2.27.2010

Side Effects of Being Invisible in Hollywood

When I was growing up, I was always reminded not take film and television seriously.  "It's just a movie," my parents would say.  "It's just TV," my sisters would say.  Believe it or not...that all really stuck with me, right up until today.  And yet I noticed that even though my family would tell me not take certain things seriously, it didn't stop them from taking some things seriously.

My (first) point?  We are not immune to media, especially when we like to think we are.  Jean Kilbourne's work on exposing sexism and racism in American advertising is an excellent example.  I remember watching one of her presentations and she said something to the effect of, "The first thing people always tell me is that ads don't have an effect on them."  And yet, she adds, the average person is exposed to hundreds of ads a day, each one filled with sexist and racist imagery.  Psychologists and sociologists have already established that people internalize what they're exposed to, and it's a predominantly subconscious process.  So they can protest and argue all they want, but it won't change the truth about what they are.

Author Benjamin Rich supports the fact that the same goes for white people who think they're immune to racism.  A person cannot grow up in a "whitopia" (itself a product of maintained white privilege), hear racist dialogue daily, see the consistent exclusion of all things "Other" and magically not internalize some of that racism.  That, in itself, is what I like to call delusional racism; i.e., they don't "think" it's there, so they confidently tell themselves (and proudly, stupidly tell others) that voila--it's not there!  Their perceived immunity is nothing more than a denial-based fantasy created to keep them from having to think too deeply about racial reality in America--yet another form of white privilege.

Hollywood, as you should all know by now, is an institution I regularly hold accountable for not only overtly indulging racism, but falling back on delusional racism when confronted.  To stay as coherent and as consistent as possible while discussing this, I'm going to stick to one example (and yes, it's a topic near and dear to me): Hollywood's unswerving emasculation of Asian & Asian-American men, and how real-life society mirrors that emasculation.  By the way, if you're wondering why Miss Chocolatey Moi keeps scribbling about topics like this, it's because I want to practice what I preach: POC need to support one another, and progress will not be made without that support.

Now...let's move on.

They Just Can't...Seem to...Let It Go....
Pop quiz: list the last major serious film Hollywood released in which the leading man was Asian or Asian-American, not a martial artist, had a love interest, and was shown being undeniably, ahem, intimate with said love interest?  Don't worry...I'll wait.

Needless to say, there hasn't been one.  Oh, I'm sure if you sift through the made-for-TVs, indie flicks, and internet short films, you'll obviously find a few, but no major, big-name, big-budget, absolutely, positively got-to-go-to-opening-night movies--none.  And seeing as we are already officially 10 years into the 21st century, the verdict on Hollywood in this matter is...FAIL.

Hollywood has this annoying habit of insisting they're "just giving people what they want".  The average woman in America wears a size 14 and weighs around 163lbs?  They can "fix" that.  White people are slated to become an American minority by 2042?  They can "fix" that.  Statistics indicate that POC aren't the biggest criminals in America and not overall pathologically violent?  Oh...they're not a backward, savage backward group of folks?  They can speak English fluently and have successful, diverse careers?  No, problem--they can "fix" that!  What's this?  An unflinching, unfailing, never-diminishing, ever-increasing interest in Asia?  No worries; they've had that fi--oh...you meant the men?  Well, now...why, yes...one can see the cause for alarm.  But no worries, my boy; they fixed that.

Pop quiz: what do all the following movies have in common?

Romeo Must Die
Kiss of the Dragon
The Tuxedo
The Medallion
The Last Samurai
Ninja Assassin

Quick answers: They're all "big" products of Hollywood from over the past decade (roughly), the leads are all Asian men who don't get laid (yes, Watanabe counts as a lead in Samurai), and even though America is home to approximately 13 million people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, none of the lead actors are Asian-American.  And when American actors of Asian descent do play a leading (and sometimes sexual) character, the film still always has...a sort of "problem".  For one, the actors often aren't even playing Asian or Asian-American characters.  And two, for some reason, the film often flops or just doesn't get taken seriously among adults.

