Amoeblog

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.