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1 Lecture 15: Multicultural Fu Professor Michael Green Romeo Must Die (2000) Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Lecture 15: Multicultural Fu Professor Michael Green Romeo Must Die (2000) Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Lecture 15: Multicultural Fu Professor Michael Green Romeo Must Die (2000) Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

2 2 Previous Lecture Arab representation in Hollywood: Real Arabs vs. Reel Arabs Common cinematic Arab stereotypes Aladdin and “The New World Order”

3 3 This Lecture Contemporary Multicultural Asian American Identity Rush Hour and the Interracial Buddy Genre Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action

4 4 Contemporary Multicultural Asian American Identity Lecture 15: Part I Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999) Directed by Chi Muoi Lo

5 5 Racial Polarities As we have discussed, race in America – and in Hollywood movies – is often seen in polarities of Black and White. However, the focus on these binaries often excludes the experiences of many other Americans who does not count as White or as Black. These groups include Latinos and Latinas, Native Americans and Asian Americans.

6 6 The Model Minority Myth Traditional models of Asian American identity formation, such as the model minority myth, emphasize assimilation into dominant Eurocentric society. The myth looks at how well some Asian Americans have done socio-economically – overcoming instances of prejudice and discrimination to find mainstream success without resorting to political or violent confrontations with Whites – and holds it up as an example.

7 7 Disguising Dominant Oppression Dominant culture than uses this example to show other racial/ethnic minority groups that they too can – and should be able to – overcome barriers to achieve the American dream, despite the realities of dominant oppression. The myth perpetuates the idea that since Asian Americans are doing so well, they no longer experience any discrimination or need public services.

8 8 Perpetuating Stereotypes These stereotypes assume that all Asian-Americans are successful and that none struggle – and that, further, all Asian American groups are the same.

9 9 Developing Antagonistic Relationships The model minority myth has alienated Asian Americans from other minority groups – such as Blacks and Latinos – and framed Asian-Black and Asian-Latino relations as antagonistic, even though they have no innate reason to be that way.

10 Used as Gatekeepers “Asian Americans are figured... as ‘gatekeepers’ employed by the dominant ideology to minimize or dismiss the struggles of other racial minorities... such an intense focus on the myth as the narrative that structures Asian/Black relations severely limits our ability to read Asian American subjectivity in a multicultural context. Instead, we are forced to recapitulate a black/white binary, where Asians are pawns that stand in for whites to police and repress Blacks.’” LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’”

11 11 Real Repercussions The repercussions of these social attitudes were seen in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when African-Americans and Asian- Americans (particularly Korean-Americans) fought each other in the chaos. L.A. scholar Mike Davis and other writers argued that tensions between African- Americans and Korean-Americans during the riots had much to do with economic competition forced on the two groups by wider market forces.

12 12 Political Alliances Despite the tension at that historical moment, Asian Americans of different eras have called for alliances with African Americans and the politics of civil rights, feeling that they have more in common with people with whom they share a history of discrimination and subordination. Some African Americans – such as W.E.B DuBois – have also called for the two groups to stand together against the forces of racism and colonialism.

13 13 Cultural Convergence African Americans and Asian Americans have converged culturally as well as politically. Two of the most consistent sites of convergence are music – particularly hip- hop and jazz – and film, particularly Kung Fu cinema. For example, the Bruce Lee films and the Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s featured Black/Asian cultural crossover.

14 Cultural Contact “Critics of kung fu locate contemporary orientalist inflections in hip- hop culture in the kung fu-film boom of the 1970s. The appearance of African Americans in Bruce Lee films and the production of kung fu Blaxploitation movies... open up the possibilities of cross-racial identification.” LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’”

15 Cultural Contact (Continued) “Neither, however, would claim that the films escape charges of fetishization and exoticization of both Asians and African Americans. At the same time, the moments of cultural contact and imitation in the films offer flashes of shifting subjectivity across supposedly impossible racial divides and lay bare the usually obscured relation between racialized subjects.” LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’: Buddy-Cop Films, Rush Hour and Asian American and African American Cross-racial Identification”

16 A Multicultural Generation Some Asian teens of recent generations have been defined as much by African American culture as by Euro-American culture. 16 The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) Directed by Justin Lin

17 17 Hybrid Identity However, trying to understand a hybridized Asian-American/African American cultural identity is difficult because examples of such an identity are fragmentary and incoherent – and infrequently seen in mainstream media. Because of this, scholars have found it difficult to describe Asian American and African American relations in a complex way.

