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thegoods_kenjeong01The other day I was talking to an acquaintance who was very involved in the recent protests against the film The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. I’m sure most of our readers know about the scene from that movie which has outraged some Asian Americans: Ken Jeong plays a car salesman who gets assaulted by his white co-workers after another salesman, played by Jeremy Piven, invokes Pearl Harbor. You can read about it here.

Now, this acquaintance was very passionate about protesting this film, as well as the whitewashing of the upcoming live-action adaptation of The Last Airbender. He planned to participate in on-going actions against these two films because of the “vital” need for us to demand that Hollywood increase its representation of Asian (Americans) and to portray us more accurately.

Of course, I totally agree with this brother’s agenda. But then, the conversation turned to the work of Asian American filmmakers. And it turned out he had not paid to see any of the following films in the theaters—Better Luck Tomorrow, Saving Face, Finishing The Game, The Motel, In-Between Days, The Debut, Journey From The Fall. In fact, he couldn’t think of one Asian American indie he had paid money to see theatrically—the closest he came was the last Harold and Kumar movie, which hardly counts as an independently produced Asian American film. He was talking passionately about how we need to force Hollywood to change and show respect to our community, but even he admitted he had not done much to support our artists and our work.

Unfortunately, this brother’s story is not isolated. And herein lies the problem—it’s great that we’re willing to speak out when we see something that offends us. But until Asian Americans as a whole are willing to put down our money to support the work of our Asian American filmmakers—nothing will change. We can protest all we want, but real change will not happen until Hollywood knows we are an economic force that can make a difference in their bottom line.

I know some Asian Americans are proclaiming the protest against The Goods a success, but is it really? What did we really gain in this victory? The studio agreed to cut the offensive scene out of the trailers and promotional materials after the movie’s already been released and playing in theaters for a couple of weeks. Hello, the trailer and commercials aren’t running anymore anyways—it doesn’t seem to me the studio is really giving anything up at all.

And their willingness to engage in a dialogue with the community? Of course, they’re going to throw that out there to placate protestors. Even if they follow through and set these meetings with community leaders, you’re just going to get a bunch of mid-level suits, including the token Asian American employee, promising to keep our concerns in mind for future projects. But these suits will be fired or leave the studio within a year since that’s the way the system works, so it’s doubtful there will be any significant long-term change when a new crop of people will soon take their place.

Look, we’ve gone through this before—most prominently when Asian Americans protested Year of the Dragon in 1985 and Rising Sun in 1993—and it’s always the same song and dance. The studio will give us some small concessions that may be enough for us to save face and claim victory, but in the long run doesn’t mean shit. They’ll offer to talk to us about our concerns and maybe even follow through on that promise, but a few years later something else that’s offensive will be released to get us riled up again; negating any progress we thought we made. It’s 2009 and we’re still stuck in the same time loop and have made very little progress.

manaaBut you may be saying—well, you’re wrong, we need to protest loudly. African Americans and Latinos have done that and that’s why the studios are more likely to think twice before doing something to offend them. Yes, there is truth to that, but that’s only partially the story. It’s not just because they raise a big stink that these groups are further along in the Hollywood system then we are. It’s also because these groups put their money where their mouths are and buy movie tickets en masse.

Let’s look at African American audiences. Last year there were 11 films with a predominantly Black cast and/or writers/directors that grossed more than $400 million at the domestic box office—that’s about $1 out of every $24 dollars spent at the movies. Over the years, independent films made by and about African Americans have proved they can make money and this is what’s created a niche for more of these sort of films to be made. Here are some domestic box office grosses starting with Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It (all box office figures are from Box Office Mojo):

She’s Gotta Have it (1986): $7,137,502
Menace II Society (1993): $27,912.072
Eve’s Bayou (1997): $14,842,388
Madea’s Family Reunion (2006): $63,257,940
Madea Goes To Jail (2009): $90,508,336

Now, here are the domestic box office grosses of some of our recent and more successful Asian American indies:

Saving Face (2004): $1,187,266
Better Luck Tomorrow (2002): $3,802,390
The Debut (2000): $1,745,778

(Full journalistic disclosure for the two people reading this who are unaware of this fact: My fellow Offender Justin directed Better Luck Tomorrow as well as other films that will be mentioned here and many of the other Offenders have worked on/are working on various films with him as well.)

About 35 percent of the audience for Better Luck Tomorrow was Asian American. That roughly means that, at best, we can expect maybe $1 million to come from Asian American ticket sales. And keep in mind, these are the most successful of the bunch. Most Asian American projects don’t even crack the six-figure mark at the box office so even $1 million is a long shot. In most Hollywood box office reports, the Asian American demographic isn’t even included because we are too insignificant to make any real impact at the box office. 

Now, let’s turn to the Latino audience. As this article points out, Latinos don’t always support indie works aimed at them as consistently as Blacks do. But the sheer box office force of their population cannot be denied. Take the example of this spring’s Fast & Furious (another film directed by Justin), which was a huge hit and broke records everywhere. Although Latinos only comprise 15 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 46 percent of the audience for that film. Considering the domestic gross was over $155 million, I guarantee you that Hollywood is listening. The Fast & Furious series already features elements geared toward that audience, like the use of Latino actors in prominent roles, but you can bet there will be more of that in the next installment as well as other projects. Repeat after me—studios will care about you and cater to you if they think you will pay for their product.

fast-and-furious-cast_lI’ll admit I’ve heard some valid arguments for why Asian Americans don’t support work by Asian American filmmakers. The big one is that a lot of Asian American films suck. And I agree with that. It’s hard to muster enthusiasm and support when you keep getting bombarded with these emails about how you have to support such and such film to show Hollywood that we have box office clout and you go to the theater and wind up watching one crappy movie after another.

