Whenever I see an adaptation of some story I like, I play this game: how much would I have to change before it was so far removed from the original as to be not considered a copyright infringement?
Your mileage may vary, but the all time champion for me is the 1970's Doctor Strange TV movie, where I reckon that all connection to the source material could be lost by changing two (1) names. The new Flash Gordon TV show isn't up to that level, but on the basis of the first episode, it's not far off.
First off: this Flash Gordon may be a marathon runner, but he is still way too nerdy to be the kind of hero associated with this role. Flash Gordon needs to be big and dumb: physically strong enough to have boundless self-confidence in his own abilities, and dumb enough to have a narrow vision of what is right and to go for it undeterred by the more complex issues. This version is more Clark Kent than Superman. And then Doctor Zarkov now seems to be reduced to lab assistant comedy sidekick, whose wacky inventions are hit and miss, but which I predict will usually come through when the plot depends on them. And Dale Arden seems to be channeling Lois Lane.
And then there is Ming. No, this isn't Ming. Ming is grand and capricious. This is some cheap stereotype dictator in quasi military uniform from any number of bad SF TV shows. And of course he is white, because it would be racist to have one of the most entertaining character roles in Science Fiction be a non-white person (2). So he is white. His daughter is so white I have trouble telling her apart from Dale. The guards are white. Most of the various different races of Mongo I could spot were white but in different ethnic costumes. The evil scientist is white. In fact the only non-white characters are Flash's buddy who doesn't get to be part of the adventure, and a black Mongo woman who only appears long enough to give Ming an opportunity to show how mean and petty he is.
Now it's just a personal opinion here, but I think Ming ought to be oriental (3). He should be oriental and grand and wear lavish costumes and laugh a lot, and throw people to the crocodiles on a whim. And his daughter should be oriental too, and spoilt and slutty, and maybe sides with the good guys in the end for all the wrong reasons, or gets redeemed at the end if you really must. And quite a lot of other people in Ming's court should be oriental. Yes, they are villains. Well, Aura is sometimes a villain. Either way, I think it's pathetic and racist to recast iconically oriental characters as white, purely because they are villains. What next? A white Fu Manchu? (4) The way to make these characters non-racist is not by making them white, but by writing them well.
And there weren't any spaceships.
How the hell can you do Flash Gordon with no spaceships? They are an intrinsic aspect of the story, but here we just get a cheap Stargateish rippled air cgi effect. I realise this production is low budget, but then so was the 1930's serial (5) and it looked better than this.
1. or possibly three, it's a long time since I've seen it
2. Or perhaps the subtext here is that white people are evil and bad.
3. I'm aware that the term "oriental" is considered offensive by some in the USA, though I'm not clear why. To Americans "Asian" may have the same meaning, but in the UK it is used purely to refer to inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent. In the UK "oriental" has no negative connotations and is used by the BBC, which is good enough for me.
4. okay, technically both Ming and Fu Manchu have historically been played by white guys pretending to be chinese, but you know what I mean
5. By modern standards.
There was a scene towards the end of the pilot where Aura returns after failing to get the McGuffin and NotMing says something like: If you weren't my daughter I'd have you stripped and hunted.
My only thought was ClassicMing would have done it anyways. Hell he would have done it because it was Saturday and there was nothing good on cable...
Both "Asian" and "Oriental" are a bit vague. Oriental is considered offensive by a large number of people outside of Britain (perhaps due to past usage by racists) -- two strikes against the word.
Asia is a big place. Standard Canadian practice is to say "South Asian" for people from India and Pakistan and "East Asian" for people of Chinese and Japanese descent. "Southeast Asian" is common as a descriptor for people of Vietnamese descent, say, while "Southwest Asian" is catching on as a way of talking about people from the Middle East. This practice seems to me to be a good way of talking about ethnicity (when you must) without causing offense.
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