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68 Responses

  1. Astraea
    Astraea April 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm |

    Thanks for posting about this. I wasn’t aware of it. I see that, naturally, the book has been reissued to capitalize on the movie and the cover features the white actors.

  2. exholt
    exholt April 30, 2008 at 12:34 pm |

    The book doesn’t put a lot of weight on this, but it is a plot element; and more than that, it’s a critique. So Hollywood, by casting the Asian characters as white, has also erased a critique of racism. So that’s, to my mind, several levels of not okay.

    The above I believe is directly related and intertwined with this:

    That’s the traditional Hollywood racism.

    A racism with a long history from the Yellow Peril movies from Hollywood’s earliest days to the present, but also the Whitewashing of many originally Asian and other non-Western movies to fit Hollywood’s notion that the movie is not marketable to American audiences unless the main characters are mainly White. A couple of features in this vein that come to mind is:

    The remake of the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs” into “The Departed”

    and

    The possibly upcoming live-action version of the Akira anime which will most likely replace the original Japanese characters and landscape with an “Americanized” mainly White cast and an American environment.

  3. exholt
    exholt April 30, 2008 at 12:37 pm |

    Note to Thomas: I tried submitting this comment, but it got completely eaten. Sorry for the possible dupe.

    The book doesn’t put a lot of weight on this, but it is a plot element; and more than that, it’s a critique. So Hollywood, by casting the Asian characters as white, has also erased a critique of racism. So that’s, to my mind, several levels of not okay.

    The above I believe is directly related and intertwined with this:

    That’s the traditional Hollywood racism.

    A racism with a long history from the Yellow Peril movies from Hollywood’s earliest days to the present, but also the Whitewashing of many originally Asian and other non-Western movies to fit Hollywood’s notion that the movie is not marketable to American audiences unless the main characters are mainly White. A couple of features in this vein that come to mind is:

    The remake of the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs” into “The Departed”

    and

    The possibly upcoming live-action version of the Akira anime which will most likely replace the original Japanese characters and landscape with an “Americanized” mainly White cast and an American environment.

  4. Kai
    Kai April 30, 2008 at 1:23 pm |

    Jenn Fang wrote about this on her blog Reappropriate and guest-posted it at Racialicious,
    and Carmen touched upon this on NPR’s Bloggers’ Roundtable.

  5. Nicole
    Nicole April 30, 2008 at 1:33 pm |

    other non-Western movies to fit Hollywood’s notion that the movie is not marketable to American audiences unless the main characters are mainly White.

    I was really excited about Forbidden Kingdom because I am a Jet Li fan, a Jackie Chan fan, and a Journey to the West fan which it is loosely based off of. Them putting the white kid into the movie as a main character seemed unnecessary, annoying, and an example of this to some degree.

  6. atlasien
    atlasien April 30, 2008 at 1:58 pm |

    I have to say, Americanized remakes of Chinese, Korean and Japanese movies really don’t bother me at all. Yes, they’re stupid, but movies from Europe come in for much the same treatment.

    What does drive me crazy is casting decisions like “21”. This was an amazing chance for Asian-American men to be shown in a non-stereotypical role, and it was ruined by racist bastards!

    The negative portrayal of Asian-American men (when they’re portrayed at all) is also damaging to the self-esteem of Asian-American women.

  7. ThickRedGlasses
    ThickRedGlasses April 30, 2008 at 2:00 pm |

    Them putting the white kid into the movie as a main character seemed unnecessary, annoying, and an example of this to some degree.

    Jeffrey Lyons and Allison Bailes of Reel Talk had the same critique. They also would have preferred this film be in Chinese. I probably would have gone to see this film if that were the case. I love foreign films.

    I didn’t know that about 21. These times call for more social commentary in films. But this exclusion of Asians in American cinema is really irksome, whether it’s 21, Akira, Speed Racer, every other movie . . . .

    I just read on Wikipedia that the Westernization of anime characters is called mukokuseki. So this seems to be a normal thing.

  8. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe April 30, 2008 at 2:24 pm |

    On the other hand, using Asian actors would have fed the stereotype of Asian kids as nerdy math whizzes. And the book also mentions how Greek, Arab and Persian kids are also perceived as Vegas spendthrifts. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a wash.

    (Loved the book, haven’t seen the movie…how is it?)

  9. tannenburg
    tannenburg April 30, 2008 at 3:16 pm |

    On a far more silly note, please see the Anglicization of the new Speed Racer movie.

    For corn’s sake, they kept the monkey…but…

  10. Daomadan
    Daomadan April 30, 2008 at 3:51 pm |

    I’ve been following the blogs (like Jenn’s and angryasianman’s) that covered this when rumors first surfaced about the casting, and were then confirmed. Racist Hollywood (and yes, I’m also blaming you Mr. Spacey) took what could have been a fascinating look at how the racist lens of people in the casino industry helped these brilliant counters beat the system (that’s empowering!) and turned it into a boring boy-meets-girl-learns-a-lesson-again flick.

    Also, I’m supposed to feel sorry for a white kid at MIT who has been accepted to Harvard (even if he’s supposed to be “poor”) and has a mind so brilliant he’ll get ahead anywhere? /snort

    Riiiiight.

    Also, they reissued the book with the white actors on the cover (did they even include the two Asians they allowed in the movie but were regulated to small roles)?! >< The Racism Fairy strikes again!

  11. puggins
    puggins April 30, 2008 at 5:54 pm |

    FWIW, also, Jenn makes clear that Mezrich himself understood that this was wrong and said so.

    Sorry for switching gears here, but this statement is ambiguous. By “this” do you mean the racist casting or counting cards. If the former, sure thing. If the latter… err, sorry, using legal methods to bilk money from operations that are designed to bilk money from everybody else doesn’t even fall into the “morally ambiguous” bin in my book.

  12. Scuba
    Scuba April 30, 2008 at 7:11 pm |

    Please. This is just marketing, there is nothing racist about this. Most American’s wouldn’t pay to watch a movie staring mostly Asians – Americans are superficial and only flock to movies with attractive people they can relate to. Most Americans don’t find Asians, particularly men, particularly attractive, and would not relate to the characters.
    Also, Asians are obviously more talented than whites and blacks at mathematics (as anybody who has spent time in a physics or math department can attest to), a fact that offends many people. However they produced this movie, somebody would be offended.

