It's hard to believe that we still live in a world where race and gender are still met with such controversy. But if the persistent campaigning against The Help this season, and the near-constant frivolousness given to many so-called "chick flicks" have proven anything, it's that the topics of race and gender are still sensitive issues in Hollywood (and beyond).
So it should come as no surprise when people from seemingly all ends of the universe went up in arms over the news that Asian-American star Lucy Liu had been cast as Joan Watson, sidekick of the famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes, in the upcoming TV show, Elementary. Yes, you read that right: Liu will be playing a character formerly played by a slew of white men before her--from Nigel Bruce to Jude Law. And so what?
Sure, it goes without saying that this is a very uncommon casting choice, but let's not all lose our heads over it. For one thing, Liu is a strong character actress who has long since paid her dues and has wrongfully fallen way under the radar. It's easy to peg her as that badass kung fu-slaying actress who's been kicking butt in a myriad of films, including perthaps her most famous film role in Kill Bill. But Liu has been underrated for years, in roles that people might not expect from her. From her role in the quirky caper Lucky Number Slevin, to her brief yet hilarious stint on TV's Ugly Betty, Liu has more than proven her range as an actress. This season she brought such depth to the story of a female cop in Southland, and is already gaining buzz about her performance in the new indie film, Detachment (co-starring Adrien Brody).
But, of course, the controversy has nothing to do with her talent as an actress, which should be undeniable. It's more the fact that people are so used to seeing Watson as a white man that anyone else is an insult. As a matter of fact, Buzzfeed's JP Moore seems to have a few choice words about the casting (but, of course, backs it up by saying how this isn't a dig at the fact that it's an ethnic woman): "I simply have a problem with the fact that while an amazing modern retelling of the Holmes story (that's true in spirit to its source material) is being done in England, America gets a heavily adapted and seemingly “Hollywoodized” version of the tale. All too often that leads to a dumbed down product." A "Hollywoodized" version because Watson is a woman (and ethnic), or a "Hollywoodized" version because it's Hollywood and it's another version? Hint: Moore writes in large letters "This is not what Watson looks like" on a picture of Liu, and on a picture of Martin Freeman (who plays Watson on the BBC series Sherlock) "This is what Watson looks like."
In any case, Watson as a woman should not be too hard to fathom. The relationship he had with Holmes is for the most part professional (although they were always respectful friends), and we rarely go too deep into his personal life. So, in essence, it sounds like Liu's character may mostly surround her profession (and perhaps grapple with some sort of existential crisis, we'll assume for dramatic purposes), similar to her Southland character. According to Deadline, Liu will play a former surgeon who lost her license after a patient died, while consulting for the NYPD. So it sounds like there will definitely be more to this character than meets the eye (and probably even more depth to Watson, in light of her being female). So let's not knock her for the sake of knocking her. Let's at least watch an episode, or take a look at a trailer before we lose our minds over it, shall we? After all, this new show may find new Sherlock Holmes fans that might not have paid attention to it otherwise. And this could be a really, really good move for Liu, who may finally get the praise she deserves.