Lecture 15: Multicultural Fu Professor Michael Green Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

Lecture 15:
Multicultural Fu
Romeo Must Die (2000)
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Professor Michael Green
Previous Lecture
Arab representation
in Hollywood: Real
Arabs vs. Reel
Common cinematic
Arab stereotypes
Aladdin and “The
New World Order”
This Lecture
Multicultural Asian
American Identity
Rush Hour and the
Interracial Buddy
Romeo Must Die:
Interracial Romance
in Action
Contemporary Multicultural Asian
American Identity
Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999)
Directed by Chi Muoi Lo
Lecture 15: Part I
Racial Polarities
As we have discussed, race in America –
and in Hollywood movies – is often seen in
polarities of Black and White.
However, the focus on these binaries often
excludes the experiences of many other
Americans who does not count as White or
as Black.
These groups include Latinos and Latinas,
Native Americans and Asian Americans.
The Model Minority Myth
Traditional models of Asian American
identity formation, such as the model
minority myth, emphasize assimilation
into dominant Eurocentric society.
The myth looks at how well some Asian
Americans have done socio-economically –
overcoming instances of prejudice and
discrimination to find mainstream success
without resorting to political or violent
confrontations with Whites – and holds it up
as an example.
Disguising Dominant Oppression
Dominant culture than uses this example
to show other racial/ethnic minority groups
that they too can – and should be able to –
overcome barriers to achieve the American
dream, despite the realities of dominant
The myth perpetuates the idea that since
Asian Americans are doing so well, they no
longer experience any discrimination or
need public services.
Perpetuating Stereotypes
These stereotypes
assume that all
are successful and
that none struggle –
and that, further, all
Asian American
groups are the
Developing Antagonistic
The model minority myth has alienated
Asian Americans from other minority
groups – such as Blacks and Latinos – and
framed Asian-Black and Asian-Latino
relations as antagonistic, even though they
have no innate reason to be that way.
Used as Gatekeepers
“Asian Americans are figured . . . as
‘gatekeepers’ employed by the dominant
ideology to minimize or dismiss the struggles
of other racial minorities . . . such an intense
focus on the myth as the narrative that
structures Asian/Black relations severely limits
our ability to read Asian American subjectivity
in a multicultural context. Instead, we are
forced to recapitulate a black/white binary,
where Asians are pawns that stand in for
whites to police and repress Blacks.’”
LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’”
Real Repercussions
The repercussions of these social attitudes
were seen in the 1992 Los Angeles riots,
when African-Americans and AsianAmericans (particularly Korean-Americans)
fought each other in the chaos.
L.A. scholar Mike Davis and other writers
argued that tensions between AfricanAmericans and Korean-Americans during
the riots had much to do with economic
competition forced on the two groups by
wider market forces.
Political Alliances
Despite the tension at that historical
moment, Asian Americans of different eras
have called for alliances with African
Americans and the politics of civil rights,
feeling that they have more in common
with people with whom they share a history
of discrimination and subordination.
Some African Americans – such as W.E.B
DuBois – have also called for the two
groups to stand together against the forces
of racism and colonialism.
Cultural Convergence
African Americans and Asian Americans
have converged culturally as well as
Two of the most consistent sites of
convergence are music – particularly hiphop and jazz – and film, particularly Kung
Fu cinema.
For example, the Bruce Lee films and the
Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s featured
Black/Asian cultural crossover.
Cultural Contact
“Critics of kung fu locate
contemporary orientalist
inflections in hip- hop culture in
the kung fu-film boom of the
1970s. The appearance of
African Americans in Bruce Lee
films and the production of kung
fu Blaxploitation movies . . .
open up the possibilities of
cross-racial identification.”
LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’”
Cultural Contact (Continued)
“Neither, however, would claim that the films
escape charges of fetishization and
exoticization of both Asians and African
Americans. At the same time, the moments
of cultural contact and imitation in the films
offer flashes of shifting subjectivity across
supposedly impossible racial divides and lay
bare the usually obscured relation between
racialized subjects.”
LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’: Buddy-Cop Films, Rush Hour and
Asian American and African American Cross-racial Identification”
A Multicultural Generation
Some Asian
teens of recent
have been
defined as
much by
culture as by
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Directed by Justin Lin
Hybrid Identity
However, trying to understand a
hybridized Asian-American/African
American cultural identity is difficult
because examples of such an identity are
fragmentary and incoherent – and
infrequently seen in mainstream media.
