Results tagged “Asian American arts and media” from ARTicles

Despite my best hopes, "The Last Airbender" didn't do that badly its opening weekend. It made $70.5 million from Thursday through Monday, nearly half of what it cost Paramount Pictures to make.

But there is a bright side. The film, which is based on Nickelodeon's animated television series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," may already be waning in popularity. Ticket sales declined through the weekend. And critics universally panned the film, including Roger Ebert, who comments on the film's casting controversy:

[M. Night Shyamalan's] first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they're all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It's a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad.

The studio insists the film has a "multicultural" cast, since it did hire a lot of minority actors for the other roles. But Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire"), the one actor of color who has a leading role plays the villain, and (since I refuse to see the film) I hear the other minority actors primarily play bad guys as well. So once again, the white people are saving the world from everyone else.   

July 6, 2010 9:19 AM |
I love this mock website mimicking the orientalist curating choices of San Francisco's Asian Art Museum.  Notice the tagline, Where Asian Still Means Oriental.

Flyer front

Writer/video maker Valerie Soe also made an insightful comment about the site on her beyondasiaphilia blog:

Just got tipped to an excellent new intervention critiquing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum's latest orientalist extravaganza, Lords of the Samurai. My anonymous source sent me the link to Lord, it's the Samurai!, a brilliant goof on this year's summer blockbuster which replicates the show's official website with a twist--it offers a detailed, pointed, and well-researched deconstruction of the problematic exhibition. The faux-site points out the less-than-savory aspects of samurai culture that the AAM conveniently glosses over, including the militarism, slavery, pederasty and misogyny inherent in the "code of the warrior."

The ersatz site also recognizes the dangers of the exhibit's glamorization of violence, noting,

"No myth here, and it hasn't changed since the times of the samurai: it's universal and real, how war dehumanizes everyone. Aestheticizing violence, normalizing war. The museum may not want you to see it, but there is blood on those swords."

The faux-site also calls out the AAM's ongoing Asian fetish with its hilarious tagline ("Where Asian Still Means Oriental") and a fun little word-scramble that mixes up past titles from AAM exhibits to form an amalgamation of exotic Asiaphilic fantasies.

The imitation site makes a cogent connection between the Museum's soft-peddling of Japanese nationalism and the U.S. government's interest in remilitarizing Japan, which would aid the U.S. in maintaining the upper hand in Asia. The faux-site also notes that it's not the first time the AAM has backed up a superpower's questionable point of view, as seen in Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World, the 2005 show that gave credence to the PRC's claim that Tibet is really just the back door of China.

All told, this little fakey website is a fine, funny, and extremely effective critique that packs in a copious number of links and information. It's a companion piece to hard-copy flyers that have been distributed in public brochure racks in San Francisco's Japantown. Someone upstairs at the AAM must have twigged to the switch since, as noted in the site, the counterfeit flyers have been systematically removed and replaced with the AAM's own brochures almost as soon as they've been distributed. The fake site's gmail address was also disabled shortly after sending out its first email blast. If the museum's functionaries are so freaked out that they're furiously trying to eradicate it, then I'd have to say that the intervention is working.

Thanks to Jean Cheng, Director of Online Exhibitions of the International Museum of Women, for calling my attention to Soe's note yesterday. 
August 28, 2009 9:00 AM |
The film 21 opens today.  If you've missed the barrage of advertising Sony Pictures has assailed upon us, here's a description from Fandango:

Director Robert Luketic adapts Ben Mezrich's best-seller Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions to tell the true-life tale of six genius students who used their brains to beat considerable odds.

True to life?  True that the main character goes to Vegas to count cards with his classmates so that he can make tuition money.  Not true that the protagonist is Caucasian.

The real people profiled in Bringing Down the House are actually Asian American, and when Asian-American actors learned that the story was being made into a movie, they rejoiced.  Finally, they would have the opportunity to play three-dimensional characters and branch out from their fine portrayals of nerds, waiters, kung fu artists, and refugees.  

Studio executives dashed those hopes.  They felt that Caucasian actors would make the film more marketable, despite the fact that the characters' ethnicity was essential to the story.  The book states that the card-counting scheme was successful partly because the students used their ethnicity to their advantage; in the casinos, a young Asian man betting large amounts of money is less conspicuous than a young white man.

And come on, we all know that gambling and M.I.T. have become indispensable parts of Asian-American culture.  Every Asian parent dreams of his or her children going to M.I.T. and takes the $25 bus from Chinatown to Reno to win enough money to send them there.

If you don't believe me, just ask writer/performer Prince Gomolvilas who confesses in the  touring theatre production Jukebox Stories that his college education was financed when his "mother hit the jackpot on a nickel slot machine at the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Vegas."  The quip is part of his biting and hilarious monologue "21 Reasons Why This Movie Already Sucks," in which he lists 21 reasons one should NOT see the film 21.   

