Archive for September, 2010
Flower Drum Song is a film adaptation of a Broadway musical created by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II of the same title. Rodgers and Hammerstein was a famous composer/lyricist duo that created other Broadway hits in the 40’s and 50’s such as Oklahoma, South Pacific, King and I, and The Sound of Music.
The musical was based on a novel by Chinese American author C.Y. Lee. Lee was born and raised in China, but graduated from Yale. He was an active journalist in Chinatown, San Francisco. In his novel, he addresses generational and cross-cultural conflict that modern
Chinatown residents faced. The original book is darker than both musical and film. One of the bigger differences is that in the book Helen (Wang Ta’s friend) commits suicide in response to her unrequited love for him.
Both the musical and film were significant because they were the first to star a mostly Asian American cast – played by a mix of Asian and Asian American actors and actresses. The only non-Asians (besides extras as Sammy’s night club) were the white mugger and Auntie Ling, played by Juanita Hall, an actress of African American and Latin American descent who has donned yellow-face in a number of other productions (such as South Pacific).
Nancy Kwan, who plays Linda Low, became a major sex symbol and one of the most visible Eurasian actresses in the 1960’s due to her roles in “Flower Drum Song” and “The World of Suzie Wong.” She was born in Hong Kong. Her father was Chinese and her mother was a Scottish model.
We want to quickly give some background on the setting of the movie, Chinatown. For those of you who aren’t from California – everything started after 1849, the discovery of gold, and work on the transcontinental railroad. It was racism and hatred surrounding competition for jobs when the railroad was completed that culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). The next big date was the 1906 Earthquake which destroyed, among many other things all the immigration records that had been stored at City Hall. There was a deliberate effort at this time to rebuild Chinatown with infrastructure, Western Institutions (like a YMCA), and also to promote tourism by building fantastic facades on all the new buildings that were in line with what Americans thought of as Oriental. The club that Sammy Fong’s club is loosely based on a real nightclub called the Forbidden City- it had normal shows, but also ones that played up the exoticism of its all-Asian American entertainers.
Now, back to the movie. This film was released in 1961 (incidentally, the same year West Side Story). In the post-WWII time period, United States attitudes and laws regarding immigration were changing. Because of the Cold War, the US was looking to attract support, and loosening immigration laws in a public relations act. It demonstrated American ideals of freedom, individualism, self-improvement, capitalism (or at least, it addressed an area that the US could have been criticized in before). Legislatively, the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act (1943) and the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952) changed policies so that the Chinese were able to immigrate into the states and apply for naturalization. There was also an attempt to make ethnicity more important than race – ethnicity was defined as cultural characteristics that someone could change or lose, while race was something you were stuck with. There was a big push for all ethnicities to assimilate.
posted by: Jasmine Kim and Alexis Chuck
Please watch both of these musical numbers. The first Is Nancy Kwan singing “I enjoy being a girl” in Flower Drum Song (1961) and the second is Ann Margret singing “How lovely to be a woman” in Bye Bye Birdie (1963). These films came out only two years apart from one another and both of these songs are incredibly similar.
Both of these musical numbers feature a girl/woman in her bedroom singing about her sexuality. They both sing about their curvy features, loving clothes, makeup, dancing and most importantly men. Their songs both They both sing about loving to be whistled at by men, going out with men and being doted upon by men. What struck me the most was how in both songs they sing about their future and both of their ideal futures revolve around a man.
Nancy Kwan sings
” I’m strictly a female female and my future I hope will be. In the home of a brave and free male. Who’ll enjoy being a guy having a girl… like… me.”
Ann Margret sings
” How lovely to be a woman, and have one job to do: To pick out a boy and train him, and then when you are through, You’ve made him the man you want him to be…”
Both of these songs illustrate the overwhelming sexism of the 1960s not just twords white women but Asian American women as well. Women were seen as objects of male lust who’s entire identity and self esteem revolves around men. However, one distinction that should be pointed out is that the Asian American is referred to as a “girl” while the white is referred to as a “woman”. This shows that Asian American women in the 1960s were still viewed as inferior and childish compared to white women.
I hope you found this as interesting as I did. Please comment and let me know what you think.
posted by Megan Kilroy
While on youtube I came across this video. It is an ad for JELLO from the 1950s or 1960s. I thought it would be appropriate to share it with you.
This commercial features a Chinese Baby trying to eat Jello with chopsticks. His mother brings him “great western invention. Spoon” and the little Chinese baby is able to eat his JELLO.
This ad is racist on many levels.
The most pronounced in the use of pidgin english by the narrator.
The use of the stereotypical gong and music is also very racist.
Another subtler racist aspect to this commercial is the spoon. By showing that chopsticks are ineffective for eating JELLO and an American spoon is needed it is implied that in order for the Chinese to be happy and to prosper in this country the chinese need to assimilate to our ways and become more “American”.
Posted by Megan Kilroy
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 7PM, SCOTT HALL ROOM 230, PITZER COLLEGE
Asian Americans in Media (MS100 PZ) is extremely pleased to welcome guest speaker Abraham Ferrer, Exhibition Director at Visual Communications, to the Claremont Colleges. Mr. Ferrer will be speaking about the history and mission of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, which he has directed for over 20 years. This event will also launch the Mini Festival of Recent Asian American Films, which the students in MS100 will program and organize as a part of their course work.
Click on the image to visit the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival web site
Abraham Ferrer is the Exhibitions Director at Visual Communications, a Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American media arts center. Since 1988, he has served as the co-director of The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival; and has additionally curated numerous film and video screening programs as part of Visual Communications’ various ongoing screening series. He has also programmed screening series in collaboration with various community arts organizations and institutions including the American Film Institute, the Black Gallery, the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, Japanese American National Museum, the L.A. Festival, L.A. Freewaves, the Museum of Contemporary Art, UCLA Film & Television Archive, William Grant Still Art Center, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Mr. Ferrer has also served as a program consultant for international film festivals including the Cinemanila International Film Festival, Cinemasia Asian Film Festival, Short Shorts Film Festival, San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and Singapore International Film Festival, and has written extensively on issues relevant to the development of Asian American cinema.
Posted by Ming-Yuen S. Ma
Yes, you can now pre-order JAPAN KEN (the first in a series of Asian Ken dolls) who goes on sale in December 2010!
- Japanese-styled clothing (I’m sure most people in Japan dress like this today)
- Samurai inspired sword (Words like “katana” or “wakizashi” are too foreign for kids!)
I look forward to more in the Asian Ken series, like Fu Manchu Ken complete with coolie hat.
I’m still sad that Japan Ken isn’t a businessman in a suit complete with cigarette.
It’ll be great when he tries to date Computer Engineer Barbie, only to be rejected in favor of Caucasian Ken. Sorry, but them’s the breaks Asian Ken! You can always hang with Japan Barbie. Though she might also go for Caucasian Ken….
-Written and posted by Jonathan Soon