The quality of our films is a complicated topic that’s best suited to its own, separate blog entry, but I will say this—most of the films being released independently or by a small company won’t even register on the Hollywood radar. I’m not saying not to support them because there are small films that deserve your money, too. But if we’re talking about “sending a message” to Hollywood—you need to look at the films that have a shot in this world. They will usually be indies that have played in the major festivals like Sundance or Toronto and are being released by distributors with a track record. Better Luck Tomorrow, Saving Face, A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers and The Motel were all films that fit into this category and those are the ones most in need of our support and dollars if we’re talking about getting Hollywood’s attention. Yes, it doesn’t mean these films won’t suck either, but if you care, hey, sometimes you just have to take one for the team. Let’s be honest–Tyler Perry’s films suck, but that isn’t stopping African Americans from supporting him in a major way.

According to the census, in July 2006, there were 14.9 million Americans of Asian ancestry in the U.S. Between 2005 and 2006, the Asian population grew by 3.2 percent—the highest growth rate of any group. I’m sure there are even more Asians now but I’ll use the 2006 numbers for the following exercise:

If there are roughly 15 million Asian Americans and only 10 percent of them consistently bought tickets to Asian American indie films, that would be an audience of roughly 1.5 million. At an average ticket price of $10, that’s a $15 million box office gross just from the Asian American demographic.

That’s significant. That means that even if no one else supported our films except our own community, Hollywood would still take notice and decide that it makes good business sense to greenlight “Asian American-themed” movies in the under $8 million range. That may not seem like much when you hear about movies costing over $100 million, but it’s enough for us to create a niche for ourselves and hopefully build on that and grow. Like African Americans who complained that they weren’t allowed to make anything but the low-budget “ghetto/gangster” or minstrel type films in the ‘90s, we may be plopped into our own genre ghetto, but I’ll happily take that because it’s still a chance for our people to make films, to learn, to grow and eventually break out of our ghetto like African Americans have been doing.

Because right now—there is no market for Asian American films. I’m sorry to burst the bubble of my fellow filmmakers working on their great breakthrough Asian American film, but the reality is–the odds of your project finding success are close to nil.

Nothing will change, if our community won’t step up and show Hollywood the green. It’s a cliché, but the truth is that really is the only color that matters in the biz. Otherwise, the status quo will remain and expect more of the same old: every so often another film will come out that raises the ire of the community, we’ll protest, get some small concessions, but then it’ll be right back to business as usual. And that would be a shame.

93 Comments

  1. Sometimes the truth is the hardest pill to swallow. Too true, too true…

  2. An adept essay on the state of Asian American cinema vs. Hollywood. It covers my thoughts, and then some. If only more folks would truly put their money where their mouths were, and not up Hollywood’s ass.

  3. agree w/ all of this. also would add, when is a comedy a comedy and not racist? where is that line? who knows? also, supporting asian american films is one thing, supporting GOOD asian american films is another. i think it’s important to support it if you like it, you don’t want people to keep promoting crap, even though it’s asian american. it still has to be good.

  4. I wrote an article several years ago called Why There Are No Asians on Television, and it is the same problem over and over, the only thing Hollywood cares about is green, and in regards to the quality of API films, many can suffer because of the budget, which means WHO is investing in these films? Yeah, not those ‘protesting’. If you are protesting but really doing nothing to advance ‘the cause’, then what good is all the righteous indignation? It is worth nothing.

  5. i disagree to an extent. hollywood doesn’t always care about the green…if the movie is good, it’s good. people hate on slumdog (it is cliche) but it was from india. crouching tiger from china. it was a good film FIRST, THEN hollywood piggy backed it to make the green. and they are gonna continue to try to get more of asia on there side. make a really good movie and hollywood will back it. there’s lots of films out there, its a tough market.

  6. This is pretty much the topic I wrote my senior thesis in college about. In Hollywood, it’s all about the money.

  7. Well, maybe it’s also a matter of scale at the moment. Asian American faces/content seems to be doing quite alright on the web – Wong Fu, Nigahiga, and KevJumba come to mind.

    I personally think the entertainment business is due for an overhaul anyway – traditional theatre release hasn’t been doing all that great for non-blockbuster style films, and DVD sales are not what they used to be. Maybe it’s less about creating an expensive film that has to appeal to a wide theatre-going audience to make its money back and more about creating a less expensive production that appeals to a niche market. And less expensive doesn’t mean it has to look bad nowadays. 🙂 Film technology has come a long way.

    [Disclosure – I’m promoting my own fantasy thriller web series LUMINA at the moment, which stars Asian Americans and Asian Canadians. Please feel free to have a look if you’re interested: http://www.luminaseries.com]

  8. the problems starts w/our parents…they want all of our kids to go to college study study study to become a doctor or a lawyer…..what we have to do now is tell our kids that they can be or do whatever they want to be….like play football, basketball, base ball, become a MOVIE PRODUCER, become a screen writer, become a ACTOR!!or a comedian…its our fault that these movies still exsist because there not enough of us are IN THE “SYSTEM”…. i know my name isn’t as big as Justin Lin or Michael Kang…but be on the look out….check out my work if you get a chance….www.vimeo.com/kevinboston…im gonna help change this “system” but im not gonna protest, im just gonna focus on my work….and make a difference…

  9. Very well thought out. Valid but not comprehensive and only details part of the problem and doesn’t take in the full frame of the asian (or even non-ethnic mindset) and a few flaws from my point of view.

