7 thoughts on “Asian-Americans in American Cinema

  1. I read this and thought it was pretty good. He mentioned a few actors almost as second thoughts whose other roles I think are a bigger deal. First, George Takei in the Star Trek movies. While he was never the star (I think Nimoy and Shatner were always the real stars), in the latter films he was as integral to the films as the other characters. Add his ambiguous Asian-ness and the actor’s homosexuality, and I would have given him a few more words in this article than he got.

    Something might also be said about the X-Men films, which have featured several Asian actors, including Lady Deathstrike and Psylocke.

    Still, a pretty good piece.

  2. A part of me feels like George Takei, Kelly Hu, and Olivia Munn fall a little outside the scope of the article,. which seems to identify milestones over time. And I think I would mention Pat Morita, for his role as Arnold in Happy Days and Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid before I mentioned those actors.

    One film that I think might bear mentioning is Eric Byler’s Charlotte Sometimes. What’s notable, in my view, is that the characters are just characters versus Asian characters. Accept for maybe one brief scene, I think Asian culture not really in the forefront of the film. I think Harold and Kumar do this, but that film is a comedy, while Charlotte Sometimes is a drama–so I think both could be mentioned simultaneously. On the other hand, I suspect few people watched Charlotte Sometimes, so I can understand why it wasn’t listed.

    Still, i think the Asian actors/character that are characters first, and Asians second is the next step–particularly in the central roles. I think this is what disappoints me about Crazy Rich Asians–or at least the vibe I get from it, as I haven’t seen it, yet. It doesn’t look like a film that has left the self-conscious depiction of Asian culture. To get a sense of what I’m thinking of, think about films made in Asian countries. They feature Asian characters/actors, but the culture is often not a central focus of those movies. I think we’ll have reached a critical milestone when we see more Asian-American films like that. (Are there films like this that I’ve failed to mention?)

  3. I think the point of the article is studio pictures, and Charlote Sometimes is an indy. It’s probably why he doesn’t mention Better Luck Tomorrow as well.

    It’s probably worth noting that Crazy Rich Asians is set in Singapore and although the main character is American, the other characters are Chinese-Singaporean or Chinese-Malaysian, and most of them were educated in Europe. It’s actually a critical part of the story. So this isn’t the movie you’re looking for exactly, although the main character is definitely an American (emphasis American) of Chinese descent. It’s a culture movie for sure, but not exactly what you’re thinking of (with the exception of one gratuitous scene that’s not from the novel).

  4. It’s a culture movie for sure, but not exactly what you’re thinking of (with the exception of one gratuitous scene that’s not from the novel).

    I would be surprised if this was the case, based on the trailer.

  5. I don’t know if you’ve read much of the commentary on this film, but I would gently point out that many people in Asian America feel their stories aren’t being told, and haven’t been told. It’s the first major studio picture to feature a predominantly Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club, which means a thirty-five-year-old Chinese American may have no memory of it. This is too long between films telling Asian American stories. So while I agree with you about milestone pictures, I don’t think we’re in a place yet where much of America (and certainly not Hollywood) is ready to make the leap you crave, because even the culture stories haven’t been told.

    An episode of Fresh Off the Boat a couple of years ago pounded this home for me. The show is set in 1998, and this episode was about Chinese New Year. White people in the show didn’t even know there was such a thing as Chinese New Year, something that surprised me. I asked my Chinese friends in California (California!) if there was ever a mention of Chinese New Year in school, since that’s where I first learned about it, and they said no. We’re still growing up in an America whose general population remains largely ignorant of some of the most important parts of our cultures, and this isn’t right.

    I feel like this somehow connected to poke bowls in California with mandarin oranges and watermelon.

  6. I don’t know if you’ve read much of the commentary on this film, but I would gently point out that many people in Asian America feel their stories aren’t being told, and haven’t been told.

    I would consider myself in this group.

    It’s the first major studio picture to feature a predominantly Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club, which means a thirty-five-year-old Chinese American may have no memory of it.

    I haven’t seen the film, but if it’s film that is self-conscious about culture, like Joy Luck, or depicts Asians in exotic sort of way, that would be disappointing. This kind of reminds me of Kumu Kahua plays that don’t move past immigrant stories–not to say that they haven’t now, but for a time in the past it seemed that way, and I would have wanted to see stories that moved beyond–stories that reflected my experience. That’s what I really liked about Charlotte Sometimes–I could relate to the characters and situations. Both reminded me of people I knew in college. Imagine if another 35 years go by, we don’t move beyond stories/characters that are self-consciously cultural. Even if mainstream society wasn’t ready for it, that would be depressing.

    We’re still growing up in an America whose general population remains largely ignorant of some of the most important parts of our cultures, and this isn’t right.

    Right, but I don’t know if movies and literature should be the vehicles to rectify this–both should be about the characters and story. Art that has a social agenda, that seeks to educate the larger society, doesn’t seem to work so well, in my view.

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