I have no idea how this popped into my head. But it's one of those things that just nags at the corner of your mind until you say, "Screw it, let's go with it." So I took a short break from Mortal Mistake, but I'll be getting back to that as soon as I can.
By the way, did you guys know Larry Omaha voices Nightwolf? I almost lost my damn mind when I found that out. :D Now he's twice as awesome.
"What is this?" Johnny cried as he held the notice in his left hand, his right occupied by his cell phone. On the other end of the conversation was his irritated (and likely underpaid) agent, who took a deep breath before continuing to deal with her defiant and tantrum-prone client.
"I told you," she sighed. "We've been getting complaints from activist groups about the way you portray certain… minorities… in your films. So we got a letter from All Races Represented asking that you take racial sensitivity classes."
"That's ridiculous," Johnny almost shouted into the phone as he crumpled the letter and reached for his energy drink. He had taken a five minute break from being on set for one of his new films in order to call his agent after an intern had handed him the letter. "I'm not racist."
"I'm not saying you are," his agent countered. "But I personally don't think it's a bad idea. If it makes the public happy, then I don't see why not. Besides, they have a point. A lot of stereotypes tend to crop up in your movies."
"Name one," Johnny dared her, obviously not thinking through on his comment.
She took a deep breath before beginning.
"24 Karate Gold, Brax Jiggs, an African-American "bad-A mamma-jamma who doesn't take crap from nobody," in his own words. 7 Poisons and Cage Match, Duskhawk and Dawnlynx, magical Native Americans who can summon spirits and wear buckskins and hair beads. Dragon Fist, Son of Dragon Fist, Exiting the Dragon of Death, and every other movie in which an Asian shows up and automatically knows martial arts, speaks with an accent, and on more than one occasion wears a traditional outfit. And that one time where it wasn't even an Asian, it was just a white guy with a rice paddy hat."
She could practically hear him scowling over the phone.
"Those are all based off of people I know," he argued.
"I'm sure they are," she replied, although Johnny noted the insincere tone in which she said it. "But unfortunately the viewing public either doesn't know that or doesn't care. Look, my suggestion is just do it, get it over with and get back on track. It can't be that painful."
She hung up before Johnny had the chance to rebuff her statement. He angrily shut the cell phone off and flung it across the room, hearing it smash into little plastic pieces. Whatever, he thought, finishing off his energy drink. I'll buy a new one. He didn't have time to take a stupid class filled with condescending, uptight twits and real racists. But it seemed like he didn't have a choice; this was the kind of stuff that ruined an actor's career.
He sighed and got back to the set, figuring he would think it over more later.
"Wait," Jax scoffed, amused. "They want you to what?"
Johnny glared at him over the rim of his sunglasses. They were sitting in an L.A. pizza parlor, waiting for their food to come out. "They" in this case also included Sonya, Nightwolf, Liu Kang, and Kung Lao (who was currently off in the restroom). Johnny had convinced them all to come out to preview his new movie, but at this point it seemed the entire project was in jeopardy. It hadn't been much of a problem for Nightwolf, who had been able to take time off from working at the library of the University of Arizona, or even Jax and Sonya, who had both flown out from Austin. But it had been quite a stretch for Kung Lao and Liu Kang, who had had reservations about leaving the temple for such a materialistic endeavor. However, much to their surprise, the monks encouraged them to take a chance and see a city abroad (the one time in both of their lives where "abroad" had not meant "outside of their own realm").
"You heard me," Johnny grumbled, hiding his face behind the menu, preferring not to repeat the tidbit he had just disclosed to them. Liu Kang poked through his salad as Nightwolf addressed Johnny.
"I personally don't see the issue," he commented. He looked barely recognizable to the rest of them without his trademark face paint or buckskins and his hair picked up in a neat ponytail. "Maybe you could actually learn something from the class."
At that moment Kung Lao walked up to the side of the table.
"Sorry, everybody," he apologized, scooting in next to Sonya in the large booth. "When nature calls…"
"It's usually Nightwolf who picks up the phone, isn't it?" Johnny immediately teased, adding a short sound akin to a screeching hawk and earning a look of disbelief from the others at the table for making the joke at Nightwolf's expense after what he had just told them.
"Right there!" Nightwolf exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at Johnny. "Those are the kinds of jokes that some people don't take lightly. And I told you not to call me that in public; my name is Nicholas Lupe."
"Whatever, Nightie," Johnny shrugged, taking a sip of his coffee and earning a hard stare from Sonya.
"Not 'whatever,'" Nightwolf retorted, mildly annoyed now. He did, however, drop the issue concerning his name. "Like I was saying, some people take it the wrong way when those jokes crop up in your movies."
Johnny placed the cup back down on the table, almost smashing it.
"It's not my fault some people don't know how to take a joke, then!" he responded, causing Jax and Kung Lao to both hold up their hands in an attempt to bring Johnny under control.
"Well," Nightwolf replied, a little more calmly. "If you didn't base so many of your characters off of stereotypes, maybe it would be easier to avoid the issue altogether."