Because of this, scholars have found it
difficult to describe Asian American and
African American relations in a complex
Author’s Final Point
“To read beyond black and white and even
beyond Asian and white allows us a great range
of narratives. Rather than replicating familiar
racial tales and simply substituting Asian for
white or Asian for black, the triangulation of
race gives us new questions and helps us push
other limits. In this way, we may come to
understand how Asian Americans form their
subjectivity through African American as well as
Euro-American culture.”
LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’: Buddy-Cop Films, Rush Hour and Asian
American and African American Cross-racial Identification”
Rush Hour and the Interracial
Buddy Genre
Rush Hour 2 (2001)
Directed by Brett Ratner
Lecture 15: Part II
The Historical Norm
• The historical norm in depicting cinematic
interracial relationships featuring Asians is
to pair a White man and an Asian woman
and to exoticise the woman. Examples
include Tomorrow Never Dies, Lucky
Number Slevin and The Last Samurai.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
The Historical Norm Reversed
• Rarely do we see this template reversed,
though one example can be found in
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which
includes details of the real-life relationship
between Bruce Lee and his white girlfriend.
• The film also dramatizes the effects of
harmful racist stereotypes in a scene in
which Lee and his girlfriend are mortified by
and then walk out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Pause the lecture and watch the clips from Breakfast at Tiffany’s
and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
Moving Beyond Conventions
• Contemporary American cinema has
begun to change the White/Asian template
somewhat with films such as Mississippi
Masala, Fakin’ the Funk, Catfish in Black
Bean Sauce, Rush Hour, Romeo Must Die
and the recent Ninja Assassin.
• These films have attempted to avoid the
traditional stereotypes of inter-ethnic
relations and re-envision racial identity
through Asian/Black relationships.
Rush Hour
• Among the most prominent films in
contemporary cinema featuring a Black and
Asian “couple” are the three Rush Hour films
starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
• The movies are by far the most popular films
featuring an Asian/Black star paring.
• According to LeiLani Nishime, the films
represent a rare occasion to see how
Asian/Black relations are imagined in
popular culture.
Forgetting Historical Differences
“Rush Hour’s significance does not reside in
its ability to document the current state of
Asian/Black relations. Instead it
demonstrates the creative remembering of
cultural ties and forgetting of historical
differences [such as the 1992 Los Angeles
riots] that must take place in order to
imagine the relationship at all.”
LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’: Buddy-Cop Films, Rush Hour and
Asian American and African American Cross-racial Identification”
Interracial Buddies
As we saw in Lesson 9, the template for
Interracial Buddy films features a
White/Black buddy duo with the White
buddy ultimately acting as the primary
protagonist and “ideological chaperone” for
the Black buddy, who often acts as a
desexualized caretaker to the White
In Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights,
Jackie Chan fills the role of the buddy to
Owen Wilson’s ideological chaperone.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Shanghai Knights.
Interracial Buddies
Like Shanghai Noon
and Knights, the Rush
Hour movies fall into
the genre of the
Interracial Buddy film,
but they depart from the
conventions of the
genre by replacing the
Black/White buddies
with a Black-Asian duo.
Shanghai Knights (2003)
Directed by David Dobkin
Disrupting Racial Hierarchy
Further, according to LeiLani, Rush Hour
disrupts Hollywood’s usual racial hierarchy
by refusing to make one of the buddies the
ideological chaperone.
By locating villainy in the the authority of
the American FBI and the British
colonialists; and by aligning the buddies
with another traditionally oppressed
minority, a Latina police officer played by
Elizabeth Pena.
Highlighting Alliances
These narrative
choices highlight
potential alliances
based on shared
oppression and makes
transparent the racial
power relations
obscured by
Black/White interracial
buddy films.
Pause the lecture and watch clip # 1
from Rush Hour.
Openly Addressing Difference
LeiLani recognizes that Rush Hour
stereotypes and essentializes race and
presents it outside of historical context.
But she also argues that the prominence of
race and ethnicity in Rush Hour enables
the film – unlike Black/White interracial
buddy films - to openly address issues of
racial difference and raise possibilities for
cultural exchange between Asians and
African Americans.
Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from Rush Hour.