18 Author’s Final Point “To read beyond black and white and even beyond Asian and white allows us a great range of narratives. Rather than replicating familiar racial tales and simply substituting Asian for white or Asian for black, the triangulation of race gives us new questions and helps us push other limits. In this way, we may come to understand how Asian Americans form their subjectivity through African American as well as Euro-American culture.” LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’: Buddy-Cop Films, Rush Hour and Asian American and African American Cross-racial Identification”

19 19 Rush Hour and the Interracial Buddy Genre Lecture 15: Part II Rush Hour 2 (2001) Directed by Brett Ratner

20 The Historical Norm The historical norm in depicting cinematic interracial relationships featuring Asians is to pair a White man and an Asian woman and to exoticise the woman. Examples include Tomorrow Never Dies, Lucky Number Slevin and The Last Samurai. 20Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

21 The Historical Norm Reversed Rarely do we see this template reversed, though one example can be found in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which includes details of the real-life relationship between Bruce Lee and his white girlfriend. The film also dramatizes the effects of harmful racist stereotypes in a scene in which Lee and his girlfriend are mortified by and then walk out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Pause the lecture and watch the clips from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story 21

22 Moving Beyond Conventions Contemporary American cinema has begun to change the White/Asian template somewhat with films such as Mississippi Masala, Fakin’ the Funk, Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, Rush Hour, Romeo Must Die and the recent Ninja Assassin. These films have attempted to avoid the traditional stereotypes of inter-ethnic relations and re-envision racial identity through Asian/Black relationships. 22

23 Rush Hour Among the most prominent films in contemporary cinema featuring a Black and Asian “couple” are the three Rush Hour films starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. The movies are by far the most popular films featuring an Asian/Black star paring. According to LeiLani Nishime, the films represent a rare occasion to see how Asian/Black relations are imagined in popular culture. 23

24 Forgetting Historical Differences “Rush Hour’s significance does not reside in its ability to document the current state of Asian/Black relations. Instead it demonstrates the creative remembering of cultural ties and forgetting of historical differences [such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots] that must take place in order to imagine the relationship at all.” LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’: Buddy-Cop Films, Rush Hour and Asian American and African American Cross-racial Identification”

25 Interracial Buddies As we saw in Lesson 9, the template for Interracial Buddy films features a White/Black buddy duo with the White buddy ultimately acting as the primary protagonist and “ideological chaperone” for the Black buddy, who often acts as a desexualized caretaker to the White buddy. In Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, Jackie Chan fills the role of the buddy to Owen Wilson’s ideological chaperone. Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Shanghai Knights. 25

26 Interracial Buddies Like Shanghai Noon and Knights, the Rush Hour movies fall into the genre of the Interracial Buddy film, but they depart from the conventions of the genre by replacing the Black/White buddies with a Black-Asian duo. 26 Shanghai Knights (2003) Directed by David Dobkin

27 Disrupting Racial Hierarchy Further, according to LeiLani, Rush Hour disrupts Hollywood’s usual racial hierarchy by refusing to make one of the buddies the ideological chaperone. By locating villainy in the the authority of the American FBI and the British colonialists; and by aligning the buddies with another traditionally oppressed minority, a Latina police officer played by Elizabeth Pena. 27

28 Highlighting Alliances These narrative choices highlight potential alliances based on shared oppression and makes transparent the racial power relations obscured by Black/White interracial buddy films. Pause the lecture and watch clip # 1 from Rush Hour. 28

29 Openly Addressing Difference LeiLani recognizes that Rush Hour stereotypes and essentializes race and presents it outside of historical context. But she also argues that the prominence of race and ethnicity in Rush Hour enables the film – unlike Black/White interracial buddy films - to openly address issues of racial difference and raise possibilities for cultural exchange between Asians and African Americans. Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from Rush Hour. 29