  13. Kai
    Kai April 30, 2008 at 8:33 pm |

    Thanks for the post and update, Thomas, though I’m not sure if I was exactly gracious in my last link-and-run comment!

    As exholt says, Hollywood’s history with Asians is, well, really really bad. The first Asian movie star was Anna May Wong; all of her roles back then were prostitutes or dragon ladies, but she was nevertheless something of a groundbreaking hero. At the peak of Wong’s career, Hollywood produced its first movie featuring Asians in a positive light: The Good Earth, based on the novel by Pearl Buck. Wong auditioned for the lead role of Olan, but all of the film’s positive characters were played by white actors in yellowface; Wong was offered a small role as Lotus, the jealous concubine, one of the story’s few negative characters; she refused the role and ended up leaving the US in disgust. Luise Rainer played Olan and won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance.

    Skip ahead to 2006: Martin Scorsese’s The Departed cleaned up at the Oscars, after whitening a classic Hong Kong flick and throwing in a bunch of anti-Asian stereotypes just for fun. During the Oscar ceremonies, when the film was described on air, the announcer said that it was inspired by a movie from Japan. Fans of Hong Kong cinema jumped out of their (our) chairs at such a massive screw-up on the biggest stage in Hollywood; but no correction was ever issued to my knowledge and media reports took no notice of the mistake.

    I’m guessing that many readers here are unaware of the depth of resentment in the Asian American community about our consistently horrendous media representation. Does it come through my words? ;-)

    Peace.

  14. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax April 30, 2008 at 8:35 pm |

    And the book also mentions how Greek, Arab and Persian kids are also perceived as Vegas spendthrifts.

    And this changes things how, given that the movie didn’t turn the Asian-Americans from MIT into Greeks, Arabs, and Persians?

    And if there had been some group of Greeks, Arabs, and Persians who had used that stereotype to their advantage to get away with counting cards, and if I learned that Hollywood was going to make a movie out of it, and then found out that the Greeks, Arabs, and Persians had been turned into something else, I would be unhappy about having the people like me taken out of the story, so it makes sense to me that people like Jenn and atlasien are going to feel unhappy about what actually got done.

    FWIW, I remember people at Stanford, when I was there, who would talk about doing this kind of thing. Never knew them well enough to find out how successful they were at it.

  15. Flowers
    Flowers May 1, 2008 at 1:30 am |

    Nicole,

    I felt the exact same way!!! I was really annoyed, mostly because I already hate the “young boy with no skills faces an obstacle with helpers and comes out the hero.” This includes Harry Potter.

    But, in Forbidden Kingdom, I LOVED the fact that the women were actual fighters and not just love interests. I especially loved that the white boy lost to the Asian woman during the fight. YAY to women fighters!

    As for 21, I wasn’t aware of the “Asian men are gamblers” stereotype, so that would have been lost on me. I am aware of the “Asians are good at math” stereotype, so without context, I would have thought a film about card counting with an all Asian cast would have been racist. It weird how stereotypes are so context-specific.

  16. SeanH
    SeanH May 1, 2008 at 5:16 am |

    It’s not even “bilking”. It’s within the rules of the game – counting cards is skilful play, the best possible play given available information. There’s no legitimate reason to ban it. But from reading Jenn’s post, she means that Mezrich called out the racist casting of the movie – which, good for him.

  17. Anna
    Anna May 1, 2008 at 8:52 am |

    To answer Bitter Scribe, no, it wasn’t a terribly good movie. We walked out half way through. (Sadly, I only knew about the white-washed casting after, or we wouldn’t have seen it at all.)

    The hardest pill for me to swallow was the “This character is completely cool under pressure! The other characters keep telling us, so it must be true!” which was not actually shown, being he turned into a puddle when the girl he likes flirted with him, completely froze up when taking money through security at the airport and actually fell down the stairs when women he found attractive walked past him. *sigh*

    Anyway.

    Between this one and the before-mentioned Forbidden Kingdom, all I can think about is What These People Need is a Honky.

  18. Olivia
    Olivia May 1, 2008 at 9:48 am |

    “Also, I’m supposed to feel sorry for a white kid at MIT who has been accepted to Harvard (even if he’s supposed to be “poor”) and has a mind so brilliant he’ll get ahead anywhere? /snort”

    I haven’t read the book, but based on the previews I have no interest in the movie. The plot (as I understand it) of a kid getting accepted to Harvard, but not able to afford is so annoying. Poor baby can’t afford an ivy school? Go to a different school, asshole.

    However, the book sounds more interesting.

  19. Ecpyrosis
    Ecpyrosis May 1, 2008 at 12:02 pm |

    It’s even worse than just changing them to white and bypassing the whole discussion.

    In the movie, the white kid needs to play for money because he can’t afford medical school. He can’t get a scholarship because it’s been awarded to a Korean kid as part of affirmative action.

    So it isn’t just that they missed an opportunity to examine race issues in the US, they ACTIVELY perpetuated the myth of “reverse racism” or whateverthehell Fox is calling it these days. Because being white makes it sooooo much harder to get into med school.

  20. Daomadan
    Daomadan May 1, 2008 at 12:11 pm |

    # Olivia says:
    May 1st, 2008 at 9:48 am – Edit

    “Also, I’m supposed to feel sorry for a white kid at MIT who has been accepted to Harvard (even if he’s supposed to be “poor”) and has a mind so brilliant he’ll get ahead anywhere? /snort”

    I haven’t read the book, but based on the previews I have no interest in the movie. The plot (as I understand it) of a kid getting accepted to Harvard, but not able to afford is so annoying. Poor baby can’t afford an ivy school? Go to a different school, asshole.

    However, the book sounds more interesting.

    Yep, and I summed up my take on the movie in my comment you quoted. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my reading list.

  21. Lisa
    Lisa May 1, 2008 at 12:16 pm |

    using legal methods to bilk money from operations that are designed to bilk money from everybody else

    Do you understand how blackjack is played? It’s pretty much impossible for the players to bilk money from ‘everybody else’, because everyone at the table is playing against the dealer – their wins or losses have nothing to do with you, beyond whether you choose to hit or stand (which you’re going to do regardless of whether you’re counting cards or not).

    All counting cards does is give you a better estimate of the odds involved – so if (assuming a single deck is used), say, ten of the sixteen cards worth ten points have already turned up, you know the odds of your next hand (or the dealer’s next hand) having one are lower than at the start of the deck, and you adjust your bets accordingly. No one is being given better or worse cards by one player counting them.