Author’s Final Point
“Carter and Lee are disenfranchised by a
system that refuses to take them seriously,
and, in typical Hollywood fashion, they learn
to work together. What is less typical is the
explicit racialization of the power imbalances
at work here. Most buddy films displace
differences onto other issues in order to fulfill
a fantasy of racial harmony . . . In Rush
Hour, racial and cultural differences are
foregrounded, and both stars are distanced
from a white power structure.”
LeiLani Nishime, “’I’m Blackanese’”
Romeo Must Die: Interracial
Romance in Action
Romeo Must Die (2003)
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Lecture 15: Part III
Following the Trend
• While Asian/Black cinematic pairings are
rare, the director of Romeo Must Die,
Andrzej Bartkowiak was nonetheless
following a late 1990s Hollywood trend
when he conceived of a film featuring an
Asian/African American pairing.
• Like Rush Hour, the film comically
foregrounds cross-cultural
misunderstandings and appeals to a
multiracial, multi-ethnic, global action
Targeting the Market
• In “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in
Action,” Gina Marchetti argues that Romeo
Must Die especially uses casting to target
Black and Asian audiences, particularly
young audiences.
• Jet Li is cast to appeal to Asian martial arts
aficionados, and Aaliyah to appeal to rhythm
and blues fans. DMX brings rap credentials
to the project. Other prominent Black and
Asian actors include Anthony Anderson and
Russell Wong.
Meeting of Cultures
• According to Marchetti, the entire film
revolves around the meeting of African
American and Chinese popular culture
• Examples of this include martial arts, rap
and hip-hop and Blaxploitation films.
• Marchetti argues that Aaliyah carries with
her the legacy of Pam Grier and Tamara
Dobson, while Jet Li stands in for Bruce Lee,
Wang Yu, David Chiang and Ti Lung.”
Pause the lecture and watch clip #1 from Romeo Must Die
Exchange of Cultural Capitol
• Marchetti argues that, as
with Rush Hour, the
interaction between
Asian and African
American stars revolves
around the negotiation of
cultural “capital – such as
knowledge of the rules of
language, deportment,
music, film, and popular
The rapper DMX in Romeo Must
21st Century Multiculturalism
• Trish and Han meet in the melting pot of
American multiculturalism.
• Rather than assimilating into the model
minority myth perpetuated by dominant
culture, Han learns to be ‘American,’
specifically a minority, in America, through
his encounters with Black culture, which
ensures his survival.
Racial Politics of Hollywood
“Although action and romance occasionally mix in
action plots (particularly in the action-adventure
genre) and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ stories are a
staple of Hollywood fiction, the pairing of a
Chinese man and an African American woman
in a mainstream commercial film challenges
many deeply held prejudices about Asian
masculinity, African American femininity, and
the racial politics of romance in Hollywood.”
Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”
No Kiss
• Despite this meeting of cultures, racial
politics and cinematic history call for keeping
the Asian man and the Black woman from
engaging in a romantic relationship.
• Though a romance between the two leads
might seem natural, Romeo Must Die stays
true to the conventions of its genre by
privileging action/violence over romance.
Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from Romeo Must Die
The Romeo and Juliet Story
“[In Hollywood screen romances] The ‘Romeo
and Juliet’ story has been used to look at
interracial romance – entertaining fantasies of
miscegenation with the promise that death will
put an end to the illicit liaison. Generally, these
romances point to problems within both racial
groups. Typically, the nonwhite community is
depicted as cruel to its women, ‘uncivilized,’
and ‘barbaric,’ while the white community
appears as prejudiced, closed, and racist.”
Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”
Romeo and Juliet (Continued)
“The film may call for interracial understanding,
but, as in Shakespeare’s play, the illicit union
exacts its price – usually death. As in many
Hollywood ‘Romeo and Juliet’ interracial
romances, Romeo Must Die provides many
reasons for the couple to be alienated from their
families/ethnic communities . . . Trish and Han
survive the threats from their respective
communities, but they take no step to
consummate their romance”
Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”
Author’s Final Point
“However, while mainstream Hollywood may be
more open to the possible profitability of Asian
and African American stars and the complexion
of Hollywood directors may also be gradually
changing, the industry remains quite
conservative – fantasies of dissent titillate, as
they always have, but stay safely boxed in by a
racial and sexual status quo that proves
resistant to radical change.”
Gina Marchetti, “Romeo Must Die: Interracial Romance in Action”
End of Lecture 15
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