Here are a few:

#7: This is not the kind of movie [Jim Sturgess, who is white] should be in. He actually should've been cast as Ray Charles in Ray or as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland or as Frank Lucas, you know, the Denzel Washington character in American Gangster.

#14: People say that I should be happy because the producers, out of an apparent act of charity, did cast two Asian Americans in smaller roles: the Korean dude from Disturbia and some random token hot Asian chick.  But I ask you: Why the hell should I be happy? That's like somebody jerking you off halfway and then leaving.

We shouldn't be surprised by a film studio's lack of cultural sensitivity.  It's not the first time that Hollywood has changed a character's race to make a film more "marketable."  In 1999, George Clooney played the African-American protagonist in Three Kings, and Gomolvilas has plenty of his own experiences:

Remember the time when a certain talent agent wanted to take a look at my script about a little Asian-American boy only if I would consider rewriting the part so that Dakota Fanning could star in it?  

How about that time I was developing a script called Chocolate Buddha at a film studio? The story was about a black guy who hides out in a Buddhist monastery.  And I was shocked that... executives could still look me in the eye and tell me it would be much better if the star of the movie were Caucasian, essentially changing my film into White Chocolate Buddha.

The moral of this story is that if you're lucky enough to be in Los Angeles this weekend, take that $10 you would have spent seeing 21 to catch Gomolvilas with singer/songwriter Brandon Patton in Jukebox Stories: The Case of the Creamy Foam at Genghis Cohen.  (They're also in Boston June 15.)  A mixture of contemporary storytelling, original songs, audience prizes and a different setlist each night, Gomolvilas and Patton present a clever, decidedly non-theatrical theatre piece that combines personal anecdotes with brilliant observations of life's randomness.  

This second installment of Jukebox Stories lets the audience virtually pick out of a hat the pieces the duo will present, like Gomolvilas' true yet bizarre story about how his satirical review of High School Musical garnered thousands of angry letters and death threats from tween girls.  And if you solve the show's murder mystery or demonstrate your prowess at movie score trivia, you win cheesy prizes.  It's a load of fun that will leave you thinking about life and humming Patton's songs on your way home, "We're alive and we chuckle when we fart/Try to be inspired but this is life, not art."

March 28, 2008 12:22 PM |

For the last week, I've been thinking a lot about the racist panda commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.  In the ad, a panda couple who speak with  ridiculous Asian accents save their bamboo business with the help of Salesgenie sales leads.

On Tuesday, Salesgenie executive Vin Gupta apologized for the commercial, telling The New York Times that he "never thought anyone would be offended."  He never thought anyone would be offended?!  Gupta is either horrifyingly disingenuous or horrifyingly ignorant.

So what does this have to do with arts journalism?

Television advertising has long reflected accepted racial portrayals in film and television.  And the Salesgenie commercial is just another reminder that the media hasn't progressed much since Mickey Rooney portrayed Holly Golightly's ridiculous, clownish Japanese landlord in the otherwise fine film Breakfast at Tiffany's.  Can we compare Rooney with an animated panda?  Well, they're both short, round non-Asians donning bad Asian accents.  And they've both helped media executives try to get a laugh by portraying Asians as buck-teethed buffoons who cannot speak English properly.

Asianweek's recent list of the 25 most infamous "yellow face" film performances only proves how shockingly reactionary Hollywood is when it comes to race.  While most of the list's entries come from Hollywood's past, three are from 2007 films.

When noting Christopher Walken's turn as a villainous ping-pong master in Balls of Fury (2007), Asianweek comments, "Would anyone in their right mind cast Walken as, say, an African American character and not expect to get their asses reamed?"

The same thinking applies to the Salesgenie commercial.  Would Gupta even think of casting a family of gorillas speaking ebonics as his laughable protagonists?   Somehow, the Asian-American population is considered easier prey. 

To add insult to injury, The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Gupta "boasted that his commercials were intentionally bad."  As they say, bad publicity is better than no publicity.  And to attract business to his website, Gupta actively sought the title of "worst Super Bowl commercial."  Unfortunately, it seems like the racist plan worked.  The ad has apparently brought in millions of dollars in revenue for Salesgenie. 

Even though Gupta has pulled the ad, he says he will continue to run another animated commercial featuring a salesman with several children who speaks with an Indian accent.  Gupta, who himself is half-Indian, explained to The New York Times that "people have been making fun of my accent for years, and I love it."  According to USA Today, Gupta also claimed that only white people criticized the ads and that his Asian friends had no problem with them.

Well, Mr. Gupta, this Asian-American writer congratulates you on your thick skin... and poor taste.

February 10, 2008 7:50 PM |


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