Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Asian Americans Are Cool

So I've been thinking about writing a manuscript on Asian American youth, including young adults, in American film. In the very few times that Asian Americans get lead roles, how are they portrayed, how do their characters reproduce or challenge dominant culture, what are the pop culture messages conveyed regarding consumption, race, gender and sexuality, and so on and so forth?

Early thoughts:
  • The two Harold & Kumar films (model minority, minor delinquency, the second film may get at some form of xenophobia/terrorism, a rehashed Long Duk Dong?)
  • Gran Torino (gang violence, emasculation, lotus blossom, white benevolence)
  • Better Luck Tomorrow (model minority, organized crime, homicide)
  • The Debut (haven't seen it yet, but heard good things)
Among the very small sample, the lead characters appear to be heavily male.

There's been a few good books on Asians and Asian Americans in film and television, but nothing that looks at leading roles, except for maybe a few book chapters/articles on The Joy Luck Club, Jackie Chan, or Jet Li. But those would be more adult focused. Just early thoughts.

In the mean time...

Academics Blogs

Update 8/24/09: Just re-watched Better Luck Tomorrow and saw both Harold & Kumar movies. These films with Gran Torino are all about juxtaposing the model minority myth with excessive criminality. BLT and GT are quite similar in the way they play the model minority myth off against organized crime and homicide; there are important differences (especially given the different Asian American groups and class differences from the two movies), but the overall message is the same -- Asian American youth are generally "model minorities," but in working so hard to fulfill the MM myth, some of them flip out and secure power through very sneaky and violent means. Thus, America must always beware of the "sinister Asian males" (and some "Dragon Ladies").

Harold & Kumar
is different, but the same. The producers and actors are glaringly aware of the MM myth and randomly do just about everything they can to mock it, often times in shocking fashion. So they play the MM myth (and other racial stereotypes) off of crime as well (including terrorism), but they attack it head on in order to illustrate the MM myth's idiocy.

The metanarrative that runs through all 4 flicks is the use of women/girls to achieve masculinity. In short, the Asian American guys get the gals, and in doing so, they get back the masculinity taken from them by racist white males. Women's roles in all 4 films are reduced to one function -- they serve as objects for the males to fight over. Aside from Sue in Gran Torino, none of their characters have much depth, and even Sue is used as a means to build tension between the central male characters.

I just got
The Debut, but still have yet to watch it. But judging by the cover, I'm lead to believe it also falls into the latter metanarrative. Damn, gotta do some serious writing now...

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