    And I can’t even see how it’s ‘bilking’ the house out of any money. What cards everyone has had over the last X hands is pretty much public information – all the cards are turned over so everyone can see them by the end of the hand. How is remembering what cards have been played, and deducing from that what cards are left in the deck, ‘bilking’ anyone out of anything?

  22. EoL
    EoL May 1, 2008 at 12:39 pm |

    On remakes: I can understand if they “whitewash” the cast in a remake. This doesn’t really bother me. If they’re remaking a film to be set in America where the statistical probability is that these characters will be largely white (such as in The Departed), I don’t really care. If we wanted Shall We Dance to be in English, set in the US, but with Asian actors, we could just dub it and play pretend with locations and character names. (It’s certainly not as if dubs haven’t ever taken that sort of leeway.) With anime, people always argue (I kinda disagree–if they were supposed to look caucasian, their noses would be HUGE**) that anime characters look caucasian anyway, so it’s not a huge deal IMO.

    But it DOES raise my hackles when US directors take a story and change it to somehow make the white American a more important character (same story when they punt a female main character to the curb in favor of a male). A horrible (great) example of this is in the Street Fighter franchise. The US movie and animated series played up The American as a main character, when he’s A.) not that interesting, and B.) not that interesting. (And Jean Claude Van Damme? Could you pick someone LESS American to portray the American character? Come on …) Then they generally made the REAL main character into a sheister, dolt, or some other one-dimensional peripheral character. Drove me nuts. At least Mortal Kombat’s film got some things right.

    *crickets*

    I’ll go hide in my corner now.

    **Here in Japan, the stereotype of caucasians is that we have giant noses. I’ve seen actors pretending to be caucasian wearing blonde wigs and giant fake noses and waving US flags. I swear.

  23. Katherine
    Katherine May 1, 2008 at 12:41 pm |

    “Poor baby can’t afford an ivy school? Go to a different school, asshole.”

    Well, that’s a little harsh Olivia. It does rather imply that only rich people should have access to the best education. If someone poor makes it to an excellent college but doesn’t have access to parental financial assistance, then I’d have thought some sympathy might be appropriate.

    In the UK at least there is some attempt at levelling via grants (or used to be, since they are slowly being phased out), but in the US it seems as if you have to have rich parents in order to afford a decent education. I’d say that it’s the system that deserves the criticism, rather than the poor kid.

  24. Kai
    Kai May 1, 2008 at 1:09 pm |

    Thomas, personally I tend to enjoy Tarantino and his whole homage shtick in a certain light-hearted way; but it’s pretty controversial among Asian American film fans and I definitely do see certain problematic dimensions to Kill Bill. It’s not the mere fact of lifting narrative and stylistic cinematic elements; it goes deeper than that, to the very roots of what “whiteness” means, how it is represented in relation to Others, how it is strategically deployed. I posted an extensive analysis by Hong Kong-based scholar Sean Tierney on this subject a while back, which addresses, yes, cultural appropriation and the strategic ideology of whiteness which underlies such inter-cultural activity. I highly recommend Tierney’s entire paper, which focuses in great detail on the three movies Kill Bill, Bulletproof Monk, and The Last Samurai. Here’s an excerpt:

    Previous studies have examined whiteness in film (Dyer, 1992; Foster, 2003; Vera & Gordon, 2003) in terms of characterization and representation, whereas others (Hall, 1995; Rhodes, 1993; Shohat & Stam, 2000) have examined the role of racist ideologies in media. In addition, Whites’ cultural appropriation of Native American cultural practices and artifacts has been examined thoroughly (Deloria, 1998; Huhndorf, 2001; Root, 1996; Ziff & Rao, 1998). The present study lays out several notable similarities between these characterizations and appropriations and the filmic depictions of Whites mastering Asian martial arts. The present study also shows how whiteness is strategically deployed, specifically through intercultural activities in film, through themes common to all three films.

    Frankenberg (1993) considers whiteness to be three interrelated phenomena. First, whiteness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege. Second, it is ‘a standpoint,’ a place from which White people look at ourselves, at others, and at society. Third, ‘whiteness’ refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed. One such underinterrogated cultural practice can be alternately identified as intercultural activity or cultural appropriation, wherein a White person seeks to emulate or imitate the actions and/or beliefs of someone ethnoculturally different from themselves. Intercultural behaviors in which a White person crosses ethnocultural boundaries in an attempt to enrich his or her ”human” experience are frequently grounded in an attitude, which displays a significant degree of entitlement. Often, the White person behaves ”as if the desired objects or images already belong to [him/her]. The source of all the fascination can have no say in the terms of the exchange. If we think we already own something, why would we ask anybody’s permission to take it?” (Root, 1996, p. 72). [...]

    Strategic rhetoric of whiteness used in the films under analysis helps to defend and perpetuate the conflation of White with human to rationalize and camouflage cultural appropriation as a normal, harmless, natural behavior, and to promote a kind of supraethnic viability for Whites that is not equally represented for Others. As will be shown, the actions of the White protagonists in the films are not benign instances of intercultural exchange; they are quite significantly one-sided in nature. Because film is a globally distributed form of mass communication, the whiteness themes, and the rhetorical strategies used to rationalize them, will have a broader impact than the rhetoric of whiteness deployed by individuals. The effect of the themes on the indigenous audience must also be contrasted with the global implications of the themes’ presentations; these are discussed later in the study. At present, it is imperative to note that through strategic deployment of whiteness themes, the films provide the White audience with filmic reinforcement of underinterrogated assumptions of whiteness.

  25. Flowers
    Flowers May 1, 2008 at 1:10 pm |

    Lisa,

    I’m pretty sure that the commenter meant was referring to the casino itself as the operation that bilks money from everyone else, not the game of blackjack.

  26. Flowers
    Flowers May 1, 2008 at 1:16 pm |

    Katherine,

    There are federal grants and loans that help students pay for school. As much as people love to bash the US educational system, the government does help out a lot. And if they don’t, banks are very much willing to make loans for Ivy League educations. The premise of being too poor for school was much truer in the past, but still makes for good movies, supposedly.

    This is coming from someone $200K in debt from 10 years of higher education. (Luckily my school pays it off for me because I’m going into public service.)

    I blame the schools that have millions of dollars in endowments but tuition in the $40K range for the price of education, not the government.