30 Author’s Final Point “Carter and Lee are disenfranchised by a system that refuses to take them seriously, and, in typical Hollywood fashion, they learn to work together. What is less typical is the explicit racialization of the power imbalances at work here. Most buddy films displace differences onto other issues in order to fulfill a fantasy of racial harmony... In Rush Hour, racial and cultural differences are foregrounded, and both stars are distanced from a white power structure.” LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’”

31 31 Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action Lecture 15: Part III Romeo Must Die (2003) Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

32 Following the Trend While Asian/Black cinematic pairings are rare, the director of Romeo Must Die, Andrzej Bartkowiak was nonetheless following a late 1990s Hollywood trend when he conceived of a film featuring an Asian/African American pairing. Like Rush Hour, the film comically foregrounds cross-cultural misunderstandings and appeals to a multiracial, multi-ethnic, global action audience. 32

33 Targeting the Market In “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action,” Gina Marchetti argues that Romeo Must Die especially uses casting to target Black and Asian audiences, particularly young audiences. Jet Li is cast to appeal to Asian martial arts aficionados, and Aaliyah to appeal to rhythm and blues fans. DMX brings rap credentials to the project. Other prominent Black and Asian actors include Anthony Anderson and Russell Wong. 33

34 Meeting of Cultures According to Marchetti, the entire film revolves around the meeting of African American and Chinese popular culture Examples of this include martial arts, rap and hip-hop and Blaxploitation films. Marchetti argues that Aaliyah carries with her the legacy of Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson, while Jet Li stands in for Bruce Lee, Wang Yu, David Chiang and Ti Lung.” Pause the lecture and watch clip #1 from Romeo Must Die 34

35 Exchange of Cultural Capitol Marchetti argues that, as with Rush Hour, the interaction between Asian and African American stars revolves around the negotiation of cultural “capital – such as knowledge of the rules of language, deportment, music, film, and popular culture. The rapper DMX in Romeo Must Die

36 21 st Century Multiculturalism Trish and Han meet in the melting pot of American multiculturalism. Rather than assimilating into the model minority myth perpetuated by dominant culture, Han learns to be ‘American,’ specifically a minority, in America, through his encounters with Black culture, which ensures his survival.

37 Racial Politics of Hollywood Romance “Although action and romance occasionally mix in action plots (particularly in the action-adventure genre) and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ stories are a staple of Hollywood fiction, the pairing of a Chinese man and an African American woman in a mainstream commercial film challenges many deeply held prejudices about Asian masculinity, African American femininity, and the racial politics of romance in Hollywood.” Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”

38 No Kiss Despite this meeting of cultures, racial politics and cinematic history call for keeping the Asian man and the Black woman from engaging in a romantic relationship. Though a romance between the two leads might seem natural, Romeo Must Die stays true to the conventions of its genre by privileging action/violence over romance. Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from Romeo Must Die

39 The Romeo and Juliet Story “[In Hollywood screen romances] The ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story has been used to look at interracial romance – entertaining fantasies of miscegenation with the promise that death will put an end to the illicit liaison. Generally, these romances point to problems within both racial groups. Typically, the nonwhite community is depicted as cruel to its women, ‘uncivilized,’ and ‘barbaric,’ while the white community appears as prejudiced, closed, and racist.” Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”

40 Romeo and Juliet (Continued) “The film may call for interracial understanding, but, as in Shakespeare’s play, the illicit union exacts its price – usually death. As in many Hollywood ‘Romeo and Juliet’ interracial romances, Romeo Must Die provides many reasons for the couple to be alienated from their families/ethnic communities... Trish and Han survive the threats from their respective communities, but they take no step to consummate their romance” Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”

41 Author’s Final Point “However, while mainstream Hollywood may be more open to the possible profitability of Asian and African American stars and the complexion of Hollywood directors may also be gradually changing, the industry remains quite conservative – fantasies of dissent titillate, as they always have, but stay safely boxed in by a racial and sexual status quo that proves resistant to radical change.” Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”

42 42 End of Lecture 15 Congratulations! You have finished all the lessons.


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