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


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.


In the 1970s, more than 130,000 refugees arrived from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, drastically changing the make-up of the Asian-American population. Broadly speaking, this wave of immigrants had more in common socio-economically speaking with most blacks, Latinos and Natives; therein challenging the mid '60s-born concept of Asians as "the model minority."


The growth of Asian-American theater provided an outlet for APA Actors who found themselves out of work in Hollywood after a brief post-war fetishistic period in the studio era. During the decade, new APA theater groups including New York's Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and Asian American Theater Company and San Francisco's Theatre of Yugen encouraged a new generation to pursue acting. As a result,  first time in many years Asian-Americans began to appear on TV and films in increasing numbers, in roles that occasionally challenged the stereotypes and bit parts they'd been relegated to in mainstream America.
Wakako Yamauchi


On TV in the '70s, Hawaiia Five-0, Kung-Fu and M*A*S*H often featured Asian-American actors, albeit most often in non-recurring bit parts. However, Mr. T & Tina, starring Pat Morita, became only the second American TV series to star an Asian-American actor. Frank Chin's Year of the Dragon and Wakako Yamauchi's And the Soul Shall Dance were both adapted for television productions from plays.


Following the popularity of San Francisco-born Bruce Lee, many APA actors found themselves cast in  martial arts-centered roles and still usually as portraying foreigners rather than Americans. But with the rebirth of Asian-American Cinema (actually made by Asian-Americans) that would begin to change.

Robert Akira Nakamura

In 1970, Robert Akira Nakamura founded Visual Communications, which is today the oldest community-based media arts center in the US. The acclaimed filmmaker and teacher is sometimes known as“the Godfather of Asian American media.” Nakamura was previously a photojournalist who switched to documentary film, Manzanar (1972), an examination of the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans.

Loni Ding

In 1974, Loni Ding produced and directed Willie Lobo: Manchild about a black Vietnam vet. It was the first feature film directed by an Asian-American since (coincidentally, another Chinese-American female) Marion Wong's The Curse of Quon Gwon in 1916.

Curtis Choy

In 1976, Curtis X Choy (aka Chonk Moonhunter) began directing documentaries, beginning with Dupont Guy – The Schiz of Grant Avenue, an examination of Chinese-American culture.

In 1978, the Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) was founded in New York City. 

Before long, other Asian-Americans filmmakers followed in these pioneers' footsteps, telling stories with their own voices and offering a growing alternative to Hollywood.


             Art Malik                                Christina Kokubo                                                       Clyde Kusatsu 

                    Dana Lee                                      Evan C. Kim                                           Freda Foh Shen 

                      George Cheung                                                   Haunani Minn                                    James Saito 

            Joan Chen                                     Keenan Shimizu                                                 Ken Narasaki

            Marilyn Tokuda                                    Michael Paul Chan                                                   Moe Keale

            Peter Kwong                          Ranjit Chowdhry                                          Richard Lee-Sung

                         Rosalind Chao                                  Sab Shimono                                     Shizuko Hoshi 

Tzi Ma
        Takayo Fischer                            Tzi Ma                                                                  Wood Moy

Not pictured: Denice Kumagai, Diane Takei, Michael Hasegawa, Pat Li and Peter Yoshida


The Hawaiians (1970), One More Train to Rob (1971), Manzanar (1971)

Tino's (1972), Lost Horizon (1973), The Dynamite Brothers (1974)

Making Up (1974), Yakuza (1974), The Year of the Dragon (1975), 

Cruisin' J-Town (1975) Dupont Guy - the Schiz of Gray Avenue (1976)

  Go Tell the Spartans (1978) Manongs - Tenants of the I-Hotel (1979)

Not pictured: Chinatown 2-Step and Kung Fu (both 1972) Pieces of a Dream (1973) I Told You So, Judgement - The Court Martial of the Tiger of Malaya - General Yamashita, Men of the Dragon, Omai Fa'atasi - Samoa Mo Samoa and To Be Me - Tony Quon (all 1974) City, City, The Journey, Kites and Other Tales and Wataridori - Birds of Passage (all 1975) Farewell to Manzanar (1976) And the Soul Shall Dance (1978) and When Hell Was in Session (1979)

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

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