Examples of Problem #1
Keanu Reeves in anything but Little Buddha
Russell Wong in The Prophecy II*
Mark Dacascos in Double Dragon and Brotherhood of the Wolf
His Royal Gloriousness, May He Forever Rest in Peace, Brandon Lee in The Crow

Examples of Problem #2
Ernie Reyes, Jr. in Surf Ninjas (which, by the way, co-stars Rob Schneider, a Filipino Jew who doesn't play an Asian here)
Mark Dacascos, again, in Double Dragon
Russell Wong, again, in The Prophecy II
John Cho & Kal Penn in the Harold & Kumar films

*By the way, in The Prophecy II, Jennifer Beals and Russell Wong (hint hint) actually demonstrate some very hot Blasian lovin' which apparently doesn't "count" because both actors are playing white-ish people (the video is edited and has low quality, but you get the gist).

Mirror, Mirror, Break and Fall....
Because Hollywood isn't churning out film after film with leading Asian-American males, Asian-American men tend to feel they're either one of two things: viewed by strangers as some linguistically-handicapped foreigner (and they usually are being viewed thusly by the "outside") or altogether invisible.  That people hold up some of the aforementioned films to comfort [read: pacify] Asian & Asian-American men is delusional racism.  It implies that Hollywood is showing "some" [read: insufficient] appreciation for Asian & Asian-American men and that if women aren't willing to date this these men, it's simply their "preference" (a word which requires a whole other rant).

Obviously, I do not co-sign.

I did a brief piece on the [old] Blasian Narrative about Ninja Assassin fanfiction, and how the white girls writing it tell us soooooo much about how they see (and don't see) Asian men.  Now, I honestly am glad that they too recognized the error in keeping Raizo and Mika from getting intimate.  It gives me faith in young people that they could point this out and try to remedy it.  However...I noticed that more than one author portrayed Raizo as an awkward, clueless virgin.  I'll admit I wasn't alarmed when the first author did it (maybe I'm getting old and losing my touch), but by the third fic I was appalled.

I also saw that one writer hadn't noticed Asian men before, and now that she has, she's sort of struggling to reconcile this attraction with previously established ones (notice how she describes Mika's thoughts towards the white character, Maslow).   She's also trying very hard not to sound racist (fails), not to sound clueless (fails), and sounds almost desperate to "convince" readers Raizo really is an attractive man.  But...what if she's merely trying to convince herself Raizo is attractive and that it's okay to think so?  Have a gander:

In repose Raizo looked so young, so vulnerable. How could anyone do anything to hurt him? The very thought was like the idea of dropping baby bunnies into a blender while they were still alive and hitting 'puree'. Raizo certainly wasn't some sexy, older, powerful, worldly man – not like Maslow. There was a time when Ryan had made her stomach flutter, nothing had happened of course, but that hadn't made Mika blind to his appeal. No, Raizo wasn't anything like Maslow. For Mika, Maslow had only been an idea, a thrill of titillation. By comparison Raizo appealed to the protective urges Mika had, and her own need for protection. To feel like there was a big, strong man around who would check under her bed, in her closets and keep all the nasty monsters in there from coming out to get her in the night. And to feel like she was serving and protecting someone who needed it so desperately.
That wasn't everything, but it was enough for a foundation for Mika to be curious. To want to know more, to understand more, to do more. Raizo was annoyingly attractive, and she didn't even like Asian guys, too many horror stories from her Taiwanese dorm mate – what would her mama say? 'Asian men don't like strong women', 'be prepared to clean a lot and feel shame if you don't give birth to tons of boys' or even 'oh dear, that's going to be a small penis'. As open minded as her mom was, she was still a little in the dark about other cultures, even a little racist at times despite having married a half-black, half-Italian. Even if that was almost exactly what Mai had described her brothers like, and the guys her parents wanted her to marry. Smiling at the silliness of that, Mika wished she was better at placing the Asian ethnic groups, but she was a fact finder, not an ethnologist. Which didn't mean she wasn't going to try and shuffle through the built in database that was her brain.
Raizo seemed too big to be from most of the Asian groups found in China, maybe Korean, they got pretty big nowadays. Running the tip of a finger over the fringe of eyelashes that touched the tops of Raizo's cheeks, or maybe he was Japanese. Definitely not Vietnamese, that much Mika could be sure of. Utterly wrong build in the torso, facial structure, and coloring on top of all that. Making it a game, Mika studied Raizo, allowing her thoughts to wander from one topic to another. Maybe she should buy him a teddy bear, or give him her baby blanket to keep him company so he would know what it was like to have something snuggly when bad dreams came?
See what I mean?

