Ang Lee is one of the most renowned Asian American filmmakers in mainland China nowadays. Born in Taiwan in 1954, Lee moved to the United States to study in 1979, where he got his bachelor’s degree in theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then the MFA in film production at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University a few years later.
After graduation, Lee got a chance to enter the Hollywood in 1990s and directed several Hollywood films: Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997), and Ride with the Devil (1999). Although the films received high praises in critics, their box office records were somehow not impressive at the time.
In 1999, Lee came back to Hong Kong and made a traditional Chinese “Wu Xia” film there, named Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The film turned out to be a huge success worldwide, brought him the Best Foreign Language Film at Academy Awards, which makes it the first Chinese film that has ever won this award.
Then, in 2003, Lee returned to the Hollywood and directed the film Hulk (2003), his second big-budget film after Ride with the Devil (1999). This time, the film was widely considered a failure, both financially and artificially.
It was at this setback moment, Lee got to know a unique, small-budget independent film project, Brokeback Mountain (2005), based on Annie Proulx’s same-named short story, which describes gay romance, something that was still a taboo at the time, and eventually comes to be Lee’s another well-known masterpiece in his career, if not the most famous one.
Contrary to the Hulk (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005) received both financial and critical success, nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three of them, specifically, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, while starting a new round of discussions about sexuality, as well as gay romance worldwide.
In the film, Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), the two sheepherders, has developed a sexual and emotional relationship with each other on the Brokeback Mountain out of a sudden. However, under the heterosexual pressure, both of them choose or have to get a hetero marriage later on. Ennis marries his longtime fiancée Alma (Michelle Williams) while Jack has a son with Lureen (Anne Hathaway) after he moves to Texas. Four years later, Jack visits Ennis, and they find themselves still in love with each other. Not willing to abandon his family, Ennis refuses Jack’s invitation to live together. However, Ennis’s marriage still breaks down as Alma knows the true relationship between him and Jack, which makes Ennis blame on Jack in their later conversations. Eventually, Jack’s death ends the two men’s romantic relationship and struggles, and Ennis finally realizes and confirms that how important are they for each other as he comes to visit Lureen after Jack’s death.
Different from some other gay romance films that explore homosexuality and homo romance through, consciously or not, distinguishing between homo and hetero people and sharing an ideology that “they (homo people) are different from us (hetero people), but they are also great”, based on my understanding, Lee creates the gay romance that has no difference from that of the hetero’s, delivering the message that “we (both homo and hetero people) are all the same in front of romance and love” instead.
Then, in my opinion, Lee is ambitious in this Brokeback Mountain narrative. By depicting Ennis and Jack’s love story and setting up these two characters as bisexual on the screen, Lee shows their love above the universal value at the time, making their romantic experience as one of the millions of love stories in the world, just as what you and I would possibly encounter or experience in our day to day lives. And the Brokeback Mountain, which becomes a symbol of gay people in many cultures due to the influence of this film, has also come to be a preferable symbol of pure, romantic love in my interpretation. Thus, all of the audience, no matter homo or heterosexual, would be touched by Ennis and Jack’s story in Lee’s film, while, at the same time, the film breaks down the “stereotype” of showing gay people as the “Other” on the screen and presents us a fresh, unique, as well as romantic interpretation of the world of gay people and their love stories. To take Lee’s quote as my final words, “eventually everybody has a ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in them. Someone you want to come back to. And, of course, some people don’t come back”.
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is a television show that aired on Disney Channel from 2005 to 2008. The show features two twin boys living in a Boston hotel and causing various kinds of trouble. Two other main characters in the show are Maddie Fitzpatrick, played by Ashley Tisdale, and London Tipton, played by Brenda Song.
Brenda Song is an Asian American actress most famously known for her role as London Tipton in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. She is half Hmong and half Thai- two Asian ethnicities that usually do not have any representation in mainstream American media. However, in the show, London Tipton’s race is never mentioned. Her last name is not distinctly Asian in any way, and neither of her parents ever appear in the show. She is the daughter of the owner of the hotel in which the show takes place, so she is portrayed as extremely rich and spoiled. She is also extremely airheaded, doesn’t care about school, and loves clothes and shopping.
Some have argued that London Tipton is a positive representation of Asian Americans since she so actively defies the stereotype of the academic Asian. She is often portrayed as comically unintelligent, such as being unable to spell or count over 3 and referring to the gear shifts PRNDL as “the prindle” when learning how to drive. Others have argued that the portrayal of her as a character is be terrible regardless of race, so there’s no reason that her being Asian American would make it any better. In terms of her as and Asian American character, the intent behind her character’s representation is unclear.
