‘Spider-Man’ Star’s Remark to Interviewer Sparks Cultural Insensitivity Debate

July 19th 2017

Almie Rose

Sometimes we give what we think are compliments without thinking about the implications of what we're saying. Tom Holland exemplified this when he attempted a compliment that revealed a much deeper issue regarding cultural insensitivity.

Tom Holland

The 21-year-old star of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" was in South Korea promoting the film where he had an interview with his co-star, Jacob Batalon. The two were being interviewed by Eric Nam, a popular singer-songwriter and GQ Korea's "Man Of The Year 2016." After giving an introduction in Korean, Nam gave the interview in English.

As the video of the interview shows, around the twelve-minute mark, after Nam translated some of what Holland and Batalon were saying to viewers, there was a brief awkward moment. Holland, seemingly out of nowhere, said to Nam, "You speak great English, man. How did you learn English?"

Nam replied, "I'm American." He then added, dryly, "Surprise."

Here's why some people were offended by the incident.

The actor who began his career when he starred as Billy Elliot in the musical adaptation in London, likely didn't intend to cause offense with the remark.

But as some comments from social media users on NextShark reveal, the country where the interview was taking place shouldn't matter or otherwise because the nature of the remark itself could be interpreted as culturally insensitive.

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To be clear, this isn't about Holland. This incident speaks to bigger issues, such as racial stereotypes and societal assumptions.

"[A]lthough they were in South Korea and this might seem like a logical question, Asian-Americans are often consistently made to feel like they somehow don’t belong in the country they call home because of their 'otherness,'" Heather Johnson Yu wrote for NextShark.

She went on to write: "Asking questions like 'where are you from' and 'how did you learn English' can serve as a bitter reminder that people view you as an outsider, or different, and it may offend some Asian-Americans, Latinx, or other groups who are often perceived as immigrants."

Ranier Maningding further emphasized this point writing on his page The Love Life of an Asian Guy, "In all my 27 years of existence, I have never been in a situation where I had to question the English speaking abilities of a person."

He went on to explain in the post, which has over 3,700 reactions:

"Why do people ask this shit? From a communicative perspective, WHAT is the fucking function of this D-tier small talk question? If you ask this, you KNOW you don't give a fuck about the answer. Let's be real. You don't wanna hear a 30 min rant about ESL class or a breakdown of how some of us came from cultures once colonized by whites."

In sum, he wrote: "[...] as a general rule of cultural etiquette, white folks gotta stop questioning our English speaking capabilities."

Some people wrote comments of agreement on the post and went on to add how, though this interview itself was a minor issue, it touches on a larger issue:




One person even offered a different perspective by flipping the situation:


And there were others who didn't see the harm in Holland's remark:




An above comment by Facebook user Michael Patrick perhaps sums up the situation best:

"Granted on the spectrum of microaggressions and racism, this is a relatively minor offense, and Tom appeared to have felt proportionately embarrassed. However please do not discount the ethnocentrism inherent in asking a non-white person this type of question. And every act like this one picks at a deeply rooted scab caused by racism, which is why it outrages some."

You can watch the full interview below.