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Asian-American Cinema Part VIII - the 1990s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 26, 2009 11:55am | Post a Comment
The eighth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera


INTRO TO ASIAN-AMERICAN CINEMA

In the silent film era, a few Asian-Americans braved decidedly limited opportunities and even attempted to create a cinematic outlet for their voices. By the dawn of the sound era, Asian-American cinema disappeared and Hollywood once again controlled depictions and roles. In the post-war era, roles for Asian-American actors grew in number, if not diversity. As a result, Asian-American theater arose to fill the void, ultimately leading to the rebirth of an authentic Asian-American Cinema that grew slowly over the next two decades before expanding rapidly in the '90s and continuing in the 2000s.

APA DEMOGRAPHIC MILESTONES IN THE '90s

The 1990s were a time of tremendous growth in the Asian-American population, resulting in a notable demographic milestone when Monterey Park became the first Asian-American majority city on the US mainland. It was soon followed by several others, including Cerritos, Cupertino, Daly City, Milpitas and Rowland Heights in California as well as Millbourne in Pennsylvania.

       
           Chay Yew                      Diana Son                     Han Ong                      Ralph Pena                     Sung Rno
  
APA THEATER IN THE '90s

With Hollywood depictions of Asian-Americans surpsingly minimal and unsophisticated, not surprsingly APA theater exploded to exploit the ignored audience. Prominent new APA playwrights included Chay Yew, Diana Son, Euijoon Kim, Han Ong, Ji Hyun Lee, Mrinalini Kamath, Ralph Peña and Sung Rno. By the decade's close there were about forty APA theater companies. APA companies founded in the '90s included The Bay Area's NaatakChicago's Pintig Cultural Group; Nevada City's Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra; Los Angeles' 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, Propergander Theatre and TeAda Productions; Minneappolis's Mu Performing Arts; New York's In Mixed CompanyMa-Yi Theater Company Second GenerationNational Asian American Theatre Company, PEELING,  The Slant Performance Group and Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America; Philadelphia's Asian Arts Initiative; Sacramento's InterACTSinag-tala Filipino Theater and Performing Arts Association; San Diego's Asian American Repertory Theatre; San Francisco's Bindlestiff Studio; San Jose's Contemporary Asian Theater Scene; Seattle's Aono Jikken Ensemble, Isangmahal Arts Kollective and Pork Filled Players.

APA TV IN THE '90s

On TV, Margaret Cho's All-American Girl became only the third TV series in American history with a predominantly Asian cast.

   
           Margaret Cho                                Henry Cho                               Stir-Fridays                                         OPM

APA COMEDY IN THE '90S
In the '90s, the concept of a mainstream APA comic was still novel, with Henry Cho and Margaret Cho undoubtedly the most visible. Meanwhile, new APA (and largely APA) groups like Chicago's Stir-Friday Night and Los Angeles' OPM nurture APA stand-up, sketch and improv comedy.

APA CINEMA AND ASIAN HOLLYWOOD IN THE '90s

Despite the revival of Asian-American Cinema in the 1980s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it truly took off, part of the larger boom in independent film. Some films, like Joy Luck Club, enjoyed a great deal of crossover success with non-Asian audiences. In Hollywood, Rush Hour became one of the first mainstream films to star no white actors in decades. Perhaps an unintended consequence is that whilst Jackie Chan's performance opened doors for Hong Kong compatriots like Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and others in Hollywood, it simultaneously closed doors for Asian-Americans and subconsciously reinforced notions about Asians as foreign martial artists from the exotic east.

APA ACTORS WHOSE CAREERS BEGAN IN THE '90s

   
      Bernadette Balagtas                    Charles Chun                           Christina Ma                               Cici Lau

   
            Cindy Cheung                         Colin Foo                         Constance Wu                            Corrine Hong Wu

     
              Derek Basco                              Elaine Kao                        Elizabeth Tsing                        Eugenia Yuan 

   
             Fann Wong                         Garrett Wang                                    Garz Chan                          Greg Watanabe

    
              Irene Ng                           Jade Wu                             James Sie                                 Jeanne Chinn 

   
        Jen Sung Outerbridge                      Jennifer Tung                         John Cho                         Joy Bisco   

  
                Kal Penn                            Kathy Shao-Lin Lee                Keiko Agena                           Keisuke Hoashi    

.   
          Ken Leung                            Kenneth Choi                             Kristy Wu                             Lee Wong

   
              Lela Lee                    Louis Ozawa Changchien               Lucy Liu                            Luoyong Wang

    
     Michelle Krusiec                Mina Shum                         Parry Shen                                     Peggy Ahn 

  
               Phil Young                         Ray Chang                                  Reggie Lee                        Richard Chang  

 
                  Rick Tae                              Robert Wu                                  Roger Fan                                Roger Yuan 

 
                  Sara Tanaka                      Sarita Choudhury                       Sharon Omi                           Shazia

Susan Chuang 
           Sung Kang                         Susan Chuang                                  Suzy Nakamura                     Terry Chen     

  
                  Vivian Bang                                           Will Yun Lee                                                   Yi Ding 

Not pictured: Ben Wang, Bobby Lee, Brady Tsurutani, Dan Koji, Daniel Dae Kim, Danton Dew, Diana C. Weng, Donald Fong, Emmy Yu, Goh Misawa, Gregory Hatanaka, Howard Fong, Jenny Woo, Jina Oh, Johnny Mah, Lenny Imamura, Margaret Cho, Mary Chen, Mia Suh, Michael Li, Mai Vu, Nathanel Geng, Radmar Agana Jao, Shannon Dang, Susan Fukada and Yoshimi Imai
APA CINEMA AND ASIAN HOLLYWOOD IN THE '90s

  Banana Split (1990), Dreaming Filipinos (1990), I'm British But. . .