Another element to take into consideration is the portrayal of other characters of color in the show. In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, one of the other main characters is Mr. Moseby. Mr. Moseby is black and his job is to oversee the hotel lobby. He speaks in a slight British accent and is portrayed as extremely uptight, always chastising the twins and ruining their fun. Again, his character is not stereotypical in terms of his race, but he is not portrayed as a likable character.
When I think about the London Tipton debate, I am reminded of the “dismantling stereotypes vs. refunctioning representation” debate as had in class. London Tipton certainly dismantles the smart Asian stereotype, but I don’t necessarily think that this makes her a positive representation. Especially because her race or ethnicity is never addressed, I am reminded of “multiculturalism” and wanting to avoid actively addressing race as an issue. I think that refunctioning representation is far more important because characters can then be portrayed as more complex instead of equally shallow but in a different way.
Jamie Chung has always interested in me, mostly because of her fashion style. She is routinely in best fashion style lists and because of her love for fashion, she created the successful lifestyle blog, What the Chung where she blogs about her favorite restaurants, fashion looks, and the like. Her day job is as an actress where she has played Lauren in The Hangover II and The Hangover III and Mulan in Once Upon a Time. She has had a relatively successful career as an actress; although, as far as I know she has had no major starring roles, which points out how there are really not that many female Asian Americans roles, especially as leading characters. But Chung has had a successful career as an Asian American actress, playing fairly diverse roles.
Chung is Korean American, meaning that she is a completely different ethnicity from her role as Mulan in Once Upon a Time. I truthfully have never seen this show, but I do know that Mulan is Chinese- not Korean. While it is most likely an important role (especially if she has been playing the same character since 2012), it is still sad that she is limited to playing roles that are not her own ethnicity. Her choices are so limited in who she is able to play. But she does not seem to care about that: “I really don’t see what difference it makes. I mean, I’m honored to play these roles and these characters, and I know quite a lot about the Japanese culture as well as Thai culture and Korean culture and Chinese culture, and they are all respectfully very different.”
Lastly I think it is interesting to note that Chung was originally on Real World: San Diego– a reality TV show that aired on MTV in 2004. She later starred in the off shoot of the show, The Challenge. So she obviously had had a successful, but short lived career, on reality TV. Chung is one of the only people I know of who’ve successfully transitioned from reality TV to a different medium and still stayed popular. While a person like Lauren Conrad, who has also had a successful career after MTV, still clings to her identity as a former reality TV star, Chung does not want to, in fact she in many ways avoids. I did not even know Chung had been on reality TV until years after I was introduced to her. Since the movement from reality television is rarely successful, I think that it is interesting that Chung, as a Korean American woman, was able to do it, especially since she was not a Lauren Conrad level of successful on reality television. In an interview, Chung commented, “But as an artist, it’s sad that we’re kind of limited. We’re already so segregated — Asian female actress — it sucks that it’s even more limiting if you think like that.” So it is interesting to know that she was able to make the jump from reality to film/television while becoming even more successful, especially since she is so limited in who she can play as an actress. Chung has been able to open doors for herself that weren’t there before.
Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP) presents Media is Not a Mirror (Third Blog Post – Edmund Pacleb)
I attended an event on campus called, “Media is Not a Mirror,” hosted by the Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP) at Pomona College. The event looked to address the questions: How has the representation of Asian Americans changed throughout history? Who is and isn’t being represented? How has the rise in popularity of Youtube and other forms of independent media influenced this? With the Asian American Film Festival just weeks ago, I thought it would be interesting to write my blog post about about an on campus event that centered on Asian Americans in media and the same types of themes that our own class was trying to address.Additionally, I thought it would be interesting to look at the success of their programming, as I know that was something that we struggled with throughout planning our own event, despite the differences in our audience and content.
Media is Not a Mirror allowed the audience to see a string a films and YouTube videos that showed just how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are portrayed in different forms of media. The event covered many of the themes that we have studied throughout this past semester. For example, they had reels of videos focusing on stereotypes such as the hypersexualized Asian female, the nerdy Asian male, and the martial arts master. It was interesting to see many of the things we talked about throughout the course of the semester and the wide variety of films these stereotypes are replicated in. It was even more interesting to hear about the wide variety of responses individuals had to these pervasive stereotypes. Responses ranged from anger to disgust to indifference. I believe that these difference of opinions stems from individuals’ different backgrounds and varying levels of politicization. Despite these differences, the audience clearly knew that these methods of representation if the Asian American and Pacific Islander community are problematic and that something needs to be done in order to create a more diverse and accurate representation. It was amazing to see so many individuals interested in learning about API issues and how the media perpetuates certain stereotypes.