"…I based the characters off of you," Johnny said, looking at him incredulously. "You're the one running around with feathers in your hair and summoning Patronuses or whatever all the time."
Nightwolf held up a finger for him to stop.
"First of all, the plural is 'patroni,'" he said, irritating Johnny further. "Second, I don't dress and act like that all of the time."
At this point Nightwolf lowered his voice and leaned forward so the other patrons in the restaurant would not overhear a particular part of their conversation.
"It's only for the tournaments."
Nightwolf sat back up as the young waitress who had taken their order came by with the pizza and set it down in the middle of the table. Immediately Sonya and Jax took the first slices of piping hot Hawaiian, not noticing the slight scowl on Johnny's face as he realized his point in that regard had been defeated.
"Nick here's got a point," Jax commented, not looking at anybody as he took another slice. "Last time I checked, there weren't a lot of brothers in your movies that didn't remind me of a cross between Shaft and Chris Tucker."
Johnny leaned back and rolled his eyes in frustration.
"Because they're supposed to be cool," Johnny argued, finally remembering to take a slice for himself. "They kick ass, they have good one-liners, what's the problem?"
"The problem is they don't act realistically," Sonya quipped, folding her slice while waiting for it to cool off. "There's no sense of a real person underneath; they're hard to relate to."
"You say you base these characters off of us," Jax interrupted. "When have I ever acted like that?"
"You don't. Besides, it's not supposed to be realistic," Johnny snapped, piling a mountain of cheese and oregano onto his slice. "People do crazy kicks in midair and walk away from explosions like nothing happened."
"Her point still stands," Kung Lao stated, thanking the waitress when she came out with his soup.
"I hate to play the devil's advocate here, Johnny," Liu Kang said as he played with a crouton that refused to stay on his fork. "But they're right. I can't help but notice the way most of the Chinese characters come off. I mean, I think you were going for Chinese, but somewhere along the way I think you went for some kind of cultural chop suey."
"Pardon the pun," Kung Lao interjected, sharing a knowing smirk with most at the table.
Finally realizing that he was fighting a losing battle, Johnny stretched his neck out to look around Sonya and address Liu Kang directly.
"Well, like, what do you mean? Chinese people practice kung fu, right?" he asked, attempting to clarify any misconceptions that may have existed in his movies. Maybe now he could finally get some answers as to why people were so upset about his characters.
Liu Kang and Kung Lao both nodded in confirmation.
"You got that part right," Kung Lao said between sips. "Good job."
Johnny narrowed his eyes but disregarded the sarcastic comment.
"So, what's the problem?" he asked. "Is there stuff that Chinese people don't do?"
This time Nightwolf joined Liu Kang and Kung Lao in their circle of knowing smirks. The latter two began thinking of things and started to rattle off a long list.
"We don't all follow the teachings of Buddha. I mean, some do, but don't assume so," Liu Kang pointed out.
"We don't run everything underground," Kung Lao added.
"Not every old Chinese person speaks in cryptic riddles."
"We don't eat sushi."
"We don't all wear rice hats," Liu Kang continued before Johnny stopped him.
"Ah!" the actor interrupted him. "What about Raiden?"
"Raiden isn't Chinese," Kung Lao clarified. "He's a synthesis of all of the cultures that have chosen to acknowledge him in their rituals. Also, he's a god. He can pretty much do whatever he wants. I wouldn't question him about his fashion choice."
Johnny pondered this and nodded in agreement.
"We don't know martial arts straight out of the womb, either," Liu Kang continued. "That takes years of training and discipline, just like it would for you."
"Okay, okay, I get it," Johnny stopped him, taking another bite out of his pizza before speaking again. Much to the others' dismay, he didn't even finish chewing.
"Maybe I do need to fix a few things," he admitted. Suddenly Sonya grabbed his jaw and forced it shut. Johnny protested through his closed mouth, but shortly gave in and swallowed, signaling that he was ready to speak again. Sonya didn't give him the chance.
"More than a few things," she corrected him. "Don't even get me started on the way women are written for these movies."
Johnny threw his hands up in the air.
"What are you talking about? The chicks kick ass. I was thinking of you when I wrote them, babe," he teased, earning a flicked piece of pineapple in his face.
"Really?" she questioned him, picking off a piece of ham for herself. "Were you thinking of me when these 'chicks' got tied up and had to wait for Joe McStud to come save them from Mr. Evil?"
Johnny slumped back, noting her point.
"All right," he said. "I guess there are a few problems. But you guys know I'm not racist, right?"
There were half-hearted replies of "Yeah" and "Of course not", except for one clear comment from Jax along the lines of "You're too stupid to be racist."
He shot Johnny a condescending smirk as he continued to tear through the pizza.
"You could stand to cool it with a few of the jokes around us, though," Nightwolf piped up again. Johnny looked up attentively.
"Like what?" he challenged. Nightwolf gave him the same incredulous look Johnny gave him a few minutes ago.
"Johnny, yesterday you told me I couldn't go dancing with you at any clubs because it would start raining," he reminded him. The unexpected comment earned audible chuckles from Liu Kang and Kung Lao's side of the table, and everyone shot them disbelieving looks.
