Asian-American Cinema Part VII - The 1980s

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


In the 1980s, the Asian-American population grew radically, with over 2.5 million immigrants joining the already large, native-born, Asian-American population. Nonetheless, Asian-Americans continued to be disproportionately underrepresented on the silver screen.


On the stage, David Henry Hwang's play M. Butterfly was the first Asian-American play to appear on Broadway. Other successful Asian playwrights followed, including Philip Kan Gotanda and Velina Hasu Houston. New APA theaters were founded too, including Cold Tofu Arts and Entertainment/Theatre inLos AngelesNew York's Ma-Yi Theater Company and National Asian American Theatre Company, and the Asian Story Theater in San Diego.


Whilst in Hollywood most Asian males were invariably cast as fortune-cookie mystics and ninjas, a new stereotype emerged for younger Asian males; the studious, awkward and almost always heavily-accented Asian nerd (e.g. Long Duck Dong, Data WangToshiro TakashiVinh Kelly, &c). One notable exception to the young Asian nerd stereotype in Hollywood is Dustin Nguyen as Harry Truman Ioki on 21 Jump Street. In 1987, Pat Morita stars on the TV show Ohara, the third series with an Asian lead.


Asian American media arts organizations including Los Angeles' Visual Communications and New York's Asian CineVision began producing Asian American works.

                                  Wayne Wang                                                                               Steve Okazaki

Wayne Wang
's Chan is Missing, made in 1982, although not the first APA film, ushered in a new era. Not only was this feature film directed by an Asian-American, but it was the first to feature a mostly Asian-American cast since 1961's Flower Drum Song. But unlike that film, it was also made for a largely Asian-American audience and therefore didn't engage in exotification, dehumanization or fetishization intrinsic to Hollywood portrayals. 

                              Jon Moritsugu                                           Gregg Araki                               Roddy Bogawa

Several independent Asian-American directors began their career shortly after: Jon MoritsuguGregg ArakiPeter Wang, Roddy Bogawa and Steven Okazaki. Whereas some films, like Peter Wang's A Great Wall, followed the fairly formulaic traditions of the "assimilation drama," focusing on inter-generational conflict within Asian-America, the films of the so-called Bad Boys (Moritsugu, Araki and Bogawa) -- when they dealt with race -- generally favored an approach to the subject that was, at most, eliptical. The '80s were also the first documentaries began to appear that dealt with the indignities suffered by Asian-Americans in the past.

                                    Christine Choy                                                                         Renee Tajima-Peña

In the world of documentaries, Christine Choy debuted with 1984’s Mississippi Triangle, about black, white and Chinese-Americans in the delta. Renee Tajima-Peña made her directorial debut with collaboration with Choy, Who Killed Vincent Chin?


  Amy Hill
                 Ajay Naidu                                            Alannah Ong                                             Amy Hill  

                       April Hong                                        Art Chudabala                                            Bai Ling 

                Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa                                 Chi Muoi Lo                                   Chris Tashima  

               Collin Chou                                                 Danny Kamekona                                      Dante Basco  

 Dennis Dun 
             David Chung                                                    Dennis Dun                                                     Dustin Nguyen  

           Elizabeth Sung                                                   Emily Kuroda                                        Eriko Tamura  

 Gedde Watanabe  
                Galen Yuen                                                  Gedde Watanabe                                   Jacqueline Kim 

         Jason Scott Lee                                               Jeanne Sakata                                              Jeff Imada 

        Jennifer Paz                                                Jim Lau                                                      Jonathan Ke Quan            

         Karen Tsen Lee                                                        Kelly Hu                                        Kelvin Han Yee       

         Lane Nishikawa                                            Lauren Tom                                              Les J.N. Mau   

              Long Nguyen                                      Lori Tan Chinn                                               Ming-Na    

             Paul J.Q. Lee                                            Philip Moon                                                  Russell Wong

            Russell Yuen                                           Sakina Jaffrey                                              Sandra Oh   

             Shuko Akune                                        Stan Egi                                                   Stephen Chang      

                        Tamlyn Tomita                                         Traci Toguchi                                Veena Sood          

                   Vivian Wu 
                                                     Youki Kudoh

Not pictured: Akira Takayama, April Tran, Clint Jung, Diane Cheng, Ed Hong-Louie, Emily Woo Yamasaki, Glenn Kubota, Henry Yuk,  Ho Lo, Jadin Wong, Jennie Yee, Kay Tong Lim, Kerry Yo Nakagawa, Marc Hayashi, Mohan Gokhale, Paul J.Q. Lee, Ronald Yamamoto, Saachiko Magwili, Shinko Isobe, Steven Chen, Steve Park, Vien Hong andWai Ching Ho 

 Hito Hata - Raise the Banner (1980), Afterbirth (1981)
  Chan is Missing (1982), Four Women (1982), Monterey's Boat People (1982)
 On New Ground (1982), Sewing Woman (1982)
The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983), Fools Dance (1983)

Jazz Is My Native Language - A Portrait of Toshiko Akiyoshi (1983), Dollar a Day, Ten Cents a Dance (1984)

Dim Sum (1985), The New Puritans - The Sikhs of Yuba City (1985), 
Unfinished Business (1985)

The Year of the Ox (1985), Snipers in Trees (1985), Yuki Shimoda - Asian American Actor (1985)

All Orientals Look the Same (1986), Manilatown Lives! (1986), A Great Wall (1986)
China Girl (1987), Living on Tokyo Time (1987), New Year (1987), 

Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987), Blue Collar and Buddha (1988),

The Color of Honor (1988), Carved in Silence (1988)
Dim Sum - Take-Out (1988), East of Occidental - The History of Seattle’s Chinatown (1988), 

Family Gathering (1988), In No One's Shadow - Filipinos in America (1988), Family Gathering (1988)

Island of Secret Memories (1988), Lotus (1988), 

Slaying the Dragon (1988), China Diary (1989)

 Color of Honor (1989), Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989) 
Not Pictured: Frankly Speaking (1982), Freckled Rice (1983), Mississippi Triangle and Talking History (both 1984), Blind Alleys (1985), Conversations - Before the War/After the War and Permanent Wave (both 1986), Pak Bueng on Fire(1987) and The Price You Pay (1988)      
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