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Marvelous Work on Some Men of Color
on November 5, 2007
"Fade to Black," a documentary on Blacks in Hollywood, spoke of both genders. "The Bronze Screen," a work on Latinos, did the same. When I rented "The Slanted Screen," I thought it would speak of both genders too. However, it only spoke of men. I am fascinated by men's studies and don't think enough work has been produced about men of color, so I applaud this effort.
It can be hard to focus on men without sounding sexist. This work on Asian men avoids sexism by not discussing Asian women at all. It never says, "Asian-American actors have it harder than Asian-American actresses." Dr. Michael Messner once quoted Ben Fong-Torres as saying historically the West has looked on Asian women with favor, but Asian men with suspicion. That comparative statement does not come up in this documentary. Still, Frank Chin is interviewed and some Asian-American female writers have called him sexist in the past. This work has interviewees who are Asian males and white females. One wonders why it had no Asian females when it had women of another race. The interviewees were a mix of actors, academics, and directors. For those familiar with "Masters of the Pillow," it will be shocking to hear Dr. Darell Hamamoto speak on a non-blue topic. Mr. Nguyen, the Asian actor from "21 Jump Street," wears this loud, 1970s shirt that terribly distracted me as a viewer.
So much of the depictions of Asian males in Hollywood has been done under the despicable practice of "yellowface." This work doesn't bring it up until 1/3 into the film. I think this was meant to center real men of Asian descent. In "The Bronze Screen," older actors and B-list actors were interviewed. It stood out that Jennifer Lopez and Benicio del Toro were absent. Though George Takei and Russell Wong did not participate, it did seem like almost every Asian-American male actor did.
Robert Townsend's comedy "Hollywood Shuffle" spoke of how African-American actors and actresses don't like demeaning film roles but also struggle with taking what they can get. This work only briefly wrestles with that. It shows a demeaning role that the late Pat Morita once played. However, when Mr. Morita died, he was acknowledged by many as a respected and pioneering Asian-American actor. The tough, Asian guy from "American Me" tries to defend his roles by saying he has "b*lls."
The work only covers East and Southeast Asian men. Its title incorrectly sounds like it would include South Asian men. Why not have included Kal Penn or Ben Kingsley? They could have brought up that the Indian man in "Short Circuit," a 1980s film, was a Caucasion in "brownface." Perhaps a director of South Asian descent can use this documentary as a stepping stone to make such a necessary work.
This work must be seen by Asian-American Studies majors and by anyone concerned about men of color in the United States. I suggest viewers also read Jachinson Chan's "Chinese American Masculinities" and Kam Louie's "Theorising Chinese Masculinity."