    First of all, I agree with neaato it’s not just about the green, but not necessarily about quality as much as appeal. Regardless of ethnicity of the audience or filmmakers, indie movies are meant to appeal to a specific demographic, which is (and I’m just generalizing here for simplicity) independently minded and more abstract/artistic thinkers. Which you’ll find is a minority even among minorities. TRANSFORMERS 2 was successful because of appeal over quality (marketing has its impact but it doesn’t dominate exit polls). Another example is Tyler Perry’s first works. Critics HATED it, but African Americans made it a success — not out of activism but because THEY LOVED IT. Critical acclaim? Nein. But it appealed to them. Asian independent films are going for such a small demographic. That’s one problem right there.

    Second of all is that I believe the expectations need to be reframed. Saying Asians should watch movies simply to support Asians regardless if the same Asian public thinks they’ll actually enjoy the movie they’re paying for smacks of some subtle form of reverse-racism. I understand the reason and wish all Asians went and saw the awesome things Asian filmmakers produce like THE MOTEL & SAVING FACE, but they should go because not only it’s good, but because they want to not just an obligation (see Tyler Perry comment).

    Because it’s such a nascent genre, perhaps (this is a theory) only the more progressive artistic Asian thinkers become filmmakers and they make films that appeal to them (progressive, artistic asian thinkers are not so common). Does this mean we have to make blockbuster type films? I dunno. Maybe.

  10. Good job Phil. Exactly what I think. I’ve told friends before that I don’t think the protest helps that much too. That’s why I just try to help these Asian American films. ^^

    So here comes a plug, but you guys decide for yourself. Go check out WHITE ON RICE when it opens in Sept. 11 at the Laemmle Sunset 5 OR Edwards Irvine Spectrum Center. If you like it, tell others. If you don’t, it will die. I happen think it’s good (which is why I worked with it… Duh!) – http://www.whiteonricethemovie.com

    Have fun debating everyone. I’m going to work on getting more films out there, and hopefully THIS one is the one that hits. It’s funny and charming, and oh yeah… it has Asian-American people in it too 😉

  11. i agree w/ everyone

    1. not enough asians in media, everyone dr’s or engineers. not a bad thing. i think like 90% of writers guild are white. just means bigger mtn to climb. getting there.

    2. it is reverse racism. it’s like if white people watched film just because it’s white. bottom line is it has to be good.

    3. agree w/ nguyen. how do you know it’s good UNTIL you watch it. only after you can talk trash or whatever you want to do. it’s like when I keep buying Wyclef albums, always HOPING i’m going to get another ‘carnival’…but it never happens. i’m buying hope, that’s what i’m buying ha

    4. there totally is something going on w/ youtube. i love how it shows that there is a niche audience. to be honest, i can’t stand most youtube celebs, but i can’t doubt the fact that theres a market there. in fact, the future can’t come soon enough. i’m still waiting for the day i can just purchase brand new films released in theaters at my own home. cut out the middle man and go directly to me. indies should be all over it, but haven’t. if i wanna watch an indie movie THIS second, why can’t i just buy it and download for the same cost? no theater needed. i remember CAAM i think did that, i think.

    i too will keep pluggin/promotin…but only stuff i like. and that’s how i think it should be.

    btw. i think this is an age old problem and can’t/haven’t been solved yet. what’s the answer? who knows? maybe there will be an ‘asian explosion’ like the latin one. but we all saw what happened to that…fizzled out.

  12. I think another problem I would love to point out in the Asian American community is that… rarely will they ever refer to each other as “Asian Americans.” If anything, it’s “Korean American,” “Japanese American,” “Chinese American,” “Vietnamese American,” “Filipino American,” and so on. Unfortunately, this whole racism within the Asian community is widely accepted currently and I haven’t really seen it change much since 10-20 years ago. It totally causes that 15 million people to be divided even more…

    I couldn’t believe myself how much of the Japanese Americans were appalled when they found out a Chinese and Korean actors and actresses were playing as Japanese. Scottish actors play English roles, some American dude plays an Italian…so why can’t we accept things like this?

    We all know it’s there behind closed doors. We probably need to fix that first. Even if it’s your Japanese grandma talking stink about the Chinese boy next door.

    I agree about the progressive thing too…

    I think I like the idea of having an Asian blockbuster film. Actually, I think I like the idea of having a blockbuster that just happens to have an all Asian casting due to the settings and a unique story.

  13. Excellent blog post! Asian Americans do need to flex their economic muscle, but I agree: most AA indie films aren’t very appealing. Why would I want to spend the time and money to watch a film that’s a depressing bore?

    I’m a guy who likes comedy and films with a tight plot, good dialog and a fast pace, so something like “Saving Grace” isn’t going to compell someone like me to go to the theater. If I wanted to reflect on my relationship with my parents and ponder the significance of my cultural heritage, then I’d rather pay for therapy.

    This is why BLT was so much more successful than any other AA indie film: tight story, fast pace, witty dialog, humorous moments.

    The Web is the great equalizer as far as representation, but nobody’s figured out to make huge amounts of money to sustain a Web film industry. Nevertheless, I think the Web will eventually influence Hollywood to come around with better Asian American representation.

  14. Yup… agreed. Supporting your local artists means parting with your hard earned cash – plain and simple.

    Compared to buying a painting, paying for a movie ticket is peanuts. Four galleries in Gallery Row closed this month. Care to guess why?

    I don’t have the slightest idea how to improve the diaspora that is Asian American film, but I would argue it would be prudent to not necessarily make “Asian-American” films. Instead, film real American stories and if they happen to incorporate Asian-Am characters in a realistic manner, then that would be swell.

    Because I’d much rather see a really good movie with 1 Asian-Am character representin’ than a crapfest full of them.

