Post-Screening Discussion with Filmmakers and Guests: (from left) Sri Susilowati, Jeff Man, Asiroh Cham, Micki Davis, and Valerie Soe
Engaging Pasts program on Saturday, December 1, 4pm, Rose Hills Theatre, Pomona College
Memory (2012) by Evyn Le Espiritu – Final Media Project for Asian Americans in Media, MS100PZ, Fall 2012
My five-minute video piece explores the relationships between power, history, and memory, inserting my own second-generation Asian American reflections on the Vietnam War into the existing visual repertoire on the war. This repertoire largely focuses on the Vietnam War’s psychological effects on the American soldier and veteran—as featured in such films as The Deer Hunter (dir. Michael Cimino, 1978), Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), Platoon (dir. Oliver Stone, 1986), and Full Metal Jacket (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1987)— eliding the voices and images of Vietnamese and Vietnamese American subjects. In the spirit of Rea Tajiri’s History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991) and Tran T. Kim-Trang’s Ekleipsis (1998), I create images where none previously existed, for an experience that I did not personally live through. Thus I reference Marianne Hirsch’s idea of “postmemory”—the “relationship of the second generation to powerful, often traumatic experiences that precede their births but that were nevertheless transmitted to them so deeply as to seem to constitute memories in their own right.”
Excerpted from student’s artist statement
 Marianne Hirsch, “The Generation of Postmemory,” Poetics Today 29, no. 1 (2008): 103.
Black Sheep (2012) by Naomi Moser – Final Media Project for Asian Americans in Media, MS100PZ, Fall 2012
For my final project I would like to create a video in which I will follow and document the daily life of a friend I made in class this year. Her father is Chinese and her mother is white. She grew up in a wealthy community where the majority of her peers were white. I want to see how her Chinese American identity factors in to her life here as a college student. I want to know about her family history but I do not want to question her directly about her Asian American identity. I would rather just observe and chat with her and see what she chooses to share and through that type of interaction, gain a better understanding of her identity. I want to find out if she is involved in an organized Asian American community on campus or if she has created one of her own through a group of friends since coming here. I guess I’d like to know if coming to the west coast and having much greater contact with other Asian Americans changed her feelings about being Chinese American and how.
Excerpted from student’s project proposal
“I’m An Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date an Asian Man”: Infiltration and Internalization
I was quite taken aback when I saw the title of this blog post. Then I read it in its entirety and had to leave my laptop for a little while as I collected my thoughts. In fact, I purposely left this article as the topic for my last blog post because I needed the most time to process it. If, after reading her post, you need to decompress, I highly recommend these posts.
So, I think it’s pretty clear that An isn’t going to date an Asian man any time soon, and she isn’t alone, which she recognizes. I find it kind of funny, however, that though she refers to herself as a racist, she insists that her aversion to Asian men “has nothing to do with skin color.”
She defends her statement by asserting that the problem she has with Asian men is cultural rather than racial. While I don’t consider the two mutually exclusive, I do question the passage from the Wesley Yang article she cites, which states “Let me summarize my feelings toward Asian values: Fuck filial piety. Fuck grade grubbing. Fuck Ivy League mania. Fuck deference to authority. Fuck humility and hard work. Fuck harmonious relations. Fuck sacrificing for the future. Fuck earnest, striving middle-class servility.”
The feelings mentioned in the previous paragraph, oddly enough, are directly toward a distinctly stereotypical view of Asian Americans. An has allowed those harmful images to permeate her own thinking, to the point where she openly admits that, even if she met an Asian man who was by all other accounts perfect, she would reject him in favor of his white counterpart.
Why? In An’s words, “[d]ating white men means acceptance into American culture. White culture.” Also, because she can (she said it, not me).
Once again, we encounter the notion that white culture is superior to Asian culture. No one is immune to this school of thought, and I think it’s important to understand why. We should remember that we don’t exist within a cultural vacuum, and there are external influences all around us that imbue us with certain values.
One theory that I continue to grapple with across multiple disciplines is that of Ideological State Apparatuses, as coined by Louis Althusser. In this seminal essay, Althusser asserts that cultural values are instilled into the consciousness of a society via institutions like school, church, family, or, as is most pertinent to this post, the media. As opposed to Repressive State Apparatuses that are overt (and often violent) in their persuasion, Ideological State Apparatuses are subtle in their attempt to teach younger generations how to conduct themselves, effectively reproducing the system that creates these ideologies.
In this case, the dominant ideology is that white culture is superior, and that thought has permeated our culture through a plethora of cultural institutions.
If we were to take that theory even further and include another one of my favorite writers, we can examine An’s thoughts through the lens of Antonio Gramsci’s “common sense.” The ideas transmitted through ISAs are hegemonic in nature—they are the most prevalent and eventually become accepted as absolute truth, or “common sense.”
If we are bombarded with the idea that whites are unequivocally superior to other races, should it really come as a surprise that that notion manifests itself as internalized racism? I’m not denying that An’s statements are offensive. I’m not defending her closed-mindedness. I’m not saying that it’s okay to be racist. But I think that, when this article is placed in context, her sentiments demonstrate the effectiveness of cultural hegemony.