  27. Olivia
    Olivia May 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm |

    Katherine says: May 1st, 2008 at 12:41 pm – Edit

    I see your point, and in real life I agree. But as a fictional movie plot I find it annoying. However, since I haven’t seen the movie I am probably basing my opinion too much on just 30 seconds of a preview. The fact that the main character in the movie is also a white dude, and historically privileged, doesn’t help in garnering sympathy.

  28. Kai
    Kai May 1, 2008 at 1:36 pm |

    In the movie, the white kid needs to play for money because he can’t afford medical school. He can’t get a scholarship because it’s been awarded to a Korean kid as part of affirmative action.

    Ecpyrosis, wow I wasn’t aware of that wrinkle. Thanks for adding that point, it’s a small but important detail.

  29. Astraea
    Astraea May 1, 2008 at 1:48 pm |

    With anime, people always argue (I kinda disagree–if they were supposed to look caucasian, their noses would be HUGE**) that anime characters look caucasian anyway, so it’s not a huge deal IMO.

    This is getting off topic, but I do have a big problem with the American culture that tends to assume these characters (when set in Japan, with Japanese names) are white, and part of that is to claim that they “look” white. I think it comes from subconscious racism that associates “asian” with certain exaggerated characteristics, as used in American culture to represent Asian-ness. Applying that expectation to Japanese-created culture is a problem, IMO.

    And that can express itself in very ugly ways. A commenter here on another thread (i’m sorry I can’t find it at the moment) said that her friend got nasty comments from white people when that friend cosplayed Sailor Moon. People would tell her that she shouldn’t, as a black woman, be cosplaying Sailor Moon because Sailor Moon isn’t black. The assumption that it’s okay for white girls to cosplay a Japanese character, but not black girls, is an expression of racism or white privilege, beause the white Americans are claiming something as belonging to them that is not theirs.

    Sorry for the tangent, it’s just been on my mind a lot lately. To connect it back to the post, it is an erasing of the Japanese origin of the show even while it is not actually changed from the original form. (Except for the dubbing for airing on American TV, which is also abysmal for the most part).

  30. BWrites
    BWrites May 1, 2008 at 2:02 pm |

    In the movie, the white kid needs to play for money because he can’t afford medical school. He can’t get a scholarship because it’s been awarded to a Korean kid as part of affirmative action.

    Just when I thought it couldn’t get more offensive!

    Kai, there was actually a famous Asian film star before that– a Japanese silent film actor whose name I’m blanking on (if only I had access to my Netflix account at work). By all accounts, his movies were pretty awesome and quite progressive for the day. Then the talkies came and all that disappeared, probably under the twin “Yellow Menaces” of Imperial Japan and Communist China.

  31. Ecpyrosis
    Ecpyrosis May 1, 2008 at 2:27 pm |

    Kai@28 – yeah, I rolled my eyes at the whitewashing at first when I saw the movie, but that part almost had me leaving the theater. Too bad; I liked the book, and it could have been a really great movie.

    Astraea@29 – I think a lot of it is unconscious racism on the part of western viewers for sure, but as someone who lived in Japan for several years teaching English, I have to say that there is also a *lot* of racist imagery, explicit and implicit, in manga and anime, and that is also part of the problem.

  32. Astraea
    Astraea May 1, 2008 at 2:39 pm |

    Ecpyorsis, I don’t doubt it. Every country has racist issues in their cultures. I tend to stick to the American response to anime because I’m not familiar enough with Japan to talk about the intent or the cultural understanding of Japanese consumers.

  33. Ecpyrosis
    Ecpyrosis May 1, 2008 at 2:58 pm |

    Astraea@32 – I agree, and it’s better to critique one’s own culture before judging others for all sorts of reasons. That said, racism and sexism should be fought everywhere, and understanding the problems in other countries and cultures can help us stand in solidarity with those combating them. For a good example of hate speech in Japan, try this: http://www.japanfocus.org/products/details/2386 or just google “Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu”.

  34. Astraea
    Astraea May 1, 2008 at 3:01 pm |

    Thanks for the link, Ecpyrosis! I’ll definitely take a look at it when I get home today.

  35. atlasien
    atlasien May 1, 2008 at 4:07 pm |

    @BWrites: that was Sessue Hayakawa.

  36. Ecpyrosis
    Ecpyrosis May 1, 2008 at 4:53 pm |

    Kai@24 – wow, great article! Thanks for the link.

  37. exholt
    exholt May 1, 2008 at 5:11 pm |

    In the movie, the white kid needs to play for money because he can’t afford medical school. He can’t get a scholarship because it’s been awarded to a Korean kid as part of affirmative action.

    Ecpyrosis, wow I wasn’t aware of that wrinkle. Thanks for adding that point, it’s a small but important detail.

    Count on Hollywood to screw with the actual situation to make it seem the White students have it the worse on college/grad school admissions….something that would be news to a few relatives and friends who actually worked in Ivy-level admissions offices.

    In actually, Asian-Americans usually have to have the highest grades and GPAs of any racial/ethnic group to have any chance of gaining admission…in fact far above that for the White counterparts,,,especially in the Ivys.

    Only exception I know of are small private liberal arts schools that are trying to diversify their nearly all-White student body. Unfortunately, the rural location and non-enlightened attitudes towards race among the local populace and sometimes the student body itself has undermined such efforts.

    Katherine,

    There are federal grants and loans that help students pay for school. As much as people love to bash the US educational system, the government does help out a lot. And if they don’t, banks are very much willing to make loans for Ivy League educations. The premise of being too poor for school was much truer in the past, but still makes for good movies, supposedly.

    Compared to Western Europe and many East Asian countries, the financial assistance the US provides to the poorest and middle class students is a pittance. A large part of the problem is the skyrocketing tuition rates coupled with remnants of aristocratic privilege and entitlement that still remains in American higher Ed such as legacy admissions.*

    In the regions I specified, as long as you are able to gain admission to the university(ies), tuition will either be free or extremely low….especially by American standards.

    Compared to what I’ve seen and heard in other advanced industrialized and even many “developing nations”, the US government and our society invests too little in the education of our citizens…and the cuts in Federal aid over the last 7 years has made things worse for several younger friends of mine from working-class families who had to take out huge high interest loans as a result.

