'Shadow and Bone' Viewers Call Out the Show's Blatant Anti-Asian Racism
The Netflix adaptation of Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone is liberal with its changes, though has received largely positive reviews from viewers, receiving an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and becoming the top-viewed show on Netflix in multiple countries for more than a week.
But while many Grishaverse fans were satisfied with this on-screen adaptation, some took issue with the changes made by production, especially when it came to how the show handled racism.
Actress Jessie Mei Li praised how the show handled racism, saying it paralleled her own experiences.
Leigh has been very vocal that when Shadow and Bone first went into production, one of the things she wanted to change was how white her original cast was.
“When [showrunner] Eric [Heisserer] and I first sat down together, one of the first things we decided was that we wanted Alina to be half Shu," Leigh told Comics Beat. Shu-Han is based on China, making Alina half-Asian. "It made a lot of sense, and it felt very organic to the story.”
Alina is an orphan, so the audience never sees her parents, but in the novel, it was largely presumed she was Ravkan (Ravka is based on Russia). Leigh has admitted many times in interviews that since Shadow and Bone was her debut, it largely "echoed" what she saw in other fiction — very white with straight relationships.
Eric also said in an interview that once the decision had been made to make Alina half-Shu, Christina Strain, a mixed-Asian writer, was his first hire for the script.
Before the first season debuted on Netflix, Jessie Mei Li (who portrays Alina) said in interviews that she felt the show really depicted "how ridiculous racism can be."
"We see Alina do these amazing things and then, in the next episode, she’s getting racially abused in the street," Jessie said. "And I think it really highlights to people how stupid that is to insult someone or verbally attack someone based on how they look. So, I think it’s a really important time for us all to see these things, and I’m just super proud to represent our community on screen.”
But many viewers were unhappy with the anti-Asian racism depicted in 'Shadow and Bone.'
While Shadow and Bone may boast a diverse cast, but many of the viewers weren't happy with the blatant racism Alina experiences within the first three episodes. Before the plot has advanced very far, it becomes clear that Alina's half-Shu identity "others" her even further than being a Sun Summoner does — and POC viewers expressed their displeasure online.
"I want to like it. I want to like Shadow and Bone so bad. But every day I think about how much of fantasy shows and books my white friends are excited about requires me to suppress my anger over being faced with racism, I feel like my heart is going to explode," one Twitter user wrote.
Racism was not a prominent part of the original plot in Shadow and Bone, and Alina seems to be the only character to deal with the brunt of insults, even from other characters of color.
Some reviewers felt the show's portrayal of racism was reflective of their own, while others had hoped the show would move past racist storylines in a fantasy world.
The show has not yet been confirmed for Season 2, and it's unclear how its issue with racism will be addressed in the future.