Did I lose you in the quick and dirty version of years of scholarship in critical theory? Sorry. If you take anything away from my series, let it be this: there are reasons why we think the way we do, and it is up to us to be aware of these sources so that we can question their legitimacy. Some white men are only attracted to Asian women. Some Asian men resent white men from taking “their” women. Some Asian women avoid Asian men like the plague. People are entitled to their own opinion, but I will never cease to be fascinated by the ideological justifications behind these feelings.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation).” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971. 127-186.
An, Jenny. “I’m an Asian Woman and I Refuse to Ever Date an Asian Man.” xojane. SAY Media, Inc. 31 August 2012.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Ed. and Trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971.
Yang, Wesley. “Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?” New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. 8 May 2011.
By Kayla Dalsfoist
What About Us? Wong Fu Productions’ “Yellow Fever”
In my last post, I discussed yellow fever and the trend of interracial relationships composed of a white man and an Asian woman. That post was in no way exhaustive in mentioning the gender dynamics of the East and West, and this YouTube video provides a perspective of some Asian American males on this phenomenon.
“Yellow Fever” follows an Asian American college student as he laments to his friends about the trend of Asian American females dating white males. He thinks that by talking to his friends of different races and asking their opinions, he can determine what it is exactly about white men that makes them so desirable.
I want to look at the ways that Asian and Asian American men have been portrayed in Hollywood in the past and how that legacy shapes our contemporary perspective on this group, but before I get into that, there are a few things to note about this video that relate to my previous post.
In the opening voiceover, the character Phil refers to the stereotypical AF/WM relationship as “an enormous injustice” and an “infraction on our community,” by which I am inferring he means Asian American males. This mindset is problematic in that it perpetuates the notion that men are owed women, or that women are commodities that men deserve. Also, in specifying race, this speech implies that Asian American women have an obligation to be romantically involved with Asian American men. White men, then, are viewed as “taking” Asian American women, who ought to be “theirs.”
There’s also a line that Phil delivers about how if he can crack the code, he can “get a girl, maybe even a white girl,” effectively creating a racialized hierarchy of the perceived value of women.
But I digress. Asian American women have a long history of unfavorable depictions in the media, and Asian American men have a similar past.
As I mentioned in my previous post, orientalism relies on a dichotomy that opposes the East/Orient with the West/Occident. In this dichotomy, the West/Occident occupies the male position, so the East/Orient is feminized. But this feminization is not restricted to females, but encompasses the males as well, resulting in a strange emasculation and desexualization of the Asian male. In “Yellow Fever,” the characters come up with a list of reasons why Asian American males are less desirable than white males. Upon closer inspection, the items correspond with portrayals of Asian men since film’s inception.
An interesting parallel to the relationship between Asian or Asian American men and white men in “Yellow Fever” comes from one of the very first Hollywood films, D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919). This silent film, adapted from Thomas Burke’s short story “The Chink and the Child,” follows the relationship between Cheng Huan, a Chinese man living in London’s gritty Limehouse District, and Lucy, the white, frail, abused daughter of boxer Battling Burrows. Lucy seeks refuge from her father in Cheng Huan’s shop, and Cheng Huan develops a deep attachment to her as he nurses her back to health.
While I don’t want to spoil the ending of Broken Blossoms for you, the reason I chose to compare this film with “Yellow Fever” is that both juxtapose Asian or Asian American males with a white male and their positions in relation to a female.
Broken Blossoms presents the character of Battling Burrows, the white male, as the epitome of masculinity—he makes a living off of his brute force, he frequents a pub in which he is surrounded by hard liquor and fast women, and he is a violent domineering force in his daughter’s life (though sexual abuse is not explicitly mentioned, it is hinted at). He is tall and broad, all chest hair and muscles. Cheng Huan, on the other hand, is presented in a far more feminine fashion. He is slight and smooth-faced, and his posture creates rounded shoulders and a timidness that Burrows does not display. Additionally, Cheng Huan takes on a stereotypically feminine role as caretaker, directly contrasting with Burrows’ tendency toward assertiveness and destruction. As such, Cheng Huan’s love for Lucy does not manifest itself in a sexually predatory way, but instead he treats her as an object of chaste worship.
Though much time has passed between 1919 and 2006, notions of masculinity (and, as a result, sexual desirability) have remained largely unchanged. When it comes to something as seemingly inconsequential as body hair, Phil’s friend, Chris, notes that Asian American men’s arms are “totally blank” whereas white men have hair on their “arms, chest, back, and even their butt.” In this scenario body hair is equated with masculinity and desirability, and because Asian men aren’t as hairy, the characters come to the conclusion that they are less manly.
According to Andrew, Phil’s white friend, the key difference between Asian American and white men that hinders their romantic lives is confidence. Harkening back to the body language of the male characters in Broken Blossoms, the white male in portrayed as infinitely more confident; Battling Burrows stands tall with his chest puffed out, whereas Cheng Huan’s shoulders are slumped over as he shuffles along. “Yellow Fever” plays with this notion by having Andrew and Phil point at random Asian American women and beckon them over, with mixed results (unsurprisingly, I have issues with the treatment of women as something so easily manipulated, but that’s a whole other can of worms).
