We all look same, no?

December 8, 2005 at 12:30 am Leave a comment

A girl wrote a rather controversial editorial in the Chronicle, Duke’s newspaper, today about the upcoming film “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Here’s the link. Her grievance, simply put, is that films involving Asian cultures have been Americanized and manipulated, and therefore, grossly misrepresent the culture they are attempting to portray. For example, she takes offense to the blue eyes in the movie poster. Her argument for the presence of systematic and intentional manipulation on the part of the filmmakers and film marketers to Americanize “Memoirs…” is not very strong. She takes a lot of liberties and makes a lot of presumptions in the absence of empirical evidence. For example, when she suggests foul play in the casting of Ziyi Zhang, her only evidence is the plethora of Japanese actresses who also auditioned for the role. So her argument sucks, but it still raises a few important questions.

Is Asian Culture misrepresented in America Cinema?

I feel, like the author of the editorial, the answer is an unequivocal yes. In the last thirty years, the majority of films involving Asian Culture, made in the U.S., involve some kind of martial arts or swordplay. This is an obvious misrepresentation. If you were to get off a plane in China or Japan, you probably wouldn’t see anything close to what is portrayed in American Cinema. So there’s misrepresentation on the part of American Filmmakers, but what makes that significant?

Is this mispresentation significant?

Unlike the author of the editorial, I feel the answer is an unequivocal. Misrepresentation of a culture is not unprecedented at all. American Cinema misrepresents pretty much all culture in their films. Do you really think “You Got Served? is an accurate representation of Black culture? Do you really think “The Transporter? represents Western European culture? These misrepresentations, I would argue, are just as gross as those inflicted upon Asian culture. After all, all British men are not all spies and all Black women are not all big-boned and loud-mouthed. Furthermore, I’m sure Chinese or Japanese cinema does the same for movies involving American culture. I’d be curious to see how they portrayed us, but I can’t foresee it being anymore accurate than we do of them. Misrepresentation is endemic in all film industries, and the reason is simple.

Most movies don’t strive to accurately represent anything.

Movies strive to present only representations that will sell in their prospective market. Film is, at its core, about manipulating reality to make it more entertaining. The question in Hollywood is: how can we tweak this culture or selectively represent it to maximize its marketing value? So if misrepresentation angers you, don’t blame the film, blame the film industry and its priorities/goals. Blame the consumer. If you look at the top grossing films in Hollywood at any given time, few if any of them can assert to be an accurate portrayal of their source material; that’s why they’re raking in the cash. Put simply, American consumers want a misrepresentation of Asian cultures; they desire an Americanized geisha. It is a product they are more willing to buy. The bottom line is that cinematic misrepresentation is inevitable in a market where it sells. If you don’t like it the image marketed of your culture, tough cookies. If you like it, lucky for you. But if you’re like most people, just accept the fact that you’re misrepresented in film and move on. As for me, I’m more concerned about how I am represented to others than my culture, because at least that’s something I can control.

On a more comic note, the author includes a rather amusing boast about herself in the article.

“…I frankly don’t need any more American men marketing East Asian women as exotic. It’s bad enough that I’ve lost count of how many Duke men have described me as such.?

I’ll admit I haven’t seen her in person. But from her picture, that statement seems to be a gross misrepresentation of Duke men. We definitely have higher standards than that. Exotic? She’s not even pedestrian.


Entry filed under: Random Thoughts.

She’s So Many Words in My Vernacular Just Happy To Be Alive

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