The 2014 Charlie Brooker satirical special still continues to haunt us today
Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Black Mirror special, ‘White Christmas’, is certainly one of the best episodes of the series. But who exactly was that British actor whose character turned out to be so crucial to the story?
In an extremely successful series, ‘White Christmas’ stands out for its shocking twist, harrowing ending and for irreversibly ruining Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’. In typical Brooker fashion, the episode takes relevant concepts from today and pushes them to the extreme, leading them down dark and often terrifying paths.
Without giving too much away, the 2014 Christmas special tells the tale of two men exchanging stories about their lives over a Christmas meal. One of the characters, Joe Potter (Rafe Spall), shares the story of how his wife ‘blocked’ him from seeing her and their child. Featured in the story is a character that goes by the name of Tim. Initially, Tim seems insignificant to the plotline but as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Tim’s role is more symbolic than first perceived. Whatsmore, his East Asian ethnicity is of dire importance to the events that would later unfold.
Although now owned by Netflix, Black Mirror used to be broadcasted by the UK’s Channel 4. Brooker’s satirical take on the world was produced in Britain, broadcasted in Britain and quintessentially British in its critical and cynical style.
As East Asians are rarely seen on British television, seeing an East Asian actor cast in such a mainstream television show in a role that wasn’t a takeaway owner or stereotype, was refreshing to say the least. So who exactly was this actor and what else has he been in?
The actor question is British Born Chinese Dan Li, and it turns out that Li has quite an impressive filmography. As well as Black Mirror, Li has featured in a number of British television shows including Doctor Who, Horrible Histories and Secret Diary Of A Call Girl. Perhaps Li’s most impressive claim to fame was his role in Kiefer Sutherland’s final season of 24 – 24: Live Another Day – in which Li was featured in three episodes. Li also lent his voice to video game 007 Legends as Mr Ling, as well as palying a part in Ken Loach’s 2016 film I, Daniel Blake.
Li certainly has an impressive filmography thus far, but why have we not heard of him? The global East Asian community is now stronger than ever, pushing cases of ‘whitewashing’ into mainstream headlines, condemning directors and theater producers for insensitive casting decisions. A-list Asian celebrities are becoming public icons for diversity and creatives from the community are taking it upon themselves to highlight these efforts. Whether television bosses or Hollywood execs will open their ears to the community’s cries, is for now, a waiting game.
However, in an era of underrepresentation becoming the forefront of discussion for the East Asian community, why are we not celebrating the success and achievements of actors such as Li? Perhaps we should take a look at the success and achievements of those in the community who have broken their way into the media, chipping away at that glass ceiling for the rest of us. Instead of perpetuating constantly negativity, perhaps the community can start embracing the impressive accomplishments of East Asian actors and positively praise television shows such as Black Mirror that recoginise East Asians as an embedded part of the community that don’t all run takeaways.
Those who have seen Black Mirrors’ White Christmas will attest that the haunting episode is hard to forget – the snowglobe closing scene will stick with you for a while. However, as well as the harrowing ending that still sends chills down my spine every time I hear Wizzard’s Christmas classic on the radio, I will always remember this Brooker special as the first time I saw an East Asian actor in such a significant role on British television.
Well done, Dan Li.