So what’s the takeaway from this video? Yes, yellow fever is a “thing,” and damaging images have permeated the Asian American psyche, but ultimately romantic relationships should stem from a mutual interest in the other person as an individual. That, and it’s infinitely more difficult to meet a significant other when you spend your Friday nights at home playing DDR.
Broken Blossoms. Dir. D.W. Griffith. United Artists, 1919. 90 min.
Wong Fu Productions. “Yellow Fever.” YouTube. 2006.
Lee, Robert G. Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.
Marchetti, Gina. “The Rape Fantasy: The Cheat and Broken Blossoms.” Romance and the “Yellow Peril”: Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. University of California Press, 1993. 10-45.
By Kayla Dalsfoist
Most of us have seen the short film Still Life With directed by Ami Patel in the family shorts program during the film festival. The film explores the issues a south Asian women faces with her family for being in a relationship with another women. Queer south Asian issues are not usually portrayed in films since the idea of queer south Asians is not well accepted by the south Asian community. I have not seen a single mainstream film in Bollywood or Hollywood that displays south Asian queer issues. Still Life With was a short narrative so the amount of people who have viewed the film is little. If the film was screened to a larger audience in South Asia, especially, the film would have caused national controversies since queer issues in association with south Asians are not well received by the South Asian community. I did some research and found out that in 2010, an Indian film named DUNNO Y…NA JAANE KYUN, directed by Sanjay Sharma, was premiered in Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. This was the first film in which there were portrayals of South Asian queers kissing and making love. After the film released, there were many controversies.
The parents of one of the cast member, Yuvraaj, went to court to disown their son. They were embarrassed by the shame that was brought up on their family for playing the character of a queer south Asian. The parents told Yuvraaj to leave their home and never to return. They wanted to legally disown their son. Satish, Yuvraaj’s father believes Yuvraaj will never get a girl to marry him. In an article I found online, the father said “’His mother is totally devastated,’ said the aggrieved father. “We are a respected family and I’m appalled that he is playing a gay man’s role. We’re finished. All the dreams and hopes we had built around him are over. For just a film role, he has lost out on his blood ties. We don’t want to see his face ever… not even when we are dying.’” It is extremely appalling to know how the queer south Asians are treated by the south Asian community. Just for acting as a gay south Asian, a cast member’s family disowned him.
The film also had national outcry for the kissing scene and love scene. The Indian film board tried to censor the kissing scenes in the film due to the homosexual scenes. The director of the film said, “Why should the censors be scandalised if two men are kissing and making love? The ones in my film are very aesthetic. And so what if it’s two men making love? Love is love regardless of gender.” But in south Asian community, love is love only if there is a man and woman involved, not people of the same sex. I am not sure when the south Asian community will start to tolerate queer individuals. I am disgusted by the fact that queer south Asians have to hide their true identity to be part of the society, and I hope this changes very soon.
I was nervous when I joined this class, I had never studied Asian American culture or history and I felt particularly clueless and afraid to speak up. I know people mentioned this in the festival debrief, but it is so unusual for a class to become friends. I definitely think the festival added to the building of this community. Whether I was wandering around Pitzer, hanging up signs with Mel or meeting with Pricilla and Kayla to go over the movie blurb, or setting up the merchandise for Seeking Asian Female with Lauren I knew that I was among friends and not only classmates. Our night (Seeking Asian Female) went particularly well I thought, there were at least 40 people in the audience and many people stayed and participated in the Q and A. Maikiko did an excellent job answering peoples questions based on previous answers Debbie Lum had given. Though it is frustrating Debbie could not be there in person I think Maikiko was an impressive substitute.
I felt somewhat sorry for Greg Cahill because of the tiny turnout for Two Shadows. However, I really enjoyed meeting him and talking with him, which I’m sure, would have been harder had it been a full house. I think it is incredible how many opportunities this festival gave us to meet directors and producers. Most classes do not have this community building, outside activity aspect and I am very happy that I chose to take this course. I interned with a film festival last year in Spain but unfortunately I was given almost no responsibilities. This experience was in stark contrast to the last, the success of this festival literally rested on our (including professor Ma’s) shoulders from viewing the films to ordering them to introducing them. After the festival I realized that I would enjoy working for a film festival or creating one in the future. I also realized that it is possible to have serious themes along side comedy within one festival.
I just wanted to add how incredible I thought Two Shadows was as a film. I felt that it had a very personal, insider perspective. Though at moments the protagonist was over acting, I liked her attitude. It felt like a real story and yet it’s realness made it terrifying. It took an American girl who was used to feeling relatively safe into a world where hit men could sneak into your apartment and poison you without fear of repercussion. It inspired me to watch more lower-budget, experimental, feature-length narratives. I have to be honest, I sometimes write them off for a sleeker cinematic look. However this class has taught me the significance of anti-slick and I’ve been noticing it and appreciating it more in my own work.