Meet Davon Williams, an actor and teaching artist who has been performing in "The Festival of the Lion King" in Hong Kong Disneyland.
The Director of Entertainment and Costuming at Hong Kong Disney, David Lightbody, says "Hong Kong Disney is known as one of the best, biggest and most developed theater companies in all of South Asia.". Since 2014, Williams' has had the opportunity to work on television, voiceover, theater, and music projects, but he says that the longer he lived there, the more he became aware of a pattern.
"Overtime, I noticed that many mainland Chinese citizens would stop me on the street to take a picture. Not because they recognized me from my work with Disney, but because they just hadn't seen a black person before." he says. Williams says people would line up to take photos of him, and try to rub his skin "as if they could rub the darkness off".
He was also shocked at how American stereotypes dominated people's perspective. "I wanted to change that." he says.
So, in March of 2015, Davon was recruited to join Team Mushu, Hong Kong Disneyland’s Dragon Boat team.
Dragon Boats date back over 2000 years, but lately their popularity re-emerged in Hong Kong. The races include teams from all over the world, but mainly Asia and in fact, most races are televised and watched fervently by fans in China and abroad.
Named after the dragon Mushu from "Mulan", Team Mushu is one of many teams that compete in races. However, since their creation ten years ago, Team Mushu has come a long way, initially struggling with early eliminations and low levels within the races.
That’s when Steve Kimm, an Australian gymnast, came in and turned the team’s training routine into a rigorous 3-5 day a week schedule.
With Kimm's guidance, the training "allowed for us to have a team that could sustain during higher-level races without losing as much energy as other teams. We stopped relying on brute strength. This shift in approach made our team smarter and we've reaped the benefits." says Williams.
Williams' entry into Dragon Boat racing was not an easy one. Both Captain Steve and his teammates worked at convincing their superiors to agree to having him on the team, as he was the first vocalist from the Lion King Show to join. He also started 4 months into the training season and a mere 30 days before the first race. He says, "I had little time to pick up the technique and was joining a team with some members who had been involved since the beginning."
His first race turned out to be a major one, the Samsung 58th Festival Sport Competition. Not only was this particular competition organized by the Hong Kong Olympic Committee and Sports Federation, but because of the high number of people on the team, Team Mushu was split into two teams: Team Mushu A (veterans) and Team Mushu Black (newbies).
"I understandably was placed on Team Mushu Black." he says. Even though the Black team was made up of the new recruits, Team Mushu Black came out beating Team Mushu A by a fraction of a second, in the most controversial win of the season.
Since Williams has been on the team, Team Mushu has had their “winningest” season.
In this season alone, Team Mushu raced in 8 major events, competed in 96 races, won 34 trophies, and recruited their largest team in history. Team Mushu also happens to be the most diverse team of the season. "We have a Filipino, Samoan, American, Australian, Chinese, gay, straight, Christian, and more." says Williams. "The team is made up of world champion Fire-Knives, International Pop-Stars, Broadway veterans, and other performers from around the world."
However, Williams is the first black member ever to be on Team Mushu.
"I chose to join because I wanted the platform of my presence to serve as the accurate representation of my country and as an accurate representation for people who look like me." says Williams. Over time not only did Team Mushu garner attention and fans, but people began to recognize Williams for being in the races.
In one particular race called a "Fancy Dress Race" where people on the teams dress up in costumes, Williams says that he "noticed that many dragon boat fans were asking to take a picture with me. As the line began to form, I overheard many people referring to me as the 'Black Racer', or the 'Black Mushu Man'. It wasn't the costume attracting them, or just the color of my skin, they wanted a picture because of what was being done. My presence shifted thought and expectation."
“As one team, we represent the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. outside of the confines of just America." Williams states.
"This team of players who are not paid for their service, this representation of what can be, also became my family. We come from so many different places and beliefs, and I feel blessed to have each of them in my life. I'm better for it."