"What?" Kung Lao retorted. "It was kind of funny."
"No it wasn't!" Nightwolf cried out in disbelief, shooting Johnny a menacing glance when the B-lister also broke out in a small fit of giggles.
Kung Lao raised his hands to soothe his friend.
"All right, all right," he replied, returning his attention to his soup. They all continued to eat in silence for another moment. Meanwhile, however, Kung Lao looked around the table for something he thought should have arrived with his meal.
"Does anybody know if this was supposed to come with crackers?" he asked. Nobody expected the response that flew out from Nightwolf's lips.
"Maybe if you opened your eyes a little wider when you read the menu, you would have seen the 'no sides with soup after 11:00 a.m.'"
He hadn't even looked up from his plate. The others at the table, however, stared at him slack-jawed for the audacity of his comment. Nightwolf finally looked back up at the rest of them, especially Kung Lao, with a challenging stare.
"Try me," he dared. Kung Lao narrowed his eyes.
"That's how it's going to be, huh?" he responded, throwing the same look right back at Nightwolf.
"Guys," Sonya jutted in, breaking up their staring contest. Kung Lao shrugged and returned to his soup.
"Fine," he spat out. "It's not my problem if Squanto here is nervous because he's been away from the casino too long."
Nightwolf slammed the table, his expression furious. There were comments of "Ooooh!" from Johnny as Sonya and Jax tried to cool Nightwolf down, while Liu Kang scolded his friend across the table. The six of them were beginning to attract attention from other customers in the restaurant.
"Hey!" Sonya silenced both of them, holding up one finger. "Enough."
"Are you listening to this?" Nightwolf said, jabbing his fork in Kung Lao's direction while the Shaolin monk on the receiving end of the gesture sneered.
"Yes," Jax replied for her. "And I don't wanna hear any more of it. I just want to eat in peace. Got it?"
Everyone at the table was silent for a split second before Kung Lao let another retort fly.
"I can dig it."
He smirked malevolently, even as Jax gave him a hard stare and Liu Kang cried "What is the matter with you today?" to his friend.
"Hey," Jax cut Liu Kang off. He glared at the warrior on the other side of the table. "Cool it, Kung Lao chicken."
"Whoa!" Johnny laughed, holding his hands up to stop everyone. "Time out! That's enough! Oh, man," he said, putting his hands down on the table and shaking his head. "That was intense. But don't you all see?"
He made a sweeping gesture to everyone at the table as he continued to suppress another fit of chuckles.
"Everyone's a little bit racist!"
The others gave him a look like he had grown a second head. Johnny nervously realized for a second that he may have just made a tense situation worse, but then he heard a stifled chuckle from Liu Kang's end of the table. It was his turn to be on the receiving end of the disbelieving looks from everyone else.
"I'm sorry," Liu Kang managed to spit out between chortles. "That whole thing was just… unexpected."
Even Sonya had to crack a smirk at what just transpired. Soon the others at the table were finally able to acknowledge the bizarre turn the conversation had taken.
"See?" Johnny said. "None of you really meant what you said, did you?"
Nightwolf and Kung Lao exchanged glances. Finally, much to everyone's surprise, Nightwolf was the first to crack a smile.
"I suppose not," he answered.
"That doesn't make it okay, though," Jax warned Johnny, afraid he was taking away the wrong lesson from all of this.
"I know," Johnny said, signaling for him not to worry. "I'm just saying, when you're with friends, it's okay to… you know, share a few jokes at each others' expense sometimes. We don't actually think about each other that way, right?"
Sonya thought about his comment, slightly impressed by the insight Johnny had shown on the matter.
"Right," she stated. "But I hope you realize firsthand now just how harmful those stereotypes can be to some people."
"Y'all can chill out, I get it. Little Johnny has learned his Aesop for today," he joked, earning a few more laughs from around the table. Smiling, he reached for his soda.
"Who needs that stupid class, anyway?" he stated bluntly, taking a sip. Sonya made a hissing sound between her teeth.
"Ooh," she interjected in an attempt to stop his train of thought. "Not so fast. Do you think you're allowed to just refuse to take the class?"
Johnny gave her an odd look. He thought about it for a second.
"Well, it's not like they can make me take it. Right?" he asked, looking at the others for confirmation and only receiving shrugs.
"I don't know how that works."
"Not in show business."
"You should probably take it," Jax suggested. "Just to be on the safe side."
Most at the table agreed. Johnny slumped his shoulders, defeated again.
"All right," he replied unenthusiastically. "Whatever floats the public's boat."
They all returned to enjoying their food until another offhand comment flew through the air.
Again incredulous expressions turned to Kung Lao, who looked back at all of them in bewilderment.
"What?" he asked defensively. "I asked for some crackers. Right there, the little thing next to the salt."
All heads turned to see the little container of saltine crackers that was, in fact, resting next to the salt and pepper shakers.
They earned reprehensive looks from the other patrons in the restaurant as they all burst into collective laughter.
Poor Nightwolf. Days from now, he'll be tapping his foot to the radio…