over a perpetually raining Los Angeles” (Wu 117). The movie “borrowed haphazardly” from Marx and, most importantly, from Asian culture. With a dystopian future fueled by scenes and scenery of the foundation of cyberpunk, Bladerunner features symbols prominent to Asian culture. However, there are no Asian-American actors or Asian representation in the film. This was the ‘80s so perhaps time would offer an opportunity to fix this racist portrayal…


Fast forward to the release of the sequel in October 2017 and audiences saw zero representation or actors of Asian descent in Bladerunner 2049. Lead by white, featuring white actors such as Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, and ambiguous others David Bautista and Ana de Armas. Siddhant Adlakha discusses this disconnect in the film in the article “On BLADE RUNNER 2049’s Asian Influence (And Disconnect)”. Adlakha is quick to note that western sci-fi is quick to borrow and be influenced by Asian culture but lacks Asian actor. He notes that the film’s trailer had “a neon sign with the word ‘bar’ written in Hindi” and features further amalgamations of Eastern Cultures. Later in the movie, the setting contains “Korean signs [that] adorn the Vegas Hotel… glaring Japanese katakana accompanies the neon advertisements and Hindi not only gets to have a presence but an authoritative one”. Adlakha describes the presence of Asian culture as “Hollywood’s amorphous ‘future aesthetic’…but…barely [has] any Asian faces to be found in the actual film”. He continues to point out the irony of choosing an Asian amalgamation aesthetic to fit a film that features themes of systematic oppression.


Adlakha echoes Hoai-Tran Bui’s argument, although the latter produced her article just days before. Both discuss the problematic inclusion of an Ambiguous Asian Culture in sci-fi films but the exclusion of Asian Characters. Bui’s article first describes Bladerunner 2049’s director (Denis Villeneuve) and cinematographer’s (Roger Deakins) decisions to depict an “urban labyrinth that parallels the dense claustrophobia of modern Hong Kong high rises”. Bui continues describing a “futuristic Los Angeles” that includes “neon: holograms of dancing women in anime-inspired outfits, cute Hello Kitty-style machines, Chinese characters, and Japanese kanji galore”. However, the impressive scenery and “imagery” is dwarfed by Bui’s important question: “But amidst all Chinese or Japanese slogans and imagery draped over skyscrapers, where are all the East Asian people?” The most ‘exotic’ and ‘foreign’ actress listed in the film’s credits is Ana de Armas and she is Cuban! David Bautista makes an early appearance, but he is a Greek Descendent. The only character to feature an ‘Asian’ sounding name is Lieutenant Joshi, who is played by the white actress Robin Wright. The film may have feature impressive Hollywood names, Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, and Jared Leto, but it failed to feature any Asian actors but gratuitously borrowed from Asian Cultures.  


The failings of both Bladerunner films is their exclusion of Asian actors and mashing different Asian cultures together and assuming the filmgoing audience will be none the wiser. The producers and directors may claim inclusion and influence but they still fail to cast Asian actors, instead choosing to continue the Hollywood tradition of choosing white actors and actresses.


Adlakha, Siddhant. “On BLADE RUNNER 2049’S Asian Influence (And Disconnect).” Birth. Movies. Death. Accessed 13 November 2017.

Bui, Hoai-Tran. “Why Does Sci-Fi Love Asian Culture But Not Asian Characters?” slashfilm, Accessed 13 November 2017.

Wu, H. Frank. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. Basic Books, 2003.


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