    A few examples:
    Rocket Scientist: I really dug Aaron Yoo and Steve Park.
    Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist: Again, Aaron Yoo knocked it out of the ballpark.
    Tokyo Drift: Sung Kang is easily the coolest of the cast.
    Knocked Up: Ken Jeong and Charlyne Yi steal it during the 10 seconds they’re in the movie
    The Karate Kid: Pat’s the only Asian in the movie.
    Star Trek: George Takei, ’nuff said.

    Fine, I get it… these are studio films and we’re not discussing studio films. We’re discussing AA indi film… Also, all the AAs listed here played sidekicks and we’d rather be the heavy hitters in our ballgame. But I think the AA film industry is better served if we make better films in general, not just more AA films.

    I think we pigeonhole ourselves to a certain point. As AA artists, we feel compelled to tell AA stories, but that only works if that’s really our life experience… Unless you rolled with Wah Ching, don’t make a gangster movie. We’re better off if we tell stories we know intimately.

    That’s why I write sci-fi… because I’ve been to space. 😉

  15. Don’t forget about supporting the writers. It’s always good writing that makes good films and I suspect that there are plenty of Asian writers– book and theater– that are getting overlooked.

    Asians as a whole need to support each other, period. Not just filmmakers and the film industry but as whole we just need to be more open to working together to help each other get to the top.

  16. To blog is to angst, maybe instead of complaining about lack of good movies- instead you should start making one so we could get this ball moving. But if discontent of making the same profit other races makes continues to deter, you’ve already lost. Because comparing to other cultures and their battles with Hollywood does not offer a map for everyone else. Hollywood is a pre-fabricated idea that we all buy into, by challenging one part of it you are questioning the entire model. Its a shame your blog shifted from a gripe piece about the Goods to a rant about asian american indies, you were almost on to something. Maybe you should re-edit this piece with a hypothesis to move forward- such as creating a new asian american hollywood or offering a new medium Asians alike can support their indies through. But please, these whiny complaint pieces are getting old. Don’t hate because the African American’s have moved forward- get in where you fit in.

  17. ^
    Umm curry, they peeps on this site actually do make movies so they have the right to “whine” because it comes from real experience.

  18. anyways, I agree with peeps on making movies that appeal to a wider audience. Since we have a small population, we have no choice but to target the whole population if we want to make any considerable impact. Indie dramas don’t sell. It’s a rule of thumb. So stop making them!

  19. curry’s post was like those posts in forum’s where the complainer complains that there is too much complaining. ha. this is what BLOGS were made for. discussion/comments. bloggers blog, writers write, filmmakers film. you can’t tell bloggers to go make a film. that’s like telling a filmmaker to be a blogger.

    what this DID do is open up discussion that’s all. maybe there will be some answers, here on the comments, who knows. at least phil got some people to talk. maybe people will collab and figure something out in the future. maybe an idea out of all this chaos…but things don’t just happen out of nowhere.

    but i do agree w/ curry on comparing to other races. ever culture is different. tyler perry got the film/tbs (very funny..not) part down. asian americans got the whole youtubey thing down.

    saying maybe we should create a ‘new asian american hollywood’…what do you mean? like more than just asian american film fests? i’m not being sarcastic either, really, what do you mean by asian american hollywood and new mediums?

    also not sure about ‘howstranges’ comment of STOP making indies. not everyone can afford big budget films. in fact barely anyone can. it’s not really a matter of choice haha. plus, people will always do what they love anyways, so it doesn’t matter.

    there’s still gonna be 90% starving artists to 10% of those making dough. and that’s okay. artists do it for the love anyways.

  20. To get recognition, there has to be support for Asian American films…even the sucky ones.

    This is how the gay community has gotten better and better gay themed films and a stronger presence in mainstream films/media. We go to the festivals and theater whenever a gay film is released…good or not. We just go. This is the beginning of recognition of a viable market share and the films have steadily improved.

    It boils down to supporting your own community as it is struggling to find a voice and make quality productions instead of waiting until it has fully arrived. The more money that flows the better the productions will become.

  21. i remember justin lin at a film festival and he said THE REASON why hollywood studios dont care about the asian demographic is because asian american moviegoing habits are nearly the same as WHITES. so how to break away and get noticed? going to see an asian american movie and make it a hit seems the best possible way. justin lin’s better luck tomorrow was an unqualified success. was it as huge as my big fat greek wedding? no. but it made a profit and many of the cast and crew are still working, some one high profile movies like lin and sung kang, and others still doing pretty respectable midlevel indie sized fare. this success is according to the blogger 35 percent thanks to AAs. We’ve got to keep building on that success so that one day we will have a hit “driven by the AA audience” that will make the suits in hollywood perk up and listen. I think this is the only way to change the system so keep up the fight. Change happens in increments and before you know it, it will be here.

  22. What can help is when (asian) directors, casting agents, producers advocate to cast an asian-american person in a positive or humane role in any movie, not just one “made for asian-americans.”

    In addition, I think that Hollywood would fear protests by asians — IN ASIA. That’s where the new profits are, and that’s where protests would hurt the most.

  23. I was at an event where Justin Lin spoke and he said a studio exec told him that Asians buy movie tickets in much the same way as white americans buy movie tickets, so they are not counted as a different demographic. That killed me.

    In Hollywood, the ticket is our vote. It’s not just about buying tickets for indie Asian or Asian American films, it’s also about NOT buying tickets to things that we find offensive, or movies we don’t want to watch.

    The protests create press, the press gets the word out, and the word could encourage someone not to watch the movie. That helps. I didn’t know there was something offensive in The Goods, but guess what, the protests created press, I read this blog, and even if I might like the movie, I will not pay for a ticket and cast my vote.

