[Spoiler Alert] This weekend, I watched the new blockbuster Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, ironically at a Queens, New York movie theater next door to a Hooters that was sued last year for inputting a customer’s order under “Chinx”. The movie had me and my friends cracking up in our seats.
Maybe you’re thinking, Wait, but it’s not a comedy! It’s a movie about the rugged individualism and determination of a White American woman astronaut under space duress! I suppose, even though the protagonist is ultimately saved by the apparition of her White male captain (George Clooney) and most of the closing dialogue involves Bullock repeating Clooney’s ghost’s lines (because even in outer space, only white men can be true heroes in Hollywood).
Here’s the scene that had us ROFL-ing: Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, enters the Chinese station and wades around in zero gravity suspension. Her mission: Avoid making contact with a red ping pong paddle. Note that the movie was in 3D, so the paddle looked like it was going to hit me in the face. The irony.
Roles for actors of color are now so limited that ping pong apparatus and chopsticks are proxy for actual Asian people. That, and Bullock’s line: “No habla Chino” I suppose is proxy for Latino actors. In outer space. Readers, sh*t is really that bad in the media.
The previews before the movie were ridiculous. Keanu Reeves, mixed race and generally whitewashed in his leading roles, will be starring in a fantastic defense-budget-sized production of 47 Ronin this Christmas. So now, we have a full repertoire of racial paradigms: now that Tom Cruise has already been the best samurai in the world of colonial fantasy, complete with a lotus blossom crying Asian lady, Keanu Reeves will now be the next best kind of samurai–one that has a delicate crying Asian lady companion AND defeats a red-mouthed lady who literally transforms into a DRAGON! (Check out the trailer, you can skip to 1:30 for the ultimate Lotus Blossom/Dragon Lady standoff.)
The rest of the previews similarly reinforced the whole white-guy-is-hero thing, including a preview for Enders Game, in which an elementary school aged white boy is a hero. Also in (futuristic) outer space.
In addition to the silver screen (and I haven’t even started on The Hangover III, barf), Asians have been getting lots of play on the small screen. Many popular and heavily promoted new shows made their premiers in the past 2 weeks and have including the following subtle to egregious portrayals of Asian/Americans:
- The Blacklist, Episode 2: “One black guy and two Asian ladies get out of a car….” James Spader gives a bro-hug to the black character (the brawn), and grabs Asian Lady 1 in leather and red lipstick who can’t even get a word in before Spader vigorously shoves his tongue in her mouth (gross). Asian Lady 2 (Parminder Nagra who played Dule Hill’s girlfriend on Psych) is super smart, unemotional, British, and Spader suspects she’s a federal plant. A perfect gook/model minority/colonial subject.
- Dads: I haven’t watched the show. Not sure if I can handle the added psychosocial trauma, but Entertainment Weekly says “The most talked-about scene in the Dads pilot (see trailer below) is when Green orders an office underling played by Brenda Song (The Suite Life of Zach and Cody) to don a sexy schoolgirl outfit and giggle like an anime caricature to impress an Asian businessman.” Presumably that’s enough for you to want to rip your hair out and punch Seth McFarlane in the eye.
- All Shows by Seth McFarlane: By the way, McFarlane isn’t “controversial” or “evocative” as Fox describes him in its response to the Media Action Network for Asian Americans’ request for a Dads reshoot. He’s a racist, nativist, woman-hating homophobe, a 21st century, corporate media kind of David Duke.
- Bob’s Burgers: It pains me, because I consider this one of the best shows of its kind of the decade, but I did notice when Linda’s and Bob’s son Gene slips in a subtle comment about a Chinese explorer: “William Wang, what can’t you do?” playing to the model minority myth.
- [Spoiler Alert] Hemlock Grove, Season 1: I’m cheating here because the season already passed on Netflix, but it was so messed up I may need to analyze the whole thing in a separate post. The rundown: Rich spoiled brat supernatural white boy rapes teenage Asian American high school classmate (who appears throughout the season either in white cotton panties or scanty tops, and generally throwing herself at him). He rapes her (but apparently she deserved it because she was seducing him) and then erases her memory of the rape so that she continues to throw herself at him for the rest of the season (she has about 5 lines during the entire season). How allegorical. There’s an unemotional desexualized creepy Asian mad scientist, who has some crazy maniacal super strength that he controls with casual Zen restraint. And, the only other character of color, a tough, emotionally tormented black women detective struggling with alcoholism, is ultimately, and literally, eaten alive by the spoiled brat’s White mom.