  38. Holly
    Holly May 1, 2008 at 5:12 pm |

    Thanks for that great summary of the Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu incident, Ecpyrosis. I had heard about it last year but not in so much detail. Every few years there seems to be some more crap like that popping up in Japan — comics with ludicrously anti-immigrant plotlines, pamphlets warning women about gaijin making sexual advances, you name it. I’m really glad to see there was some concerted action that swayed retailers from distributing hateful crap, finally, since I seem to recall the reaction in the past being mild tongue-clucking and don’t-rock-the-boat apathy.

  39. exholt
    exholt May 1, 2008 at 5:52 pm |

    For a good example of hate speech in Japan, try this: http://www.japanfocus.org/products/details/2386 or just google “Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu”.

    What’s worse about this is that some of the stereotypes of Koreans and Chinese being inherent criminals is that it is related to the Japanese nationalist right-wing’s reuse of old tropes created and used by the Imperial Japanese state to justify colonizing Taiwan, Korea, and China during the late 19th and the early-mid 20th centuries.

    I recall the frequent use by Japanese colonial authorities of the terms “pirates” and “bandits” to describe anti-colonial guerrillas who were struggling to regain control over their homelands.

    From a casual glance at the article, the magazine is similar in tone to Japanese historical revisionist works on the Nanjing Massacre written by Japanese rightwing nationalists who want to paint Japanese colonialism as their heroic effort to liberate “less advanced” Asians from Western imperialism….rather than an opportunistic effort to gain Western favor by joining the same “Colonialist club” at the expense of other Asian societies.

  40. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 1, 2008 at 8:49 pm |

    The remake of the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs” into “The Departed”

    This is probably my bias as a two-time film major, but I have no problem with films being remade or re-envisioned by other countries. It’s absolutely not one-sided: Kurosawa adapted a lot of Western authors, from Hammett to Shakespeare, and then Leone adapted him right back. Most of the French New Wave was heavily influenced by American films noir. Bollywood adapts Agatha Christie and (most recently) Jane Austen. The entire history of world cinema is appropriation, basically. My main complaint with Hollywood doing it is that they usually fuck it up.

    But to take a story about Americans that you’re making into a movie set in America and change them all into white people? Not cool. Especially when it seems that the only movie you can get made with Asian leads is Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

  41. Holly
    Holly May 2, 2008 at 1:10 am |

    What’s worse about this is that some of the stereotypes of Koreans and Chinese being inherent criminals is that it is related to the Japanese nationalist right-wing’s reuse of old tropes created and used by the Imperial Japanese state to justify colonizing Taiwan, Korea, and China during the late 19th and the early-mid 20th centuries.

    A lot of the most horrific, xenophobic, racist crap in Japan can be traced back to this kind of militaristic, nationalist crap that glorifies the expansionist Japanese empire of WWII and before. This is exactly why the Yasukuni Shrine is such a controversial indicator of a prime minister’s politics and a major opinion divider between the fascist right wing and… well, practically everybody else, thank god.

    Especially when it seems that the only movie you can get made with Asian leads is Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

    It’s THE only mainstream movie made in the US with Asian leads, period. I think this very fact is what makes me think we ought to look at the re-making of Asian cinema with white casts in a slightly different light. Yes, it’s appropriation of the sort that happens all the time… but it’s also reappropriation in a setting where there is an unspoken rule against any Asian actors in lead roles.

  42. Astraea
    Astraea May 2, 2008 at 6:57 am |

    Wasn’t one of the re-made horror films even set in Japan but still cast with white actors? I think I’m thinking of The Grudge.

  43. Jasmine Iqbal
    Jasmine Iqbal May 2, 2008 at 7:20 am |

    ERASING THE EXPERIENCES OF PAKISTANI WOMEN UNDER ISLAM
    Erasing is when woc ‘feminists’, often American converts, or white liberal idiots, think wearing the hijab is valid and a political statement. It isn’t, it’s just oppression. WOC converts to Islam ERASE the experiences of millions of Muslim women if they dare open their mouths. They done this for their own reasons, as agents of patriarchy. This is what has sparked this, THE ERASING, and then, to add insult to injury- the silencing of any Pakistani feminist who wants to speak out.
    We now got it totally clear here, that woc converts to Islam who erase Muslim and ex Muslim women who HAVE lived the experience, have no validity, except as backstabbing collaborators with patriarchy. American friends, to step back from any misunderstandings, erasing has no place on Feministe and you should not allow postings from woc converts to Islam, otherwise you are dealing with enemies of ure transgendered status. Do not deal with Nazis, BE REAL.

  44. Thomas
    Thomas May 2, 2008 at 7:35 am |

    Jasmine, that’s O/T.

  45. Jasmine Iqbal
    Jasmine Iqbal May 2, 2008 at 7:56 am |

    er, sorry, what’s over the top is american converts to Islam coming out in the feminist blogosphere and telling us that the hijab and Islam in general is something valid for women of color and that they know more about our birth religion than what we know. We don’t accept this, this is erasing, and so we demand not to give a voice to such persons as they are justifying oppression in our countries, when the oppression they suffer themselves is just a joke compared to what WE LIVE. Slavery for us didn’t end hundreds of years back, it’s alive and kicking, it’s gender slavery, if you defend it, apologise for it, promote it, you got no place in the feminist blogosphere, go back to Temple number 7, in ure hijab, or better still, fly to Pakistan or anyhwere else where we suffer, and see how long you are going to last under REAL patriarchy until ure running back to ure American consulate begging to get a flight to JFK. We can’t get out, millions of us got no American passports to HIDE behind, SO STOP ERASING US. This is what is annoying us here and another, we ready for a head on clash with these people also, u think just cos we’re Pakistanis you got a right to spit on us, save ure spit, we’re sick of ure winging and moaning, u got easy privelaged lifes, stop erasing ours, we want this site to come out and start to address abuses of theocratic patriarchy and secret American support for Islamism in our countries cos a lot of what we got to suffer, AMERICA STARTED IT. Never think American people, black or white, that u are better than us.

  46. Anna
    Anna May 2, 2008 at 8:33 am |

    But but but! I’m assured by people I know that love anime and manga and have learned everything they need to know about Japanese History from L5R that Japan is a utopia of wonderfulness and handholding and total acceptance, with no racism or sexism or badness at all! Gosh, it must be true!

