When GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2 was being advertised, I was so excited for the appearance of another Asian character (Mantis) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Especially one in space. Between the DOCTOR STRANGE whitewashing controversy and the Iron Fist casting discourse — the representation of Asians in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been lacking.

As a person of color, it is difficult to advocate for representation without immediate backlash. Even more so, it is difficult to point out stereotypical writing in media without being told I am too sensitive or nitpicking details. Personally, I feel that I need to speak up about the way Mantis was treated in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2. It made me squirm in the theater.

Why Are We Still Making Fun of How People Look?

One of the gags that ran through the entire movie was Drax’s affronted reaction to how Mantis looked. Drax is unquestioningly bullying Mantis. Even at one point making gagging noises at her to demonstrate how unattractive she is to him. Not only does Drax repeatedly insist Mantis is “ugly;” but, he also calls her a pet, taking away her agency and making her seem less of an equal.

READ: Enjoyed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2? Check out this analysis of the soundtrack!

More so, this character who verbally humiliates Mantis over and over again later is allowed to “save” her in a heroic scene at the climax of the movie. That just says something about how media supports romanticizing abusive relationships.

Even after Mantis helps defeat Ego, Drax throws in one last gag, telling her she is “beautiful — on the inside.” He says this with a very significant pause in between because he can’t stop making fun of Mantis for her physical features. Confusing enough, this opinion is not shared by the other Guardians, so I do not understand Marvel’s goal of making Mantis’ appearance such a cruel punchline in the first place.

Wait, Aren’t All Asians the Same?

How Drax treated Mantis is even more cringeworthy when you consider the fact that she is of Asian descent. Mantis is a biracial character, half-Vietnamese, and half-German. In the comics, she is the daughter of Gustav Brandt, aka Libra of the Zodiac, and born in Vietnam. In the movie, she is portrayed by Pom Klementieff. Klementieff is half-Korean (slight segway to point out that a person of East Asian descent got cast to play a character of Southeast Asian descent).

I cannot help but wonder if the reason Drax is so crass with Mantis is because she visibly has Asian features. Drax himself is played by a biracial actor of Filipino descent. So, maybe, Marvel believed it would have been less racist to have the Asian make fun of the other Asian. Nevertheless, Marvel might have forgotten that Drax is covered in green paint.

His character in the comics does not explicitly cite Asian heritage, which Mantis’ character does. Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe never tells the audience he is an Asian alien. Neither does Mantis. However, Mantis does not have to because being Vietnamese was part of her origin story in the comics.

The misogyny and violence against Mantis now is racially charged. Does Drax think Mantis is ugly because she has Asian features? Does Drax call Mantis a pet to a white man because she is Asian? He surely does not make it a point to call Gamora or Nebula ugly. He also has never once implied that they are less than human.

Mighty Whitey…

Now that we have established why Mantis is an Asian character, I want to tell you why her MCU adaption is a terrible portrayal of Asian women. A large part of the reason is her relationship with Ego.

READ: Interested in Asian representation? Learn about the obstacles presented by Hollywood

It is disturbing when Mantis, who is an adult, is infantilized. Mantis is described as “innocent” and “naive,” with mannerisms that reinforce these traits. Mantis has obviously not interacted with other aliens before she met the Guardians. You can come to this conclusion because she takes everything Drax says about her at face value and does not question it. She absorbs and repeats, like how a child would.

…and Mellow Yellow

So the question arises: whose child is Mantis? The answer is sadly obvious: Ego. Ego is the only character Mantis has known in her life before the Guardians. Mantis admits that Ego kidnapped her from her planet when she was a child in the movie when she tells Drax Ego found her in her larva state. Remember when Mantis says she is “a flea with a purpose?” Ego only keeps Mantis with him because she is useful.

Ego also deliberately isolated Mantis from other life forms. We know it is deliberate because Ego himself can travel and transport others. How else would the skeletons of his children end up on his planet? Why didn’t Ego take Mantis with him when he traveled? Why didn’t Ego find parents for Mantis when she was younger?

The answer is because Ego did not want Mantis to develop agency. He has encouraged her to remain docile and child-like since she was a larva. Honestly, it is starting to seem like Ego just wanted a slave who was solely dependent on him because he sure doesn’t pay Mantis for her services.

Submissive Asian Women Trope

The fact that she calls Ego “master” should have set off warning bells. Then Drax goes and tells Mantis that she is Ego’s pet. She goes on to repeat this to Gamora, who does not correct her but does take the time to show Mantis that she is not ugly. Soon after, Gamora asks if Mantis is not comparable to a flea on a dog since she is living on Ego, which Mantis replies that she is only allowed to because she is useful.

READ: Asian IRON FIST? Here are some reasons why Lewis Tan would have made a better Danny Rand!

It is true that Mantis comes up with the analogy first. But, instead of encouraging her to think of herself as an entity more than just a servant to Ego, Gamora reinforces the fact that she is. It was more important for Gamora to tell Mantis that she is not ugly than it was for her to tell Mantis that she has just as much agency as Ego and anyone else.

Does It End Here?

The controversy around DOCTOR STRANGE because of whitewashing, where Marvel erased the Tibetan heritage of a character while still using aspects of Tibetan (or just vaguely Asian) culture themes in the movie. The controversy around IRON FIST arose because of the White Savior trope resurfacing in 2017.

What happens when in a blockbuster movie, the Asian woman is enslaved to a white man, who also happens to play a god?

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