Archive for December 12, 2012

Fever Dream: An Asian American Girlfriend’s Take on Yellow Fever

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

December 12, 2012 at 5:30 am 1 comment

Parents Disowned Their Son for Portraying a Gay Character in a Bollywood Film

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.




-Kanna Jeyaseelan

December 12, 2012 at 2:28 am Leave a comment

Reaction to Festival

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.



December 12, 2012 at 1:38 am Leave a comment

Representations of Fu Manchu in Alias

I started watching Alias recently on Netflix instant view.  In one of the first episodes Sydney the protagonist is tortured by a Taiwanese torturer named “Dr. Lee”.  This man has creepy, strange methods of torture, an online summery of alias discusses them, “Lee told him that if he didn’t comply, he would pour an epoxy into his mouth which would expand into a solid and crush his organs and/or suffocate him.”  In another instance, “After calmly asking Sydney several times who her employers were, and getting no result, Lee proceeded to pull out her teeth.” His character reminded me of the stereotype of the terrifying and mysterious “Fu Manchu”.  The fact that he is described as calm and then uses horrifying chemical reactions in his torture recalls Fu Manchu who uses magic instead of a gun, something that emasculated his character.  The character, dr. lee from alias surrenders easily when he is captured, he is afraid of the same torture methods he exerted on others earlier on. I feel that this is a perpetuation of stereotypes about Asian men being weak or effeminate.  It upset me to see such stereotypes in a modern TV series (especially one that I liked so much).  To add onto this there are literally no other Asian characters in the show, just Dr. Lee.  He is an Orientalized caricature of yellow peril and there are no other characters to represent a real Asian or Asian American person.

It is frustrating that this popular show did not realize their perpetuation of cinematic racism, it is this typical racism in fact drove them to make this characters, dr. lee.  He is scary because he recalls yellow peril, a fear that is unfortunately culturally ingrained in American culture.  This probably because of its reoccurrence, Victor Turner says that gender is a “ritual social drama, social action requires a performance which is repeated.  This repletion is at once a reenactment and re-experiencing of a set of meanings already socially established”. This is the same with racial stereotypes when they are repeated continually they almost become real.  The fear of Fu Manchu and the mysteries of china town are untrue; they were fabricated by white and Asian people in order to make money.  But they are dangerous for Asian Americans people; the real peril of yellow peril is that our modern societies will continue to see stereotypes as true when we should be destroying them with images of reality.



December 12, 2012 at 1:37 am Leave a comment


December 2012

Posts by Month

Posts by Category