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Asian-American Cinema Part VI - The 1970s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 25, 2009 04:16pm | Post a Comment
The sixth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

ASIAN-AMERICAN CINEMA

After short-lived attempts in the silent era to establish an Asian-American Cinema, for most of the in the first and second halves of the studio era, Hollywood single-handedly created and controlled almost all celluloid images of Asian-Americans. With the beginnings of Asian-American theater in the 1960s and its growth in the 1970s coinciding with the decline of the Hollywood studio system, all that began to change with the rebirth of Asia-American Cinema, albeit slowly at first. Only in the 1990s and 2000s has a large and diverse Asian-American cinema, Asian-American theater and Asian-American comedy scene truly flourished -- offering a viable alternative to Hollywood's continued stereotypes and ongoing homogeneity.

Orphaned Cambodian Children Vietnamese Boat People

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Asian-American Cinema Part V - The 1960s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 24, 2009 04:58pm | Post a Comment
 The fifth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

The 1960s also the growth of minority-minded civil rights like AIM, the Black Panthersthe Brown Beretsand the Yellow Brotherhood. With Asian-themed musicals no longer in vogue, Asian actors struggled to find work in the entertainment industry. As a result, Asian theatre blossomed, beginning in earnest with Los Angeles' East West Players in 1965 and followed by San Francisco’s Asian American Theatre Workshop, New York’s Oriental Actors of America and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, and Seattle’sTheatrical Ensemble

The theater groups performed Asian-created works by the likes of Edward Sakamoto, Frank Chin, Hiroshi Kashiwagi,  Momoko Iko and Wakako Yamauchi.

On TV, Asian American actors continued to be nearly non-existent with Green Hornet, Hawaii Five-O, Hong Kong, I Spy and Star Trek being exceptions. 

In film, the fetishization of Asian women continued. More shocking was the way films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Thoroughly Modern Millie still represented Asian men in the most hateful ways.

ASIAN-AMERICANS WHOSE FILM CAREERS BEGAN IN THE 1960s

Bill M. Ryusaki Brian Tochi Chao Li Chi
               Bill M. Rusaki                                                Brian Tochi                                                Chao Li Ch 

 Gina Alajar Harold Sakata Irene Tsu
                   Gina Alajar                            Harold Sakata                                                     Irene Tsu 

Asian-American Cinema Part IV - The 1950s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 24, 2009 04:58pm | Post a Comment
The fourth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

During the silent film and Hollywood eras, most Asian-American actors' roles were usually limited to the background and in offensive roles. Two actors, Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, nonetheless became superstars. They and pioneers like Esther Eng, Marion Wong, and the folks at Grandview Film Company (not to mention numerous actors) gamely attempted to produce and sustain an alternative and viable Asian-American Cinema.


Hawaiian Eye
Hawaiian Eye with Poncie Ponce (right)

In the 1950s, Hollywood roles for Asian-American women were usually limited to the objects of war time romance. On the Broadway stage, musicals about the Far East like The King and I, South Pacific and Flower Drum Song were in vogue although Asian characters were usually portrayed by white actors in yellowface. Asian stage performers typically enjoyed more attention on so-called Chop Suey Circuit, an mostly Chinese-American strand of Vaudeville

Asian-American Cinema Part III - The 1940s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 24, 2009 04:57pm | Post a Comment
ASIAN-AMERICAN CINEMA IN THE 1940s

The third of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

The US entered World War II on 7 December, after Japanese forces bombed an American colonial base at Pearl Harbor. As a result, a huge number of Hollywood war films were set in Asia, which meant roles for Asian-Americans. Major Asian character roles were still routinely performed by white actors in yellowface and roles played by actual Asian-Americans  were almost always supporting, uncredited, and often demeaning. 

Asian-American Cinema Part II - The 1930s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 24, 2009 04:56pm | Post a Comment
The second of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera

If opportunities for Asian-Americans in silent film were decidedly limited, they seem to have actually worsened with the coming of sound. Several actors with Asian origins moved to countries in Asia, no doubt frustrated by the increased lack of work available to them in American films. The attempts by Marion WongSessue Hayakawa and Anna May Wong to create an Asian-American alternative to the degrading roles and yellowface of Hollywood had fizzled.

Philip Ahn in Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)
Philip Ahn (left) in Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)

There were few films made by Asian-American filmmakers during the Hollywood Studio Era and Hollywood firmly controlled the manner in which Asians were represented in American films (with the notable exception of some American-made Cantonese-language films exhibited that were primarily screened overseas). Films like The Bitter Tea of General YenThe Good Earth, and series like series like Charlie Chan, Fu Manchu, Mr. Moto and Mr. Wong suggested that American minstrelsy, far from vanishing, had simply changed color. Asian-Americans found more accepting audiences as live performers on the so-called Chop-Suey Circuit, which took off in the 1930s.

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