The Outrage Over Cobra Kai Is Just Getting Started
Jan 16 2021
Cobra Kai is serving up some 80's nostalgia with a modern twist. The Drama / elements-of-comedy series is a reboot of the 1984 film, The Karate Kid, and the many films that followed in that franchise. The storyline for Cobra Kai picked up 30 years after the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament. How could we forget?
The series is obviously successful and brings up some major questions. Are Ralph Macchio and William Zabka friends in real life? Why does the character Tori look familiar? And how much karate does Macchio actually know in real life? While there's so much fun stuff to consider, there are actually some concerning details about the spinoff show. Curious? Us too. Don’t worry, we will explain.
Cobra Kai is a booming sensation on Netflix, but with this exponential popularity comes new issues. The major issue is a lack of diversity in the show, and it's a legitimate concern. There are no Asian leads in the series, despite the significance of Japanese culture to the story and the fact that the plot revolves around martial arts.
Jen Yamato of the Los Angeles Times called out this notable absence on Jan. 8th, 2021. She said,
"There are now three white men at the center of Cobra Kai, a franchise rooted in and deeply indebted to Eastern tradition... After 30 episodes on two platforms, Cobra Kai has yet to cast an Asian lead."
Other authors are also speaking up. Ana-Christina Ramón, who was a co-author of the 2020 UCLA's annual Hollywood Diversity Report, spoke in a similar vein. She said,
"Except for the Latino character of Miguel, all the other people of color are outside of that main cast, so it actually doesn't show as a diverse show in a sense."
Vanity Fair also called out the series for its lack of appropriate representation. In speaking of seasons 1 and 2, the outlet said it was disappointing that,
"Danny LaRusso, Italian kid from Jersey, is the most Japanese character."
So what did the show's creators have to say in response?
The creators of Cobra Kai, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald, spoke up about concerns over a lack of diversity in their show. They said to the Los Angeles Times writer Jen Yamato that their decision was made out of respect for the character of Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita. They also added that since they were working on a reboot, they had to use the characters of Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence.
Schlossberg and Hurwitz wrote 2004's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, which Schlossberg referenced in response. He told the Los Angeles Times,
"Having made Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle we've been particularly sensitive to Asian American representation in movies and television. [...] We would have loved if there was a Miyagi son or daughter that was floating around in the lineage and the canon of the movie to play with. [...] We inherited the story that felt like the natural continuation, where for better or worse you are dealing with Johnny and Daniel as your protagonists."
Heald offered an optimistic note for the future and said,
"Each season as we're writing, we're looking for new underdog stories and new characters to populate the universe. We always have our eye towards representing today's society as richly and as accurately as possible."
While they've responded to criticism, what do fans think of this situation?
While conversations are brewing around the lack of diversity in Cobra Kai, especially towards the show's creators, Twitter is extra salty - I know right? Who saw that coming? On the official Cobra Kai Twitter page, people are especially vocal about it. One person tweeted,
"Hollywood finally found a way to completely shun out Asians from martial arts movies. They achieved their ultimate dream."
Another person tweeted,
"I want to start watching Cobra Kai but the lack of [A]sian characters rubs me the wrong way."
However, others on Twitter felt this wasn't a legitimate topic. One person responded to the Los Angeles Times Twitter conversation and tweeted,
"Dear Cancel Culture, Please don't mess up Cobra Kai for me."
Nevertheless, there are folks out there discontent about the lack of representation. One other person noted,
"My one thing about Cobra Kai is I understand where it came from but can the series have more likeable main Asian characters like, you are literally a show about an Asian fighting style."