    As an actor, I view things from the casting lens. Before even making Asian American blockbusters, before making Asian American indies, how about just having believable Asian characters in mainstream TV and movies? I auditioned for a pilot and they still asked if I had martial arts experience. They still wanted a humorless, sexless, quiet (he had 2 lines, even though he is a series regular) kung fu guy.

    I don’t think we’ve successfully infiltrated the system. We’ve been so busy trying to change it from the outside. Before we can have an Asian American blockbuster, let’s have an awesome Asian character in a Hollywood blockbuster movie that isn’t chopping his way through bad guys (or the English language) or laughing at the offensive jokes his white friends are making. The system will not change unless we become a part of it. There are those at the forefront that are slowly doing it now.

  24. Well….here’s a chance for everyone to support an American movie with an all-Asian cast – “White on Rice” opens in limited release Sept. 11th (visit http://www.whiteonricethemovie.com for theaters) — we definitely need the $$$ to open wider….

  25. As a strategy suggestion, here is an idea: Asian-American film makers should try to expand their venue, income, and build bridges to overseas Asian audiences.

    There is probably a great deal of interest in the Chinese(Korean/Japanese/Filipino)-American experience in China (Korea/Japan/Philippines). For example, has there even been a movie made about a romance between an Asian student studying in an American college and an Asian-American? Or about some of the less than ideal immigrant experiences in America, such as parents struggling alone and children having to deal with racism & identity & cultural estrangement? (If not, then please go ahead and freely use these ideas.) Such movies would probably have to be bilingual, and also appeal to the sensitivities and tastes of the specific Asian audience as well.

    There also exists prominent bilingual or English speaking talent that have left Hollywood for greener pastures & more humanizing opportunities in Asian entertainment. They could be ideal headliners in overseas markets for an Asian-American film dealing with across-the-ocean life stories.

    If these films gain mass appeal & profit, then the Asian-American film genre & the filmmakers will gain more clout.

  26. Hollywood’s racism is not about money.
    The low percentage of asian-americans in the population might explain why there aren’t any movies aimed at them, but it doesn’t explain why hollywood is so racist towards them year in and year out. You can’t tell me that americans would refuse to go to a movie if it DIDN’T have racism towards asians in it. And you can’t tell me that americans would go to a movie solely because it DID feature racism towards asians. “The Goods” prominently featured anti-asian racism in the commercial, and yet it tanked. “Star Trek” prominently featured an asian dude in the commercial, and it made $275 million.
    Anti-asian racism in Hollywood is not about money, it’s about controlling society’s attitudes towards asians.

  27. Hooray for this blog post! Except you left out one other Asian American film we need to support–currently on the fest circuit and doing some DIY distribution: CHILDREN OF INVENTION by Tze Chun. It premiered at Sundance ’09, won 7 festival awards, had been well reviewed by blogs and mainstream press alike, and played 21 fests this year and will play at least 14 more in the next 2 months. Buy a ticket (or DVD!) for the film that the Film Society of Lincoln Center said was “As close to cinematic purity as one is likely to see this year”: http://www.childrenofinvention.com/screenings.htm (Full disclosure: I produced it! ;))

  28. Well, Star Trek made $256 million.

    Actually, when I checked box office, three of the top five grossing movies of the year thus far prominently feature Asian American actors.

    Up – Jordan Nagai
    The Hangover – Ken Jeong
    Star Trek – John Cho

    I agree with Philip. Film studios are all about maximizing profits. Hence any script with Asian American content will face the question, can we have a marketable non-Asian lead play it instead? The numbers are simple. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise (well, maybe not anymore) and Will Smith are the closest things to insurance a studio has that an expensive film will open big at number one.

    I think all these things take time. The audience will grow, the stereotypes will become less and less valid, the quality of the films and artists will improve…for me, I can list at least seven films growing up that impacted me as an Asian American.

    Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
    The Joy Luck Club
    The Last Emperor (technically not American, but they do speak English)
    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
    The Wedding Banquet
    The Karate Kid I & II

    These are all very famous movies, all breakthroughs in their own way, all featuring lots of Asians in prominent roles. Arguably, today’s Asians in film are less stereotypical than in these movies…so already that’s some kind of progress. Slow but surely.

  29. as an asian american with a lot of experience in asian american theater and the arts and loads of asian american friends in the industry, i must say that most works by asian american artists/filmmakers/etc. simply SUCK.

    why? two main reasons…

    1) when you marginalize your content and make it “for asian americans” or “asian american themed”, that’s really a load of crap. as artists, instead of striving to tell a UNIVERSAL story through the lens of a particular culture or experience, most asian ams try to tell some sort of story about the “asian american experience.” do that, and you’ll ALWAYS limit your audience to the progressive, culturally aware margins, that, while they fight a good cause, will never truly help you get a leg up in the mainstream.

    i’m not saying one should sell out and be all whitewashed, i’m just staying stop making and labeling your shit “asian american art.” just make fuckin’ ART. cast asian american actors if you’re in a position to do so, and let them simply “happen to be asian”. don’t make movies about “being chinese american” or “being japanese american” unless you’re truly telling a ROCK SOLID, airtight story with universal themes that you can reasonably expect will touch people even corners of the world you’ve never heard of. let the motif and the mis-en-scene be chinatown or whatever, but stop making the theme and plot about your own damn asianness and inability to fit in in white america. that’s a trite-ass story that has been told a thousand times by people like amy tan and wayne wang ten times over. the reason better luck tomorrow had a modest amount of success is because it avoided that pitfall, and just “happened to be” about asians. aspire to something higher than ethnic empowerment and validation, stop trying to justify your own existence in america, and you’ll be able to actually make work that at least has a shot of going beyond the self-congratulation of people within the asian american community.