In addition to the clips of films screened, perhaps my favorite component of this event was the photo campaign that went alongside the actual event. In the photo campaign, the organizers created posters of Asian and Pacific Islander actors with quotes about their experiences with race and the media. The photo campaign was quite powerful due to its widespread visibility on campus and the quality of the quotes that the organizers picked for each actor. For example, one poster of Dante Basco, an actor in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Hook, displayed his quote, “It’s illegal to hire or fire anybody because of their race, appearance, or sexual orientation, but in Hollywood…it’s the reason people will hire or not hire you… If I had to wait for a Filipino role to come out to get work, I wouldn’t eat. There are barely any roles out there.” Another poster of actor Kunal Nayyar reads, “Why can’t I play a David? Because my skin is brown, I have to play Raj? Why can’t I be the high school quarterback or the lawyer, rather than the geek or the doctor?” Release of the photos really helped bring to light many of the real life issues that Asian Pacific Islander actors face, and also generated interest and discussion prior to the event. It was so eye opening to see how actors are trying to change the way Asian Americans are represented in media, but also how limiting it is, as their livelihood is tied to their ability to receive roles, which is further tied to their ability to work under the current (although racist) system. Reading these quotes from Asian American and Pacific Islander actors really showed me how little the film industry has changed in the past 50 years. Yes, there may be more roles for API actors than there were 50 years ago, however the same racial undertones exist, thereby perpetuating the same racial stereotypes.
In terms of programming, the “Media is Not a Mirror,” event was extremely successful. I would say about 60-70 people came within the span of an hour and a half, which by Claremont College standards is extremely successful. The event organizers provided lunch for everyone who came, and thereby utilized the time when the majority of people eat lunch. I believe that this was a strategic move, in that people could simultaneously eat their food and attend the event, thereby allowing more people to attend. Additionally, by packing the event into a very short amount of time, there was very little time commitment for anyone who wanted to come. Finally, the added advertising of the photo campaign must have caught the attention of all the individuals who came through. While this program is very different from the film festival we produce in this class, I believe that in the future, we can utilize some of these aspects in order to create a more successful film festival. All in all, it was very great to see the issue of Asian Americans in media and further discussion media brought to light in the Claremont Colleges community.
As a person who becomes excited whenever a new tv show is introduced with a diverse cast, I was especially excited when I heard about Fresh Off the Boat premiering on ABC. From the trailers and early buzz of the show, it was clear that it would be a ground-breaking show. Groundbreaking in the sense that it would feature a primarily Asian American cast, something that hasn’t been seen on TV since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl. It’s always exciting to see minority groups represented on TV and Fresh Off the Boat seemed like the kind of show that would bring actual Asian american experiences to the forefront of mainstream media. As with most shows that have a diverse cast, that did not prove to be totally true.
Fresh Off the Boat definitely has problematic moments. From Jessica’s accent to other Asian American tropes, the show isn’t perfect. There is a lot of talk surrounding the show’s ability to portray real life experiences of Asian Americans. My opinion on the matter is that the show should be commended for the fact that it has cast a primarily Asian American group of actors. That feat alone is tremendous and should be recognized for the light it sheds on the fact that Asian American actors are rarely seen on TV in such a grand scale. Is the show perfect? No. But the show should not be seen in the lens of being the one show that represents all Asian American experiences. One show could not possibly ever cover all of the experiences of one minority group or one community. I don’t think Fresh Off the Boat falls short in terms of representing Asian Americans. Overall, it brings to light the things Asian American endure and experience when they come to the United States.
I feel the show provides a platform for Asian American actors and for more diverse TV shows to be created in the future. It also provides opportunities for Asian Americans to work behind the scenes and write for the show.
This show aligns with ABCs recent efforts to diversify television. ABC is also home to all of Shonda Rhimes’ shows which always feature a diverse cast and provide a platform for black actors to be included in the media and entertainment dialogue.
Fresh Off the Boat is a great show that brings to the forefront of mainstream media the lack of dialogue around Asian American Identity. While not a perfect show it definitely can be seen as helping Hollywood diversify its television shows.
Youtube has been a media platform to gain a following that we have seen utilized by independent Asian artists in class already. Aspiring independent hip hop artists tend use youtube in a similar way. In order to gain a core following, they post videos and download links to songs on youtube in hopes of gaining a fanbase and becoming more popular. It lets them take creative control of their careers and gives them a larger stage and audience than an aspiring artist had before the internet age.
Asian rappers face a unique challenge in the realm of hip hop. Because hip hop is an African dominated genre, Asians are once again foreign. They find it hard to relate to the popular content focused around drugs, money, violence, and promiscuity. Asian rappers once again must face stereotypes when they attempt to enter this world because of the competitive environment where diss tracks can be raw and uncut personal stabs directed at rappers. They get the typical “small eyes” “small dick” “ching, chong, chang” type of barbs thrown at them by other rappers and in comments and are pressured to be lyrically dexterous or very popular in order to make it above these hurdles. Asian rappers, unlike their contemporaries have addressed ethnic and racial issues in their songs because hip hop is a genre where self expression is encouraged. They detail different challenges they get being in the industry just because of their race. Like different actors, they all do it in their own unique way and often put a comical spin on these issues. There are several Asian artists that have earned the respect of their peers in hip hop and have represented the Asian culture well in the process. Here they are:
Jin Au-Yeung – better known as Chinese-American rapper MC Jin was born in Miami, moved to New York to gain fame then relocated to Hong Kong for his career to create an all Cantonese hip hop album. He is currently back in New York after returning in 2012.
