July 11th, 2009

little dragon

some insight on 'orientalism' from a film critic

Okay, so this isn't super relevant, but I do feel that it does show how some film critics and professors feel about Hollywood yellowface and 'Orientalism'.

I just got back from a showing of the 1940 British film The Thief of Bagdad, a remake of the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks film, presented by the head of film at the local community college. In a nutshell, the story is this: The king of Bagdad falls in love with the princess of Basra, but is usurped by his grand vizier and thrown out of the kingdom. He befriends a young thief, who helps him regain his throne and get the girl. The king himself mainly sticks to the 'get the girl' plot, while the thief gets to run around with a djinni and a flying carpet. (If this sounds familiar, that's because Disney used a lot of elements and character designs from this film in Aladdin.)

After the film, the college's Head of Film and Colorado Public Radio's film critic Howie Movshovitz stuck around to discuss the film. Eventually in the discussion, one audience member commented on the large diversity of the film - almost every background character was Indian, Chinese, or African, one of the main characters (Abu, the titular character of the thief) was played by Indian actor Sabu, and the Djinni was played by African American actor Rex Ingram. Mr. Movshovitz agreed that the film was really diverse for it's time, and that British Studio that produced it gave Ingram far better roles then he ever could have found in the States at the time.

However, the film also features Caucasian actors John Justin, June Duprez, and Conrad Veidt as King Ahmad, the Princess, and Jaffar, respectively. I was just about to mention this was someone else brought it up. (And if they ever find this, then you, sir, took the words right out of my mouth.) This was pretty much what he said:
"While the film is pretty diverse, I noticed that all of that diversity is kept to background and supporting roles. The "good guy" and "bad guy" roles are both played by white actors."
And this was Mr. Movshovitz's reply:
"That wasn't uncommon for the time. For a very long time, the world of films was largely "white". [...] For a lot of the Western world, anything Asian is thought of as exotic - "Orientalism" is the term often used. Many film makers would use an Asian setting purely for the exotic factor, and it would not have any bearing on the plot. So, it was acceptable to use a white actor in an Asian setting, because it was meant to be authentic... and this lasted clear up into the '90s. But this film is a bit different, in that one of the four lead characters, who gets a lot screen time, is Indian. He also winds up being the savior of the people in the film, killing Jaffar and restoring Ahmad to his throne."

So the significance I find in this is that bit about not respecting the setting. That 'Asian' only means 'exotic'. I know that this was not the case in Avatar: The Last Airbender - where as the plot of Thief of Bagdad can be picked up and dropped in a European setting without really changing the characters, it would be really difficult with Aang and Co. Asian philosophies, martial arts, and social structures were not just in the setting of ATLA, they were key to the plot. However, The Last Airbender seems to be going the way of Thief and movies like it. From what we have seen, in photos and the trailer, a lot of those key Asian influences that the creators of the show spend so much time researching are being sponged out and replaced with a standard McFantasy setting, seemingly with the attitude of 'it looks exotic and Asian-y, who cares'.

Also, I found it awesome that I wasn't the only person who thought it was weird to have white people in a South/South East Asian setting. I didn't have time to find the person who brought it up and tell them about racebending.com, but I do hope that if they see TLA, that they will have the same reaction to the casting that they had for this film.

Asian American Comic Con -- Short Version


I'm dead right now. I cannot get to my machine so I am typing this out on the Wii.

I just thought that with all the anticipation of the Asian American Comic Con today I would give a quick text update on the very basic core things that matter. So here is what you need to know imediatly:

1) We and everyone who showed up to work at the table kicked major, major ass at the con.

2) A ton of people have heard about us and we converted a few clueless people to our side very quickly.

3) T-Shirt at Silent Auction sold well for the time it was up. Also, Derek Kirk Kim LOVES his reward shirt to pieces.

4) We got a lot of media attention in the area, including a spin off of MTV for Asian Americans who loved our story and wants to report on it. I also was video interviewed twice and I have eight media contacts now that I have to get to the morning.

5) I wish I got more but I still got good pictures and video that will be up on YouTube and Facebook tomarrow.

6) Did I mention we totally kicked ass at the con and we were the heroes of the day?

Ok, for more detailed info with pictures, video and spell check, stay tuned for tomarow.

I still have no idea how we are going to do AAIFF but I'll work something out. I just hope it will be as amazing as it was today.

P.S. One last quick thing, one of our Street Team from Facebook who showed came out to Florida to see us. Not only did they inform us there is a huge fanbase in Florida we need to get in touch with, but the daughter of the duo actually auditioned for the role of Katara so I got on video first hand of what the casting for the main principal actors was like. That will be up on YouTube tomarrow too, though I'm thinking about waiting a day or two so I can edit the footage more clean.