    *headdesk*

  47. Jasmine Iqbal
    Jasmine Iqbal May 2, 2008 at 9:58 am |

    hi Thomas, I realize that, what I am saying is that film intersects with real life and political misconceptions that we see even in the feminist blogosphere. If American “feminists” erase us then expect to see it in film too, which we do:
    1) The Muslim girl as a exotic object to be fetishized
    2) As happy to wear a hijab to ‘make her husband happy.
    3) As proud of the hijab cos it’s a statement of being anti western
    4) The Muslim girl in search of a western man to ‘treat her right’.
    Film provides tons of negative examples, what we are now seeing are woc american Muslim converts and white converts married with Muslims perpetuating a new myth, there are no issues for women under Islam, or, if there are, they can be negated.There is subtle intersectionality here.

  48. Ecpyrosis
    Ecpyrosis May 2, 2008 at 10:21 am |

    Holly @41 – agreed, Yasukuni is a very illustrative case; I wrote about it, and its relationship to our culture, and perhaps a start on how we can help, here: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/May2004/Werkheiser0511.htm

    Mnemosyne @40 – Yeah, remakes in other cultures can be really interesting, but a) those takes can show a lot about the culture in which they’re being reinvented, which I think was the point of that article, and b) Hollywood’s idea that only white people are will be identified with by “regular” people, so we have to change ethnicities in remakes, is not cool.

  49. Astraea
    Astraea May 2, 2008 at 10:59 am |

    Anna, yeah, I get that vibe from a lot of other fans, too. And then there are the ones who want to BE Japanese and think they can become Japanese and they’re specialer than all the other fans.

    There’s a line somewhere between becoming more aware of another culture, becoming interested in learning more about it, even visiting and living there and genuinely wanting to become a part of it on one side and the moar-Japanese-than-thou kind of coopting on the other.

    There are also plenty of guys in the anime fandom world with the creepy Japanese-woman fixation.

  50. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 2, 2008 at 11:19 am |

    Hollywood’s idea that only white people are will be identified with by “regular” people, so we have to change ethnicities in remakes, is not cool.

    Absolutely. My argument was more that it makes perfect sense that, say, when they were remaking The Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven, they cast all white guys, because they turned it into a Western. Setting it in the American West but having an all-Japanese cast would have been ridiculous (though you could have gotten away with all-Chinese given the history). Similarly, setting The Departed in Boston but having an all-Chinese cast would make no sense given the ethnic makeup of Boston.

    I don’t think you have to maintain the culture that a story emerged from when that story moves to another culture. If someone in Korea decided to remake, say, Mystic River, there would be no reason for them to cast only white people just because the original story is about white people. They would adapt it to their own culture.

    What 21 did is like making a movie about the civil rights movement, but only casting white people. (You know, like Mississippi Burning.) You’re erasing people from something that they actually did and literally “whitewashing” it.

    ** Note: I am NOT excusing the anti-Asian slurs in that film, just noting the difference between setting a movie in Hong Kong and setting a movie in an ethnic Irish neighborhood of Boston. If they had set the remake in Hong Kong but only cast white people, then that would be a major problem.

  51. Ecpyrosis
    Ecpyrosis May 2, 2008 at 12:15 pm |

    Astraea @49 – yes, the stereotype of Asian women as submissive and therefor desirable is quite the nexus of racism and sexism, and something I run into all too frequently when talking with fellow western male fans of anime and other elements of Asian culture.

    Mnemosyne @50 – I agree, but as I was saying with a), the *way* it’s adapted says a lot about the assumptions of that culture. The changes between Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven would take a whole master’s thesis to lay out, but to pick a key example: the class problems between the outlaw bandits, the genteel poverty of the samurai and the spat-upon-by-everyone farmers is greatly watered down when it’s looked-down-on cowboys, good-guy cowboys, and respected but Mexican farmers, a point that is driven home when (SPOILER) the youngest cowboy can stay behind, enter the culture of the peasants and stay with the girl, something which would have been inconceivable with the youngest samurai. (END SPOILER) class boundaries are a lot more permeable in America, or at least in American films, and the romance in the movie is therefor sweet rather than poignant and impossible.

    I guess my point with that is the way a culture’s prejudices are imported into a different culture’s story can tell us a lot, which is why I liked that article of Kai’s @24.

  52. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 2, 2008 at 12:26 pm |

    I will say that there are a few efforts to un-whitewash stories. Did anyone else watch the “John Adams” miniseries on HBO? I really liked how they very casually put black people back into American history. In crowd scenes in cities, there were always at least a few African-Americans; some of the victims of the Boston Massacre were African-Americans, and they actually show that; even when Adams rides away from the White House after his term is over, there are at least a couple of African-American men in the stagecoach, one of whom is sitting right next to Adams. Since the way we’ve been shown history has usually been as though only white people existed (you make a whole movie about the San Francisco earthquake without a single Asian person? Really?), it’s good to see some people trying to reverse that.

    Of course, even TV is way behind the times on stuff like this. Live theater has been casting against type for years (Morgan Freeman is currently playing the lead in “The Country Girl” — the movie version starred Bing Crosby).

  53. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 2, 2008 at 12:54 pm |

    Mnemosyne @50 – I agree, but as I was saying with a), the *way* it’s adapted says a lot about the assumptions of that culture.

    Of course. But, again, that’s what I think is one of the strengths of that kind of cross-cultural pollination. The problem then becomes who does the adapting: do you have a genius like Kurosawa or Scorsese, or do you have a hack who doesn’t grasp the changes that have to be made? And you’re always going to have disagreements about which version is better — I’ve almost gotten into fistfights with people who insist that anyone who likes The Ring at all is a filmic moron because Ringu is so clearly superior.

    I guess my point with that is the way a culture’s prejudices are imported into a different culture’s story can tell us a lot, which is why I liked that article of Kai’s @24.

    True but, as I’m arguing, they don’t travel one way. When Kurosawa got hold of Red Harvest, he imposed his cultural prejudices on it. There’s a reason why, although Kurosawa had already made films set in the modern day, he chose to move it back to the 19th century rather than set it in modern-day Tokyo.

    I guess that’s one way you can tell that something is a good story: you can move it from culture to culture and each culture will have their own interesting take on it. You can start with Shakespeare writing “Romeo and Juliet” in 16th-century England, have Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim turn it into West Side Story, and then Israeli filmmakers take that version and turn it into “West Bank Story.” And there are hundreds of other versions of Shakespeare’s story that have been written and filmed all over the world, with each culture putting their own spin on it.

    I know that sometimes it feels like Hollywood marches in everywhere and takes over, but there’s a lot of filmmaking going on around the world that we just don’t hear about (because film distributors in the US are stupid and short-sighted, but that’s a whole different argument …)

    This, of course, is all a sideline to changing characters in American stories to make them more “palatable” to American audiences. That always pisses me off, whether they switch the race or the gender of the character.

