Arthur Harrow wants his followers to speak three languages. He may want to find a new Mandarin teacher first.
the moon knight the villain (played by Ethan Hawke) has a brief conversation in Mandarin with one of his followers in the second episode of the Marvel Studios series, and viewers familiar with Mandarin criticize the scene for butchering the tongue and have him described as “gibberish” on social networks.
Even Marvel Cinematic Universe actor Simu Liu, who starred in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Ringstook to Twitter to comment on the scene, tweeting “Arthur Harrow needs to fire his Mandarin teacher.”
During the build-up to the controversial trade, Harrow attempts to enlist Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) to further his seemingly nefarious plans. While introducing Steven to his community of followers, a girl throws a soccer ball at him and she and Harrow converse briefly in Mandarin.
The exchange is not captioned and the captioning only indicates that they are “speaking in Mandarin”, so there is no translation provided for non-Mandarin speakers.
As clips of the scene circulated on Twitter, many viewers said they felt insulted or the scene made them cringe. Some insisted that there was no actual Mandarin spoken in the scene, while others concluded that the lines were mistranslated before being spoken by the actors.
Among those who responded to the scene are MCU fans who believe the mangled Mandarin is intentional, either to undermine Harrow’s community or as part of a twist that moon knight has not yet revealed. That Steven’s English accent is intentionally “weird” might support these theories.
Marvel did not respond to a request for comment.
Mandarin has the reputation of being a difficult language to learn for English speakers, in particular because of its tones. But pronunciation aside, the lack of subtitles makes moon knightThe treatment of Mandarin feels particularly sloppy – an prop language, of sorts, that the creative forces behind the series haven’t bothered to master.
Other non-English languages have also been spoken in moon knight. The first episode includes a scene where Harrow issues a command in what the subtitle describes as ancient Egypt.
Earlier in episode 2, Steven is reciting a poem in French and the subtitles also indicate that he is speaking in French. No scenes include subtitles for non-English lines.
The only non-English language to get subtitles in moon knight so far it’s Arabic in episode 3, probably because those lines contain important story details.
moon knight isn’t the first time an MCU title has been called out for mutilating an Asian language.
In Avengers: Endgame (2019), Ronin/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) speaks atrocious Japanese when fighting gangsters in Tokyo. But the scene was captioned, and he was facing Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada.
Black Panther (2018) saw T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) travel to Busan in South Korea. Viewers were more critical of the Korean spoken by those who were supposed to be Korean characters than of Nakia’s fluency in the language, and these conversations were also captioned.
End of Game and Black Panther preceded Shang Chiwhich marked a milestone for Chinese and Chinese-American representation in the MCU and served as a rebuke to the long history of stereotypes and tropes perpetuated by both Marvel in particular (see: the Ancient One, the Mandarin, Iron Fist, etc.) and Hollywood in general.
Whether or not the Mandarin passage can be “explained” by later revelations in the narrative, however, the scene perpetuates stereotypes about Asians and Asian languages: Asian Americans have always been mocked and mocked with gibberish “Asian-sounding” racist.
Such a misstep is particularly egregious now, in a time of heightened awareness of the connection between racist rhetoric and anti-Asian violence, and for a series that in other respects takes authentic portrayal seriously. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service