Jin got his big break in the BET freestyle Fridays segment where MC’s were chosen to freestyle battle each other for brief rounds and the reigning champion would continue to battle weekly. He won 7 battles in a row, inducting him into the freestyle Fridays hall of fame. He used reverse racism in his lyrics, glorifying aspects of Chinese culture to combat stereotypes in the bars thrown at him. He also gained fame for being witty and for actually being able to rap.
Jin would capitalize on his freestyle fame and sign a deal with DMX’s Ruff Ryders crew. After many delays and two singles (Learn Chinese & I Got A Love ft Kanye West) his album was finally released. It peaked at number 54 on the Billboard top 200. Jin later went into hiatus and relocated to Hong Kong to pursue other interests.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina Jonathan Park aka Korean American rapper Dumbfoundead was smuggled into America and settled into Korea Town, Los Angeles. Known as a class clown and frequent truant, Park dropped out of high school as a sophomore. He started hanging out with a creative known as Project Blowed took part in a freestyle work shop. He held many odd jobs before pursuing hip hop as a career. He got his break freestyling in the West Coast Battle Rap league Grindtime and the 2007 World Rap Championships. He became one of battle raps most popular figures because of his technical ability and wittiness in his rhymes. He has notably tough skin in the way he deflects blatantly racist bars and instigation from his opponents. He took a hiatus to focus on becoming an artist and has since released 3 albums and has returned to battling this year. His first battle back from hiatus against vaunted battle rapper Conceited, a member of Nick Cannons Wild N’ Out cast is currently the most popular English rap battle in 2015 and was complemented on by Drake himself.
Timothy DeLaGhetto aka Traphik
Tim Chantarangsu better known by his youtube handle Timothy DeLaGhetto or rapper name Traphik is a Thai-American Rapper, comedian, actor, and youtube personality. He started off with a youtube channel that featured skits, parodies, rants, and his own advice vlog column called ‘Dear DeLaGhetto’. His youtube channel currently has over 3 million subscribers and over 600 million views. He also has separate volg, music, and style channels as well. He’s also a member of Nick Cannons Wild N’ Out cast.
Keith Ape is a South Korean rapper whose Korean take on the hip hop “trap” sound has lead to his acceptance into the hip hop community in a cross cultural connection. His appropriation of Korean and Japanese culture in a hip hop style is what lead to this acceptance. His originality and conviction shined through to those who questioned his authenticity. He is also starting a wave of hip hop popularity within a younger Korean generation. He says he speaks for those who don’t like to listen to K-Pop. He was able to headline his own shows at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas as well as collaborate with some of traps musics biggest names on a remix of his hit “It G Ma” He was also able to shoot and record a music video and cause a riot outside the New York BAPE store with fellow rapper Ken Rebel.
Noah Chang PZ
I watch a lot of films. Good, bad, sad, mindless, thought-provoking films about the past, present and future. However, recently, learning about the roles, positions and portrayal of Asian Americans in the media in class has changed my selection process when watching films and critical lens. No longer do I thoughtlessly go for the most attractive stars, aesthetically pleasing posters, intriguing trailers and highest IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes ratings. Instead I currently only watch films featuring Asian or Asian American actors and foreign (non-American) films. It is quite difficult to find American films with Asian American actors as main characters and not sidekicks or stereotypes. Luckily, one such film was recommended in class, Better Luck Tomorrow (2003).
The film features a group of delinquent, drug dealing, basketball playing, straight A Asian American high schoolers. Director Justin Lin offers another dimension to the conventional Asian American stereotypes in a classic American coming of age narrative. Academic and extracurricular excellence is put to use, stealing tests, writing and selling cheat sheets. The main protagonist makes the basketball team, only to be its bench warmer ad token Asian American. The all Asian American group smashes the model minority myth by thieving and committing acts of violence while dealing with issues like love, lust, greed and getting into a good college that often aren’t part of Asian American characters in media as they are often more occupied with struggling to speak English or ‘fitting in’.
Lin succeeds in casting Asian Americans in a film where the characters are not bound to solely being Asian American but also experience struggles and growth. He achieves this through deconstructing stereotypes while at the same time addressing racism and tokenisation, taking the model away from model minority through violence and crime. But does it have to be one or the other?