  54. Kai
    Kai May 2, 2008 at 2:07 pm |

    Just to be clear, the “appropriation” being discussed in the Tierney article I linked doesn’t refer to remakes or trans-racial casting, but rather to the cultural appropriation represented and normalized within the story itself, specifically in Hollywood martial arts movies. Big distinction.

    Having said that: Mnemosyne, I agree with the specific examples you’ve offered; but I’ll admit that I’m uncomfortable with the notion that cross-cultural adaptations occur on unstructured racial and/or ethnic terrain. In my amateur opinion, there’s more to it than feasibility and narrative integrity; namely, the socio-political history between the societies and cultures and peoples in question. We can posit that “appropriation” occurs equally in every which direction and therefore not really a meaningful concept; but have the economic benefits and artistic credit also flowed equally in every which direction? If not, then I think it makes sense to consider “appropriation” in the way that the term is normally used, not simply as influence or even the straight-up lifting of ideas, but in terms of power and benefit. Basically, if the past five centuries of colonialism had not occurred, I think I’d be cool with the free-for-all model; but because of everything that has gone down, I have a hard time looking at it that way. We all have our biases; this is one of mine. So I’m not picking on your words, just letting you know how it looks from my perspective.

    Nicole, Forbidden Kingdom has the markings of a serious disaster, with all the elements of Tierney’s analysis. Apparently the protagonist, after visiting a Chinese pawn shop in south Boston, time travels to ancient China to rescue the Monkey King (Jet Li) from captivity, downloading martial arts powers from the Jackie Chan character while overcoming the attacks of an evil witch (Li Bing Bing; of course, a witch!). It is rather indescribable for me to see both Jet Li and Jackie Chan become props behind the heroism of a white teenager. It’s an even worse feeling than, say, seeing Asian cuisine taught by Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee on Food Network. And trust me, that’s bad.

    Cheers.

  55. exholt
    exholt May 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm |

    There’s a line somewhere between becoming more aware of another culture, becoming interested in learning more about it, even visiting and living there and genuinely wanting to become a part of it on one side and the moar-Japanese-than-thou kind of coopting on the other.

    There are also plenty of guys in the anime fandom world with the creepy Japanese-woman fixation.

    Unfortunately, this attitude also permeates into academia as I’ve witnessed a few upper/upper-middle class White classmates pulling similar [insert non-western cultural identity du jour]-than-thou BS in undergrad and grad school. What’s fortunate IME is that other more clued in classmates and the Profs are often much more likely to quickly put these presumptuous classmates in their proper place.

  56. ginsocal
    ginsocal May 2, 2008 at 7:19 pm |

    Trying to spin up the Care meter here…Nope. Nothing.

  57. anna seattle
    anna seattle May 3, 2008 at 5:09 pm |

    One person above mentioned that The Departed was set in (Irish) Boston, was it set there because its about the only big American city where an all white cast would be remotely plausible? (Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis possible, but they’re BORING, this from a Seattle resident. And those four cities are somewhat diverse.) NY, LA, SF, or Miami would have been better substitutes for HK than Boston.

  58. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 4, 2008 at 3:06 am |

    Mnemosyne, I agree with the specific examples you’ve offered; but I’ll admit that I’m uncomfortable with the notion that cross-cultural adaptations occur on unstructured racial and/or ethnic terrain.

    I think that part of the difference between us is that I’m looking at 100 years of film history, which includes a lot of stuff that’s been unearthed fairly recently. D.W. Griffith was talked about as the inventor of the closeup until film historians in the US got a good look at Italy’s Cabiria and other silent Italian films of the era and realized that Griffith was basically ripping off the Italians with his “innovations.”

    I’m not saying that the trading of ideas between cultures is always problem-free, because it has often happened because of conquest and adaptation by the conquered culture. That’s why there is no such thing as “pure” culture. In Southeast Asia alone, the art and style of India was adopted by/imposed on the surrounding peoples who are in what is now Thailand and Vietnam. Japan spent years under the thumb of China, and their written language still reflects that. And that’s just one tiny area of the globe.

    I think it’s important to trace the roots of American culture, because they often come from places that people don’t expect. Surf music, that epitome of Southern California beach culture? Dick Dale, born Richard Monsour, adapted it from the Lebanese music that his family played as a child. I think (I hope) we’re getting past a time when influences from around the globe simply get assimilated into “white” culture with no acknowledgment and a pretense that they’ve been there all along.

  59. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 4, 2008 at 3:12 am |

    NY, LA, SF, or Miami would have been better substitutes for HK than Boston.

    I know this is my ignorance talking but … is Hong Kong as diverse as New York or Los Angeles? In Los Angeles, they’ve identified 224 different languages that are spoken by the people who live here, though the LA Unified School District only recognizes 92 of them.

    I was under the impression that Hong Kong was a little more homogeneous, like Boston, but I could well be wrong. Even Boston is by no means all-Irish though the criminal syndicates often are, as they’re often Italian (and formerly Jewish) in New York, Italian and Polish in Chicago, and Mexican and Russian out here in Los Angeles.

  60. Kai
    Kai May 4, 2008 at 1:29 pm |

    I think that part of the difference between us is that I’m looking at 100 years of film history, which includes a lot of stuff that’s been unearthed fairly recently.

    Hehe, that’s a really funny argument to make: the difference between us is that I know what I’m talking about and I somehow pyschically know that you don’t. Oh well. I think the difference between us is something else entirely, but I’ll leave that to the imagination. I mean, have you ever engaged in a conversation with a person of color about race which you did not attempt to defocus and derail by continually re-iterating your educational background and making tangential and irrelevant points? It is quite strange to me, seeing this behavior time and time again. Thanks for your lesson on Asian culture, but um, no thanks. Don’t you feel even slightly embarrassed to be lecturing an Asian person on Asian culture? And then going on to flaunt your ignorance on the matter by claiming that Hong Kong is homogenous? Wow. Clearly, film school is not the place to learn about such subjects.

  61. Sylvia/M
    Sylvia/M May 4, 2008 at 2:16 pm |

    Mnemosyne, I do not understand your argument very well. On one hand, you say that it would be inappropriate to transplant an Asian leading cast onto an American landscape while filming in Hollywood. On the other, you now suggest that rather than choosing a landscape where that type of casting would be possible, remaining true to the homogenous demographics of the film’s source is more palatable. In one situation, you seem to regard the source of the film as unimportant; in the next situation, you hold fast to it as if it is canonical.

