Creating Conflict: Crafting the Story of The Earth Below

The initial story concept for “The Earth Below” was pitched to me as an adaptation of Madame Butterfly that takes place in a dystopian world where men no longer exist. I was excited by the project because of the opportunities it presented—it was a chance for me to write a female lead character and create a story in a science-fictional world. The challenge was tying it to an Asian-American theme.

I was primarily determined to stray away from Puccini’s portrayal of a weak and submissive Butterfly and make her a more complex character with agency. In the process of unearthing her personality and her relationship to Luther (the analog to Puccini’s Pinkerton), I found that the story lent itself so organically to one of the most challenging and fundamental Asian American experiences: the reconciliation of a dual identity.

Butterfly’s plight of having to decide between staying on her own planet and escaping with Luther is a direct parallel to a struggle that many Asian-Americans face: whether to adhere to the expectations of parents and ancestors or to pursue individual desires. The film echoes this existential crisis—one that is not easily explained to outsiders and one that does not have a clear resolution.

The relationship between Butterfly and Luther is maddening—their attraction for each other is undeniable, but both are held back by their confusion and obligations. Pitting these clashing and sometimes contradictory emotions into an urgent circumstance allowed the characters to give in to the reckless part of themselves—despite the heartbreaking consequences they both know will follow.

I have always adored complicated love stories, strong female characters and science fictional worlds—it was a privilege to be able to blend these elements with “The Earth Below”.

-Eric Hwang

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