Asian Americans Have Always Felt Hollywood’s Hypocrisy. Now, Vindication.

Geishas and eunuchs. Erasure and white dude saviors. AsAms always knew something was rotten inside Hollywood's "liberal" citadel.

7 years ago

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At last, Hollywood is burning. Maybe the Oscars will be cancelled this year. At the very least, it will be awkward as all hell. Who claps when Wonder Wheel inevitably comes up among the nominees? The Academy must be hoping to god that Christopher Nolan is clean.

For me, this fall is particularly sweet because Asian Americans, especially Asian American men, have hated Hollywood for a long time. For a supposedly liberal citadel, Hollywood bore its racism and sexism on full display. You could see it from the way racist stereotypes were always recycled to how women directors just so happened to never appear on the scene. With Asian Americans, it has been a steady supply of racial caricatures, whitewashing, and white-dude-savior narratives. Even the writer/Hollywood Dad Jeff Yang, hardly a paragon of firebrand Asian American awareness, noticed the following about the well-received movie, The Wolverine:

Just saw THE WOLVERINE, and here's my one-sentence summary: Canadian mutant played by Australian actor goes to Japan to...

Posted by Jeff Yang on Sunday, July 28, 2013

But nobody could really say anything because George Clooney visited Darfur and Scarlett Johansson said something about feminism. Remember when Ben Affleck endorsed John Kerry and that was important? 2004 seems like the Mesopotamian era.

In recent times, I’ve soured on the importance of media representation, but I think what I’ve actually turned against is Hollywood acceptance. Those are two different things. “Media representation” is about something bigger: cultural representation. And it doesn’t necessarily have to come from Disney or Netflix. It can be as simple as an Asian American individual making sure that her perspective is heard and respected, whether it’s in a private group setting or in some multinational blockbuster. In contrast, “Hollywood acceptance” is simpering for the chance for it to be an Asian girl, instead of a blonde girl, who has to watch Harvey Weinstein jack off into a fern in exchange for the lead in Shakespeare in Love 2: The Shakening. It’s the Cool Asian Kids — the most acceptable/appealing/acquiescent of Asian Americans — demanding membership into the most exclusive club of all. How heroic. Such people will now be scattered into discredited irrelevance.

For so long, all the symptoms of Hollywood’s rottenness — the racism, the sexism and the coveting of female youth and naivete, even the classism (see the god-awful trailer for Home Again) — have been explained away by Economics. You see, as many an online commenter will tell you, everything Hollywood does can be explained by Economics. If there are no good female or minority storylines, then that’s just because of the market! Hollywood “art” is a neutral ever-flowing element that is plucked out of the air by the noble forces of the free market, as interpreted by artistic arbiters like Harvey Weinstein.

Image of "Ghost In The Shell" remake

But now, we know better. The argument was always bullshit. People don’t go into the movie business just to make money. If they did, they’d become stockbrokers or something. Entertainment is notoriously unpredictable as a business. The prize isn’t necessarily money. Instead, it’s the ability to shape culture itself in the way one sees fit, to impose one’s own manifesto on how we should look, act, and feel. We know that men like Weinstein replaced a talented and beautiful actress like Sophie Okoneda because she was “unfuckable.” This certainly wasn’t the first time such a thing happened. Who else was “unfuckable” according to the Weinstein weiner? Asian women who didn’t conform to some ego-soothing Orientalist stereotype? All Asian guys? Is that why we’re constantly either washed out or rendered impotent so that the Weinstein stand-in can save the kingdom and get with the exotic princess?

Screenshot of "The Last Samurai"

Hollywood has only made one mainstream movie about the Japanese internment. It’s called Come See The Paradise. In David Mura’s book, Where The Body Meets Memory, Mura asks why the movie’s British director, Alan Parker, chose to center an Asian American narrative around a made-up love story between Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita. The answer: Because that was the story Parker wanted to tell. Why? Because Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita were more “fuckable” than, say, Russell Wong and Tamlyn Tomita?What other stories have been distorted or suppressed?

Undoubtedly, there are some assimilationists right now, furiously gathering dirt on the abusive sexual practices in Asian entertainment industries to pitch to Buzzfeed or Quartz. No doubt that such environments must be changed. For instance, actors and actresses commit suicide at a disturbingly high rate in Korea. But those are issues to be solved by the people who live, breathe, and understand those cultures. In other words, not Asian Americans. At least not the vast majority of us because no, we are not Asian experts just because we have Asian faces and grew up with mother’s mapo tofu. We’d just be dutifully stepping in to take some heat off the American patriarchy, just as we’re always asked to do. To ease America’s conscience that whatever America does, Asia does it worse. So be eternally grateful to be in the land of the free and the home of the brave, lest you be seen as an icky Perpetual Foreigner!

Image of Uncle Sam kicking out a caricature of a Chinese man

The lesson in all this is that we are no longer tolerating performative progress. Part of that is because Obama, if you put aside his many substantive accomplishments, was the greatest performance we could’ve dreamed of. Really, an old Hollywood propaganda classic on par with Casablanca. And though he has left us many wonderful memories, we have also seen the limits of a good story. Think of Hollywood and its type of hypocritical liberalism — whose family includes Master of None Liberalism and assimilationism — as a Comcast cable bundle. For a very long time, we’ve tolerated bloated prices for shit we didn’t want because it was the only way to get ESPN and Bravo.

Similarly, we thought we had to put up with Weinsteinian crimes because they were part of the only side that could advance social progress. Because the Fox News crowd sure isn’t going to be of any help. But the forced alliance is broken now. Trump broke it. We are now in the year 1 AT: After Trump. We could buy the bundle so long as it guaranteed not only defeating the likes of Trumpism, but also humiliating it into the history pages. But if it can’t even do that, why should we defer to Weinstein, or MoN Liberalism, or assimilationism?

We can finally stop giving a fuck. Let it all burn.

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Chris Jesu Lee

Published 7 years ago

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