Archive for April 5, 2009

Asian Americans in Television

When I asked Arthur Dong about Asian American stereotypes seen today, he pointed out that following the O.J. Simpson trial, Asian Americans were given the roles of scientists/medical personnel in television shows. When I thought about what he said, I was intrigued by this notion. This course is more a survey of media in terms of film, so we have been looking into films, but I have never really thought about the portrayal of Asian Americans in television.

I thought of the numerous television shows I watch: 30 Rock, Lost, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, My Boys, and Friends. I watch these shows on a regular basis, so I know them and their characters fairly well. When I think hard, the only examples of Asian Americans in these shows I can find are Julie (Friends season 2), Dr. Wen (Scrubs), and Jin and Sun (Lost). Among these characters, only Jin and Sun have major roles. Julie only appears for a short amount of episodes as Ross’ girlfriend and Dr. Wen only appears in certain episodes throughout the series. It is great to see Jin and Sun having a major role on a premier television show, but they only have their roles because their parts were specifically designated for Koreans. Had the writers at Lost chosen another nationality, these Asian Americans may not have had the opportunity to shine. On the other shows I watch Asian Americans appear in random parts of episodes, but none of the characters have a major role and do not stick with the audience as memorable characters.  

On other shows today, such as Grey’s Anatomy and CSI, we see Asian Americans occupying important roles, but as scientists/medical personnel, just as Dong pointed out. Even the great Asian American star Lucy Liu was on television last year in Cashmere Mafia, but the show was cancelled after one season. Looking at these few television shows, I cannot understand why Asian Americans are not given major roles. The only other show I can think of with Asian Americans filling major roles is Heroes.

It is not a question of acting ability, but does this reflect simply on the fact that they are Asian American? Why do we not see more Asian Americans filling major roles on television shows? Are there other examples of Asian Americans in television who defy the stereotype of scientists/medical personnel?

– Tommy Meyer

April 5, 2009 at 5:21 pm 1 comment

Guest Speaker Arthur Dong and “Hollywood Chinese”

Arthur Dong

Born in San Francisco, Arthur Dong is an Academy Award-nominated American documentary filmmaker. His work combines the art of the visual medium with an investigation of social issues, examining topics such as Asian American history and identity, and gay oppression. He received a BA in film from San Francisco State University in 1982 and completed the Director’s Fellowship program at American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies in 1985.

Dong’s film career began with Public (1970), an animated Super-8 film shot on his bedroom floor. Based on a poem written by Dong, Public tells the story of a child’s response to oppressive societal norms and the culture of violence surrounding him. The five-minute film earned first prize at the California High School Film Festival and was Dong’s first introduction to the power of film as a tool for progressive change.

As a film student at San Francisco State University, Dong produced Sewing Woman (1982), a documentary about his mother’s immigration to America from China. The film went on to receive an Academy Award nomination. Dong started his own company, DeepFocus Productions, Inc, which continues to develop, produce, and distribute his work. In 1984, Dong was selected a Directing Fellow to attend the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies. Lotus (1987), a half-hour drama about the foot-binding of Chinese women, was produced with the support of a production grant from the American Film Institute’s Independent Filmmakers Program.

Dong’s next film was Forbidden City, U.S.A. (1989), a documentary on Chinese American nightclubs in 1940s San Francisco. He proceeded to produce thirteen documentaries for the Los Angeles PBS program on KCET-TV, Life & Times (1991-1992). For PBS’s first national series on the gay and lesbian issues, The Question of Equality, Dong directed the premiere episode, Out Rage ’69 (1995), which explored the New York City Stonewall Riots, an event many historians cite as the catalyst for the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement.

Stories from the War on Homosexuality,” Dong’s first DVD collection, puts together his trilogy of films covering the challenges and conflicts over gay issues. It includes Family Fundamentals (2002), a look at America’s culture wars over homosexuality as experienced by three conservative Christian families with gay children, Licensed to Kill (1997), a study of murderers who killed gay men, and Coming Out Under Fire (1994), an examination of the World War II origins of the military’s policies governing gay and lesbian service members.

In addition to an Oscar® nomination, Dong has earned a George Foster Peabody Award, three Sundance Film Festival awards, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, and five Emmy nominations. His numerous awards for public service include the Asian American Media Award from Asian CineVision, the Historian Award from the Chinese Historical Society of America, two consecutive GLAAD Media Awards (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and the OUT 100 Award from OUT magazine. San Francisco State University named Dong its 2007 Alumnus of the Year. Dong has also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Film and a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. He served as a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is currently on the Documentary Branch Executive Committee and represents the Academy on the National Film Preservation Board.

Hollywood Chinese

The film Hollywood Chinese (2007) investigates the cinematic history of Chinese Americans in film. From the first Chinese American film produced in 1916 to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), this documentary weaves together a phenomenal portrait of actors, directors, writers, and movie icons who have defined American feature films. Dong explores the portrayals of Chinese Americans in films and how filmmakers have and continue to navigate an industry that was typically ignorant of race, yet still receptive. Hollywood Chinese also features intimate interviews with Nancy Kwan (the original Suzie Wong), Ang Lee, Amy Tan, and other Chinese-American celebrities who tell the story of how their heritage has limited their careers. Hollywood Chinese is a celebration of Chinese American film history, and it’s also the story of how the movie business has gradually changed for the better.

– Tommy Meyer and George Rowe

April 5, 2009 at 5:49 am Leave a comment


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