This is yet another example in a long string of examples of how stereotypes and limited thinking get passed from one generation to the next.  Notice the ventriloquism used to justify the "discussion"; it's not the "writer" thinking these things, it's Mika who "doesn't really like Asian guys".  It's Mika's black mother and her Taiwanese ex-roommate who have all these negative notions of Asian men.  (Also notice the writer's subconscious need to "whiten" Mika somehow, with the gratuitous attraction to her white coworker and unnecessary details about her paternal ancestry--and yes, it's a really annoying trend in fandom.  I'm actually half-shocked the writer didn't just go ahead and theorize Raizo was the bastard offspring of a white tourist...you know, to explain his "atypical build" for an Asian).

I initially gave some of these writers some praise and gratitude for trying (and very delicate criticism when I could).  One writer skipped all this nonsense and just got to the sex, and I commended her loudly.

But in meantime, I think you get my point.  I mean, if you're an Asian or Asian-American guy in America, how on earth do you even begin to deal with all of that?  Where the hell are you expected to start?  No, seriously--what are you supposed to do?

17 comments:

  1. Excellent, excellent post. As someone whose only knowledge of (white) America is media, I know way too well how these things go. Indeed, I don't remember any Asian-American man in a mainstream Hollywood movie who is.... well, a hot guy who gets laid. I'm not saying main characters in deep, quality films should be hot and get laid, but it's obvious white Hollywood don't see Asian men as masculine and attractive.

    And people watch those films over and over again and someone's racist, ignorant imagination suddenly becomes the truth for generations of people (Asian American men are just one example)- media shapes the image people have about POC, about other cultures, even about themselves.

    And that fanfiction is laughable. I don't know anything about the fandom or the characters, but it's painfully obvious the author felt the need to explain how could someone be attracted to an Asian man- plus, making him into a cute, vulnerable virgin boy.

    PS-Who's the guy under the shower? Or is that rain?

    ReplyDelete
  2. LOL - Thanks!

    The ridiculously hot dripping-water guy is actor Takeshi Kaneshiro. If you scroll back up to the linked phrase "cause for alarm" you'll learn more about him.

    He really is beautiful; I've never seen a "bad" picture of his.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The ridiculously hot dripping-water guy is actor Takeshi Kaneshiro. If you scroll back up to the linked phrase "cause for alarm" you'll learn more about him.

    Thanks for the info! He's very attractive. Now I want to watch at least a few of his films. And yes, I know it's shallow. And no, I don't care.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mira,

    LOL - I first rented "House of Flying Daggers" to see Zhang Ziyi, but after I saw him I forgot all about her. I then started to rent EVERYTHING he was ever in, you know? Yes, it's shallow...no, I don't care either!!!! He's just that fine!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. @ thelady,

    To answer your question about the white blogger researching black hair: unfortunately, the answer's yes. But it was about Mika Coretti, not Uhura.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I heard about Ninja Assassin on the political blog 'The Black Snob' before it was released and immediately Googled Rain. I'm sure you know where this leads: I spent hours watching videos of Rain singing and dancing with no shirt on.

    I immediately added the movie to my Netlfix queue. The movie was a bit gory for my taste but I enjoyed it and longed for Rain and Naomie Harris to make out. Cause if you get drunk and cross your eyes I look sort of like Naomie and then I WOULD BE MAKING OUT WITH RAIN.

    I'm heading over to Blasian Narrative now to look for Ninja Assassin stories. FYI I'm modest-goddess79 on LJ.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I spent hours watching videos of Rain singing and dancing with no shirt on.

    Yes, well...he does tend to have that effect on people *chuckles*

    The movie was a bit gory for my taste

    Mine too, but I have a saying, "When you watch a film like Ninja Assassin, you're watching it for one thing...and one thing only."

    ReplyDelete
  8. Girl you are damn good! A blanket and a bunny? For real? Raizo is a Grown Ass Man.

    How completely insulting is that damn fan fic passage? Dude is a Stone Cold Killer. WTF are these people thinking?