    2) secondly, don’t HALF-ASS it. i read some great piece a while back by an asian american actress (can’t remember who) and she was saying that the reason asian american actors don’t succeed is because they half ass it, in that they don’t fully invest themselves in being an actor or an artist. they don’t starve when they should, and instead fall back on cushy day jobs in much the same way that their parents pushed them to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. now while that’s a generalization, i definitely think there’s some truth to it. if you’re an actor or a director or any sort of artist of any sort of ethnicity, you should do your best to perfect your craft, absorb influences (outside of the mainstream for goodness sakes, dig deeper and get serious, even if that shit comes from dead white guys) and get rid of your safety nets like a real bohemian.
    then maybe we’ll start seeing some work WORTHY of mainstream attention, whether or not it actually receives any.

  30. Angry Black Woman also responded to this post…

    http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/09/02/the-problem-with-viewing-films-by-demographic/

    My thoughts: People are so used to “white stars” = movie for everyone, “PoC stars” = maybe it’s only for that subset of PoC that when movies like Saving Face or Better Luck Tomorrow come out, people who are not Asian assume it’s only for Asians, and don’t go. It’s so engrained in peoples’ minds simply because Asian American actors have never been mainstreamed!

    I don’t know if “supporting your own” is enough either. Should we have to pay money to be included? I feel like that should be an entitlement, not something we have to earn.

    Perhaps this is part of the reason why they felt they had to whitewash Airbender. Maybe a panethnic Asian cast would have been inferred to be “a movie for Asians.” (This is a crappy argument anyway, given how famous Avatar is and how many people understood the characters were Asian and still watched the series, anyway.)

    I think withholding money from The Last Airbender and protesting is still a start. While it may be impossible to calculate how much money Paramount lost from this protest, it’s safe to see that they know that they have lost some. Hopefully the money they have lost is more than what Jackson Rathbone and Dev Patel will bring in.

  31. neaato, I should have clarified. I didn’t mean for us to stop making indies. I meant for us to stop making indie dramas. It’s generally accepted that indie dramas have very little chance of getting picked up.

    I also agree with Choomok that it isn’t just about money. There is racism at play. It’s a racism that stems from ingrained archetypes and plot devices that have become standard tools in Hollywood filmmaking.

    We are all familiar with the racist Asian archetypes. It’s a tough thing to break because when one contradicts a long established character archetype(stereotype), things don’t seem correct and the audience won’t buy into it.
    To the general audience, an Asian American Male can’t convincingly play a lead romantic role. It just goes against the accepted Asian Male archetype.

    In terms of plot devices.. for example, it’s a standard plot device in a romantic comedy to use the “funny Asian scenario or joke” as a comedic ice breaker to bring the white or black couple closer together. For example.. A couple are on a blind date. They’re at a Chinese restaurant. They’re nervous. Enter comedic accented waiter who asks them if they want “fly lice”.. the couple laughs.. they get a little closer.. the audience laughs, the audience begins to endear themselves to the white characters.

    So you see, the racist Asian stereotypes are ingrained and powerful tools for the Hollywood film maker. It’s an industry of formulation, and they won’t easily give up their Asian “ingredient”.

  32. In response to R’s comment, I’ve always found that the use of the term “universal themes” sounds suspiciously like “stuff white people like” or, at the very least “stuff that won’t offend white people.”

    I’m sick to death of Asian American family melodramas as a genre but in those films, they have themes and stories about family dysfunction and “fitting in” (assimilation by a different name). Those seem rather universal to me – there’s no shortage of mainstream Hollywood films (good and bad) that plumb these same exact themes, the only difference is that they don’t always have immigrant histories attached to them (unless you’re making a film about Irish or Italian Americans).

    I think R is off target here. The problem is that these those films are, per se, burdened with non-universal themes. It’s that they are not well made.

    The Godfather is ALL ABOUT family relations and dysfunction. It’s also, intensely, a story about immigrant America. One could say, based on its critical and commercial success, that “The Godfather” must have appealed “universally” somehow yet why didn’t it – as arguably the greatest (or at least, best known) film about Italian Americans – scare off non-Italians from watching it?

    I’d suggest two reasons:

    1) It was a really fucking good film.
    2) Italian American stories are more easily acceptable by mass audiences than Asian American stories.

    The “universality” of the themes is a red herring.

  33. Small typo: I meant to say, “The problem is NOT that Asian American films are, per se, burdened with non-universal themes. It’s that they are not well made.”

    But I also don’t want to overstate that point – there’s quite a few Asian American films that I do think are well-made (my blog wouldn’t exist otherwise). My point here is the popularity of an Asian American (or any other) film is rarely premised solely on the basis of its universal themes.

    Unless “blowing shit up” + “T&A” = universal themes and even then, it’d only be universal to men.

  34. Godfather is a really interesting point. Italian American stories are more easily acceptable, but why?

    In the films before the Godfather, Italian Americans were seen as hoodlums, gangsters, speaking accented English, etc. It took Italians several generations in American culture and Coppola’s embrace of this ingrained stereotype to retell the stereotype with cinematic quality, affection for these characters, and a mainstream audience ready to see it.

    Isn’t that what Asians will have to endure as well?

  35. Another self-sulking pity-petting crazy talk. Get a life,.. Stop being an over-analyzing basket case. Here is why this article blows.

    1) Has anyone heard of a word “MARKETING” ?
    Poor marketing = poor result in sales. Just as simple as that. Most asian american movies are under budgeted, barely able to pay for the coffee for the crews, let along pay for the marketing and advertising. .. enough said for that one.. hire a marketing specialist.

