A petition to boycott a free public screening of 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conversancy -- sponsored by cable channel SyFy and partially supported by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs -- is underway, with boycott organizers citing the film’s racist Japanese caricature “Mr. Yunioshi," as portrayed in yellowface by white actor Mickey Rooney, as anything but a beloved American classic.
As the petition description so aptly states: “It's not funny; It's not classic; It's not beloved to us. By screening this film, the organizers are sanctioning the racism it contains, and subjecting new audiences (including children and Asian Americans) to a minstrel show of racist ideology. It's 2011. It's New York. Do we still have to fight the hostile, hurtful world of 1961 Hollywood?”
In August 2008, a free screening of the film in Sacramento, CA was met with similar protests which resulted in a cancellation, though it came not long after the film and others of its ilk such as John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles had already been screened at public events in both San Jose and San Francisco despite outrage from Asian American communities.
We at Hyphen aren’t sure what’s going through the minds of these public officials and event planning committees, but it got our staff thinking about movies -- based on blatantly racist and problematic depictions of Asians and Asian Americans -- that we just can’t stand. Maybe others will take notes on what makes a racially offensive portrayal.
From Ken Choy, blogger
Film: Furry Vengeance
Character: Neal Lyman
Actor: Ken Jeong
“I don't know what the ‘f’ Jeong is doing here spitting and hissing -- supposedly in Thai. How KoreAm and CAPE [Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment] are doling out awards for this [caliber] of disparaging depictions is beyond me.”
Actor: Joan Chen
"Clearly Clavell's fault, the scene in which she begs to be whipped inspired me to write a mini opera using the dialogue which is used pretty verbatim in the movie."
Film: Sixteen Candles
Character: Long Duk Dong
Actor: Gedde Watanabe
"Grates 99.9% of API males."
Character: Can't remember which one as they all blend together
"I believe its Julia Nickson, who I know, but her dying in the swamp muttering "Rambo" just upsets me so."
Film: The Punisher
Character: Kim Miyori/Lady Tanaka
"Only had to see a clip of this Dolph Lundgren version to say, "What the fuck!"
From Nicole Wong, contributing editor
Film: Full Metal Jacket
Character: Da Nang hooker
Actor: Papillon Soo Soo
“Mostly because of the way her very memorable lines ("Me love you long time" et cetera, et cetera) have grown beyond her tiny role in the film, and continue to be used and re-used in pop culture in everything from rap music (2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny") to references in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I cringe every time I hear a reference to it; it's turned into a joke about sexual objectification and exotification. Not cool. Damn you, Kubrick!”
From Ian Wang, film editor
Film: Any with Ken Jeong
Actor: The unfortunate Ken Jeong
“Somehow he's always the one getting out of a trunk naked (The Hangover). If I'm gonna see a movie with an Asian dude naked he better be built like Arnold."
“Another action film, another set of Asian gangsters who treat women as sex objects only and with violence (The club scene in the beginning of the film War, for example). Also, Asian actresses who in order to get screen time, have to dress like they just stepped off a car detailing magazine.”
As for me? I cringe every time I see the Korean couple in Paul Haggis’s Crash. Those accents. Those crazy eyes. All that human smuggling.
Before I break out into a full-on shudder, why don’t you regale Hyphen with your least favorite Asian/American cinematic portrayals?
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!