    I saw the film about a week ago and thought Rain and Naomie were the Hotness together. Raizo was flirtatious, dynamic and would kill a muthafucka in a heartbeat.

    Blankie and Bunny my ass.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I really encourage people to hit up the Blasian Narrative and give me their interpretation of these two.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Excellent post!

    I noticed too that the Asian never gets laid in movies, even if he's the hero!

    I guess it's the old stereotype that lingers that Asian men can't be labelled as hot or lovable. Maybe it's an extinction of the "Asian have small penises and aren't skilled in bed" stereotype. With so many smoking hot Asian celebrities (thanks for that picture of Takeshi Kaneshiro by the way), how come this error wasn't corrected yet?

    I can't wait for the movie that will portray an interracial relation that will have the characteristics of any real romance.

    Oh by the way, in the Harold & Kumar series... John Cho gets the hot (latino?) girl by the end of the 2nd movie!

    ReplyDelete
  11. John Cho gets the hot (latino?) girl by the end of the 2nd movie!

    But she's really, really light-skinned ("passe blanc") and Kal Penn gets a white chick.

    *shakes head*

    ReplyDelete
  12. Look, I respect what you are saying but you have forgetten a few things.

    America is largely a white anglo society. Asians make up about 4% of the population....and even then only so many are actors. Obviously most of the acting community is going to be white as America is mainly a white country. This goes for the Asian film industry with most actors being mainly of asian ancestry rather than white anglo. The majority is what is typically represented.
    There have been some great leading asian men in the past (Jackie Chan was my hero as a kid). But, I think you do make a good point on Asians being stereotyped. This further fuels the fire on racism in everyday America.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @ Natalie

    You're missing the issue.

    Asians aren't just underrepresented, they're practically invisible. That's a problem. Meanwhile, whites are overrepresented, because POC are portrayed as being far fewer than we actually are. That's also a problem.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @ Natalie - you can't respect what you don't actually understand to begin with and you're being incredibly simplistic. White people simply don't make up *most* of the people who live in the world (they are a minority) yet are heavily over-represented in international in international and global to a ridiculous, stifling degree.

    China, a major film-making powerhouse simply doesn't have the diverse demographics of America (even though it has its own problems regarding race and representation). America *barely* has a white majority and that will soon change, which is precisely why I think that we're in the middle of a white-out in terms of Hollywood, fiction, media, fashion and so-forth where whiteness is being pushed like it's coke on the corner.

    As Ankhesen Mie points out, there is this panicked investment in a surplus of white imagery and the conscious construction of all-white fantasy havens (my term for them) or 'whitopias'(Ankesen's term) because it provides a necessary escape from having to face the reality of a world in which you're actually minority and might have to *ew* live along other people. I agree that these films function as a blissful 'ignoreland' for white viewers.

    ReplyDelete
  15. It may be because I am French and not American, but I've always found Asian men attractive. I've read somewhere that French women were an exception to the "White women not attracted to Asians" rule, I don't know if it's true (hard to check!). I don't think the stereotypes against Asian males are as strong here as they are in America, however, I have also noticed that you saw far more White man-Asian woman couples than White woman-Asian man. To go back to movies... I remember seeing The Lover when I was quite young, and this one definitely shows the Asian man (Tony Leung Ka Fai) as an erotic figure (you could even say it's another form of racism, eroticisation of the exotic, but at least it goes against the "emasculated Asian" stereotype). I'm a Takeshi Kaneshiro fan, and I've noticed his hotness crossed racial boundaries (the usual "I don't usually like Asians but this time..."). I don't look for Asian actors in American films, I watch Asian films directly. Takeshi is probably the hottest and a wonderful actor, but Tony Leung, Andy Lau and many others are extremely attractive men too, and most of the time they're not portrayed as martial artists (Kaneshiro even said the reason he wasn't going to Hollywood was typecasting, what a loss for American filmgoers AND women!).

    ReplyDelete
  16. We need to stop watching white people humanize themselve and dehumanize us POC.

    Don't be a sheep and spend your money to be stereotype by white writers who probably dont' even have any POC friends.

    Asian guy here.

    ReplyDelete
  17. @ Anonymous

    Leave a name, please.

    ReplyDelete

This blog is strictly moderated. Comments on posts more than 30 days old are generally dismissed, along with Anonymous posters.