    2) Domestic vs. International Market.
    Without insulting the writer, just ask one question for yourself. Which pie is bigger. Domestic market or International market? If you say domestic, you are a fool. The Hollywood is hungry for eating up the international market. Just look at the recent pictures and ask yourself why are there token asians in the movie? And guess who has the biggest growing movie market? Guess who are living in those countries. Not the bleach blond girls from Kansas.

    The problem with Asian american movie makers is that they forgot to think big. They only try to sell the movie ticket to the white audience in Midwest. Oh.. I forgot the writer’s point. Asian american movie makers are try to sell movie tickets to the exclusively Asian american living in Midwest. With corns, squirrels, and ground-hogs that would be a fairly big market I think.

    3) Labeling movies.
    This movie is a Latino movie, that movie is African american movie.. is not benefiting anyone. Asian american movies makers need to wise up..You, you, you included. here is an movie idea: Let’s all make White Exploitation films for a change.

    I sure hope I did not over analyze this time..
    -E

  36. Howard: an excellent point. And I’d posit it’s not because Italian American consumers stepped up and asserted themselves.

    One of the things that did happen, however, was that successive generations of Italian Americans got into filmmaking and started shifting the direction of the stories being told and images being shown. *And even despite that, it’s not hard to find Italian American stereotypes in Hollywood, not the least of which is as gangsters.*

    You can’t win. 😉

  37. Not speaking for Phil, but I think Ed, you are under analyzing.

    1. Marketing costs money too, sometimes just as much as producing a film. Most all indie films try to work through press and word of mouth.

    2. International is a bigger pie but domestic is the biggest single market. U.S. domestic is a hard enough nut to crack. Without big American studio clout, major talent, or a film that has a festival pedigree (Cannes, Sundance, etc.), your movie still has no chance of selling to international markets that consist of dozens of companies that each have separate film industries and audiences at home.

    3. Yeah, labeling is not helping anyone. But the fact is that that’s how the studios think of these things. They’re the ones producing and marketing the film based on demographic surveys they conduct that meticulously track each segment of the population, which they want to target, because that’s how they make money.

  38. “hire a marketing specialist”

    That’s brilliant. I’m sure no one has ever thought about doing this before.

    The only thing worse than a dick-swigging, big-talking internet douchebag is one who’s talking out of their ass and thinking they’re dropping knowledge bombs.

  39. ow,

    i agree with you to a point. i think my distaste of “asian american” themes stems largely from the fact that they have been overdone. we’ve all seen the ‘saving face’ story, the ‘generation gap’ story, and the ‘trying to fit in’ story ad nauseum in asian american film. sure those can be universal themes in the right hands, but they’ve been done to death already IMHO. and personally, at this point in my filmgoing life, i’m inclined to avoid that stuff because i really do feel like i’ve seen it all before.

    and yes, i would definitely say that the godfather is the crowning cinematic telling of the immigrant experience in america. but i think what gave it mainstream acceptance was also the fact that it REVOLUTIONIZED cinema, and was completely groundbreaking for its day. back then, gangster villains talked like hyper-stylized james cagney ripped from pulp serials. the godfather came along and introduced a level of filmmaking artistry that forever changed the game. it was an immigrant story, but it was so well done that frankly, i’ve yet to see the need to ever have it told again whether through the eyes of a chinese family or any other ethnic clan.

    don’t get me wrong, i’m very much in support of asian americans actors and filmmakers. i just want them to take more chances and innovate, not just regurgitate or try to measure up to some nebulous standard of quality as set by mainstream hollywood filmmaking. frankly that seems to be what everyone by and large aspires towards – success and representation within the major studio system.

    as a result, the only way asian am artists will ever successfully “take it to the next level” is to broaden their horizons and forget about fighting for the crumbs of an aesthetically bankrupt industry. i have a feeling that if someone really came along and made a film that, like the Godfather, simply blew everything out of the water in its time, it would get the recognition it deserved, not just by activists in a specific ethnic community.

  40. It seems that the liberals that run hollywood are really racist against Asian people. Jon stewart (remember the olympics?), sarah silverman, the fake mexican (check out joe rogan vs ned holness on youtube) mencia, etc. All the Asian Americans complain about hollywood casting while failing to realize that all these “guilty white” liberals who run hollywood (when it comes to blacks and mexicans) discriminate. Now pass the deutchy on the left hand side.

  41. by the way, i think an argument can be made that the reason films from ASIA often get some level of mainstream acceptance (or at least critical acclaim) in the west is because they are usually free from the baggage of “identity politics” in their art.

    sure, you could say that white people simply like exoticised stuff like jet li and kung fu, but i don’t think that holds much water. take any of takeshi kitano’s comedies or john woo’s pre-US works, before he went to shit. discerning fillm fans know what’s good, regardless of the ethnicity of the casts.

  42. r. is a white poser on this site. He’s a liberal racist to boot.

  43. Just to clarify though, Coppla had to work for the industry and win an Oscar before even being able to get a chance to direct The Godfather, which was he was lucky enough to do under an unlikely risk-taking major studio head. If we’d learn a lesson, it would be work for the crumbs and then innovate later when you have the power.

  44. There’s no point in comparing Asian American w/ Asian cinema. What do they share in common? It’s not like people talk about Marty Scorsece when they’re talking about Italian cinema or compare African American traditions in filmmaking with African cinema.

    Completely apples and oranges.

  45. Takeshi Kitano’s films and John Woo’s pre-US films didn’t do anything at the US box office. Even Miyazaki’s films pushed by Disney didn’t do especially well compared with homemade fare that’s not as good. What kind of mainstream acceptance is that!

    And Asian American film has gotten critical acclaim…see Roger Ebert and the Academy Awards.