    If film truly speaks to the universalization of experience, then why is it assumed using a POC cast for Westernizing a film originating from a place not dominated by Western thought and experience would detract from the film’s impact? Because I think that’s the underlying assumption here. To adapt a film with predominantly Asian casting and symbolism using White characters, the racism that permeates the Western landscape often goes with it. As progressive as Hollywood purports itself to be in influencing the social and cultural fabric of America and beyond, I don’t know why it would take the risk of recreating one of America’s ongoing ills in its works for the sake of showing more white faces in film.

  62. nezua
    nezua May 4, 2008 at 3:26 pm |

    Mnemosyne, the entire history of cinema is not appropriation! It’s quite a dramatic phrase, but what does it mean? No, all cinema and history of cinema is not “appropriation” in the sense we discuss here. No more than the entire history of music is. Field chants to gospel and blues, blues to rock and roll, and so on. And yet, we still have lawsuits over stolen ideas and scripts and copyright infringement. Because ideas may inspire other ideas, and films may be adapted and films and stories may influence, and music may morph into other genres…but that is not what is being talked about here. You are conflating.

    What is being talked about is erasing and replacing non-whites with whites in an american movie. Not for the purpose of translating a story from one culture into another! But for the purpose of giving a shiny mainstream visage to an Otherly type within this culture. Your examples (and you are bringing me back to NYU now with all the fantastic and esoteric references!) are not relevant in this context. Nobody is changing Asians to whites in order to honestly translate an experience from one culture to another. Both book and film versions take place in the same nation, both with MIT students, and both have some amount of Asians. Why keep them at all? Think about it. Then we have to ask, why not keep them as the main characters if we keep two Asians as part of this team?

    The difference is that in the film, the Asian characters are relegated to two minor roles, rather than front and center. This is done for no reason but to whitewash the film. It is done because the USA is still not making a habit of placing non-whites in “regular” roles. The film translation is “stealing” the story of the Asians and giving it to white cinematic history.

    What bothers me most is that in doing so, we are not only changing important parts of the real story, but the director/writer/producer (?) in doing so is avoiding an important discussion of race in the USA. and that compounds the simple whitewashing into erasure and further oppression.

    From the book:

    The MIT team thrived by choosing Big Players who fit the casino mold of the young, foolish, and wealthy. Primarily nonwhite, either Asian or Middle Eastern, these were the kids the casinos were accustomed to seeing bet a thousand bucks a hand. Like many on the team, Kevin Lewis was Asian, and could pass as the child of a rich Chinese or Japanese executive. “When you’re recruiting, you don’t recruit white kids. They look conspicuous. Asian kids, Greek kids, dark skin fits in better with lots of money in the casinos. White 20-year-olds with $2 million bankrolls stand out,” explains Andrew Tay, one of Lewis’ teammates. “A geeky Asian kid with $100,000 in his wallet didn’t raise any eyebrows.”

    Now, I haven’t seen the movie to see exactly how much of this thread remains, but can you see how much depth is potentially sacrificed in the decision to turn these characters into white people? Can you see how much the truth of the story is being perverted by such a decision? Can you see how it is being jukeboxed into a tasty hit rather than being brave enough to tackle these discussions head on? And can you think of any reason to do that aside from the typical american hollywood habit of keeping the Brown™ as thieves, crooks, lowlives of some sort, or second-rate characters in order to appease the dollar-wielding masses who go to the theater wearing the White Lens?

  63. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 4, 2008 at 5:41 pm |

    I think the difference between us is something else entirely, but I’ll leave that to the imagination. I mean, have you ever engaged in a conversation with a person of color about race which you did not attempt to defocus and derail by continually re-iterating your educational background and making tangential and irrelevant points?

    I’m sorry you took what I was saying that way, because that was not what I meant to say at all. I think we are having a major miscommunication here if you think my purpose was to draw attention away from the whitewashing of this specific film.

    I am a huge film history geek and I sometimes get carried away with my enthusiasm. I apologize if it came across as anything else, because I certainly did not intend that at all.

  64. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 4, 2008 at 5:57 pm |

    Nobody is changing Asians to whites in order to honestly translate an experience from one culture to another.

    I guess that’s where I’m confused: people brought up the specific example of The Departed and said that it should have featured Asian characters as the leads. I think that re-making a film from one culture to another is completely different than taking a story set in America with American characters and changing their race.

    Again, I’m sorry I derailed by trying to say that I don’t think that changing the race of American characters is the same thing as Hollywood re-making a foreign film. Honestly, I don’t think that what the makers of 21 did should be called appropriation at all, because it goes far beyond taking ideas from another culture and claiming them as your own. It’s erasing people from places where they exist and pretending they were never there at all, not appropriating.

    The makers of 21 took the story away from the people who actually lived it. As I said above, that makes about as much sense as making a movie about the 1904 San Francisco earthquake and not having a single Asian character in it.

    Minorities have been systematically erased from our popular culture for decades to try and prop up white supremacy and make white people feel secure that every good idea that’s ever existed and every interesting story that’s ever been told has centered around white people. It’s so naturalized for us that you barely even notice things like how the population of Colonial America is portrayed as lily-white until someone makes a point of making it conform to reality. Reality means that black people were living and working in Boston and fighting the Revolution right alongside all the white men and women, but we’ve spent decades — probably a century, at least — denying that reality to prop up white supremacy.

    Again, I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I thought that erasing people from history and appropriation of culture are the same thing. I do not.

  65. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 5, 2008 at 10:59 am |

    I tried to post this last night, but I guess the internets ate it ….

    And just to show that I can use my film geekery on-topic:

    What happened with 21 seems more like what filmmakers were doing throughout the 1980s with films about apartheid and South Africa. You had a movie about the murder of Steve Biko whose climactic scene was … a white journalist escaping from South Africa with his family because he investigated Biko’s death. In other words, Biko was a supporting character in a movie about his own murder.

    Not to mention all of the movies where white people suddenly discovered that apartheid is bad, apparently never having noticed it before in their previous 40 years or so of living in South Africa.

    At least Haing S. Ngor got to win an Oscar for playing a supporting role in a film about Cambodia and how a white man fixed everything by saving his friend.

  66. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 5, 2008 at 11:01 am |

    test?

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