  
The Story of Vinh (1990). Animal Appetites (1991),  Come See the Paradise (1991), 

  
En Ryo Identity (1991), Issei Wahine (1991)

    

Rebuilding the Temple - Cambodians in America (1991), Toxic Sunset (1991), Troubled Paradise (1991),

   

 
Fated to be Queer (1992), 
The Kiss (1992),

   

  Memories from the Department of Amnesia (1992), Mississippi Masala (1992), Mixed Blood (1992),

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.



THE CHANGING FACE OF ASIAN-AMERICA IN THE '70S

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."


GROWTH OF ASIAN-AMERICAN THEATER '70S

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

APA TV IN THE '70S

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.

BEGINNINGS OF APA CINEMA IN THE '70S

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.

Continue reading...

May Is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 28, 2008 04:19pm | Post a Comment
ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

Even in a multicultural, polyglot city like Los Angeles (which has the largest population of Asian-Americans (1.4 million) in the country and where the percentage of the population which is Asian-American is roughly twice that which is black) most discussions of race appear continue to be framed in the outmoded, bipolar terms of  black and white.  For example, whereas a lot of people and many organizations honor Black History Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is by comparison almost completely unrecognized except by some Asian-American organization and individuals.

The centuries-long struggle and strife of blacks in America is well-documented and worth honoring -- many have suggested that Black Americans invented the Civil Rights Movement (some Native Americans might take issue with that). Asians, like other non-whites, have also been subjected to legal segregation, racist violence, widespread discrimination and harassment. So why is it that the Asian-American experience is so... obscure? I hadn't even heard of its existence until I was hipped to it by reknowned Asian-American rights activist, Ngoc-thu Thi Nguyen.


CONTINUED PREJUDICE AGAINST ASIAN-AMERICANS

According to polls, 23% of Americans are admittedly "uncomfortable" voting for an Asian-American to be President of the United States. This is in contrast to 15% compared with an African-American candidate and 14% compared with a (presumably non-Asian) female candidate. Just as many Americans used to fear that Catholics ultimate allegiance was to the pope, a lot of Asians are suspected and viewed of holding allegiances the Asian countries of their ancestors, a view which fuels the "perpetual foreigner" stereotype.


PERPETUAL FOREIGNERS

Asian-Americans are typically descended from more recent immigrants than the white or black population. Last year, coming up with movies to showcase for APA Heritage Month resulted in the suggestion of Chinese Kung Fu movies the distinction between Asians in Asia and Asians in America remains a lot harder for non-Asians than distinguishing African-Americans from Africans or white people from Europeans partly because America loves imported Asian movies and Korean dramas but Hollywood continues to be incredibly uncomfortable with Asian-American leads or ensembles. To date there've only been a handful of Asian-American television series. Even more troubling to me is the fact that many Asian-Americans born in America speak of "American food" and "Americans" as something separate and exclusive of themselves.


BIPOLAR DISCUSSIONS OF RACE 

America's understanding and discussion of racial issues has almost always been overwhelmingly and frustratingly bipolar.  Look at the focus of most conversations about the current Democratic Party elections despite the fact that Asian-Americans are second only to Jews in their per capita political donations. This simple and distorted view exists despite the fact that other groups, such as Asians and Native Americans, have always been central to our country's history. The conversation has always been and remains, still, "black and white."


THE MODEL MINORITY

Asians are often paternalistically referred to as the "model minority" -- a special minority position that seems to involve the allowance of systematic marginalization. It's like saying "here's a gold star for not rocking the boat. We wish all minorities were so well-behaved." It suggests that (even though Asian immigration is growing at the highest percentage of any racial group) the fact that Asian-Americans are the least likely racial group to report crimes against themselves is to be commended. And even though rare modern instances of blackface provoke outrage, yellowface (whether literal or metaphorically practiced by Asian-American actors reduced to playing into stereotypes) is still not a big deal.


NON-MODEL MINORITY ASIANS

I have to assume that the term "model minority" doesn't  apply to all Asian-Americans, right? As a whole, Southeast Asian people including Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Filipinos and Hmong in the United States are, socio-economically speaking, much more aligned with Native Americans, Blacks, and Latinos. Anecdotally speaking, they seem less likely to be fetishized by both pop culture (appearing in advertisments, films and TV less often than East Asians) and non-Asian exoticists struck with so-called "Yellow Fever." And what of South Asians? For whatever reason, if one speaks of Asian-Americans of South Asian ancestral origin as being Asian-Americans (which they, of course, are), many non-Asians will react with confusion or even attempt to correct you. Anyway, enough of my musings on race... here's a brief history of Asian-American Immigration to the Americas.


*****

TIMELINE OF ASIANS IN THE AMERICAS




CIRCA 15000 BCE

A group of proto-Asian hunters walks from Northern Asia to the Americas on a land bridge.


   
Inupiaq dancer                    Yupik girl                      Inuit girls                   Alutiiq dancer                  Aleut boy

CIRCA 5000 BCE

The last great wave of prehistoric migration from northern Asia to the Americas. These settlers go on to develop into the Inupiaq, Yupik, Inuit, Alutiiq, and Aleut peoples (among others).


   

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