Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Slanted Screen

I am one of those people who flip through the channels versus just flipping through the channel guide. I don't know why but I do. Maybe its more interesting to see the images versus just reading about it. Who knows.

Anyways, last night I was flipping through the channels and landed on the local PBS station. I grew up as a kid watching PBS, either Sesame Street, the Electric Company or something my mom wanted to watch. I loved seeing the RSC plays of Othello or King Lear and learned to like opera from PBS. So when I landed on the PBS station last night a new program was starting - called the Slanted Screen.

It was a great one hour documentary about Asian males in the American Cinema. It covered the changes of Asian males & their roles through American cinema from the early 50's to present. I was really impressed that Asians are trying to change their current status in American cinema. But I was seriously taken a back that I didn't realize that Asian males don't really hold mainstream roles and definitely not romantic ones in American Cinema. Most often they hold character roles, comical ones usually being the clumsy idiot or they play the Yakusa gangster.

Yes there's Jackie Chan or Jet Li, but they pretty much only stay in one or two genres - basically either Chinese films brought to America or American martial arts films. Ken Wanatabe (who is yummy BTW) has stepped up some with great roles in The Last Samurai or Letters from Iwo Jima - but then again they were films about Japan or Japanese related themes. What really surprised me (and frankly seriously bothered me) was hearing how certain roles in The Fast & the Furious - Tokyo Drift the financiers kept pushing the writer to change from a Japanese person to either black or white. A scene at the end of Romeo Must Die was changed to remove a kiss between Jet Li & Alyiah because the test screening failed so miserably. Romeo Must Die was an adaptation of Romeo & Juliet so they are supposed to end up together as some point in the film. Apparently the American test screening audience couldn't handle the thought of romance between them.

I guess I am really fortunate that my parents really did raise me to not see colour. Ken Wanatabe is a good actor regardless of the fact that he's Japanese - I just like his work. I just like the work of Morgan Freeman (Sidney Poitier if you want old school) or Edward Norton as well. They are all males and all could hold their own on screen. I hope that the American cinema quickly gets over only putting certain people in certain roles just because of their nationality and places them based solely on their ability.

3 comments:

K and J said...

Unfortunately there are many forms of racism in our country. One of the many problems that I have also. It bugs me. For some very obvious reasons. The fact that they are begining to see it is good.

Anonymous said...

I saw the same documentary the other night and googled today and your post was atcually high on google search. I was curious to see what your blog would say and it's nice to see that it resonated with you the way it did. As a west coast asian male, my experiences in meeting people with open minds from the middle part of the country have been few and far between. Your post actually gave me pause to think about my pre-conceived notions about people from mid-America. So thanks for your post and keep blogging!

Household6 said...

Thanks for reading Anon - sadly I must burst your bubble. I grew up just over the Oakland hills about 45 minutes from San Francisco. My high school class was probably 1/3 Asian and we spent our Sundays in college going into San Francisco for Dim Sum with a good friend of mine. The military is what has brought my family to middle America.

As for my own observations though most folks around here don't seem to have any negative feelings towards Asians. The Idian restaurant we frequent always has a line of people waiting for a table. There are several Japanese and Thai places here as well. I was actually surprised at the number of Asians that have settled here. The sushi chefs at our favourite place are all Chinese. (Its a multiregional Asian restaurant)

So yeah they kinda are in more traditional roles such as restaurant owners in the Midwest but I haven't seen any negative or bigotted attitudes of Asians in the midwest.