  46. howard –

    that’s a good point. but in the age of youtube, final cut, and new media, the playing field for filmmaking has been democratized to a large degree, just as it has with the music industry. point is. you can get your shit done and get it out there now more than ever before, without having to ever be beholden to “the man.”

    ow –

    the point in comparing asian to asian american cinema is that it is indeed possible to show asian faces onscreen and have them accepted by a mainstream filmgoing public. the works simply have to be 1) good and 2) not weighed down by the baggage of identity politics or self-marginalized as “asian american.”

    shen –

    lol i’m not white. a banana maybe. a liberal definitely. a racist, probably on a few subconscious levels. we all have our own shit to work through when it comes to that sort of thing.

    but for me to place the responsbility on asian american artists, actors and filmmakers to STOP SUCKING is something that i’ve arrived at after a LONG journey through the stages of cultural awareness,activism and even militancy, and finally, simple acceptance that raging against the hollywood machinery is not very effective when, as asian american artists, most have yet to perfect their craft – their writing, acting, or filmmaking – to any level of competency, much less virtuosity.

  47. kitano and woo are both recognized as geniuses in the west, and woo has been hugely influential for his style. he’s gotten breaks in hollywood, and cast people like chow yun fat as leads within the studio system. miyazaki won the oscar for spirited away.

    though the deck IS unfairly stacked against asians, my point is, talent can and does win out.

  48. Oscars and recognition are not the same as mainstream success.

  49. John Woo is a mainstream success, but he never cast Chow Yun Fat in his American films.

  50. R: The film industries in various Asian countries have far more history and resources to develop films that will go over well with diverse audiences around the world. Asian American cinema is far younger (and poorer) by comparison.

    The question at hand here is not “are Asian faces acceptable to viewers”. They are. They have been. The question is how can Asian Americans, as a community, exert greater control over our own images. Overseas cinema doesn’t play into that dynamic except in those cases of more transnational immigrant filmmakers such as Wayne Wang, Ang Lee and the like.

  51. OW, you’re right. i more or less agree on both counts, however i would argue that overseas cinema becomes a huge part of the equation when not just the directors come over, but also when stars like jackie, jet, and chow start making hollywood movies. their performances very much reflect on us because the american public by and large doesn’t know (or care) about the difference between asian americans and asians.

    why are these guys getting work, while asian american actors aren’t? i’m sure it doesn’t exactly sit well with a lot of asian americans when you have jackie chan coming over and playing some goofy ass clown to chris tucker in rush hour. yet, jackie will get the roles because he’s bankable and has all the name recognition in the world. oh yea, and he had to earn that recognition by building a body of work that was crazy, daring, and totally unique in the history of cinema.

    ultimately, we’re on the same side and want the same thing. i simply think that as asian americans, we tend to keep ourselves down by producing works of limited quality and scope, and offering up actors of sub-par talent. that’s all i’m really saying.

    as for asian cinema having more resources, i’m not suggesting we need to be making big budget action spectacles or epics in order to advance our cause. we need to first and foremost TELL GOOD STORIES, and i really don’t think we do that.

    btw i was AT sundance when better luck tomorrow screened, and roger ebert gave it props. i loved the film, and really felt that it was a breakthrough for us both commercially AND critically. it was hip, it was edgy, and it was well made. but since then, BLT has proven the exception, not the rule. has there really been anything all that impressive since? i’ll admit i haven’t quite kept up; everything that i have had the chance to see since BLT has proven to be totally lame. so you could say i’ve given up largely due to disillusionment.

    thus, as much as i agree with the original article’s points about hollywood economics, i don’t think i would go support some movie anymore that “simply had asian ams in it.” the cold reality is that we need to up our level of talent and quality of work in order to even deserve a seat at the table.

    howard – i’d take an oscar anyday over a big box office, the 2nd usually follows the first anyway.
    re: chow yun fat, you’re right. i forgot that replacement killers wasn’t a john woo film. but he did bring chow over and get him a foot in the door in other ways.

  52. btw, rereading some of the other comments on this thread, “nic” posted at 3:33pm essentially what i’ve been trying to say. only he did so much more succintly and without quite so many rambling detours.

  53. Hmm, I’m doing pretty good. I paid to see the theatrical releases of Better Luck Tomorrow, Saving Face, The Motel, Finishing the Game and Undoing (pat pat lol). But I see the point of the ghettoization comment: To Sleep With Anger, a serious 1990 black film, only made $1.16 million at the box office even with Danny Glover in a major role.

    Signed, film-loving white dude

  54. R: Nic’s comments are pretty much on the same “make more films with universal themes”. He writes, “film real American stories”.

    I’m sorry but based on what I think is being communicated here – not to mention the examples he chose – “real American stories” sounds a lot like code for “stuff White viewers will want to see.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I rather liked “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” b/c Kat Dennings is a dime and I’m a fan of Cera but it has a very particular cultural perspective (20-something, upwardly mobile, white). Definitely anything but “universal.” Same goes for Judd Apatow’s movies (which I also happen to like). They’re not universal just because they’re popular.

    Most Asian American movies don’t suffer from “narrow” themes. Seriously, name me one Asian American film that was brilliant in all ways EXCEPT that its themes weren’t universal enough?

    Go ahead. I’ll wait.

  55. (I really wish there was an “edit” function on these comments).

    I wanted to add that one of the problems I see is not that the themes are too narrow or wide…it’s mostly that there’s too much *obvious* intent smothering a particular film. You can make a family melodrama (but please don’t) that doesn’t have to wear “I’m a family melodrama” on its sleeve. You can make a film about the “immigrant experience” that doesn’t smash you over the head with that.

    It comes back to the challenges of storytelling. And this is not unique to Asian American cinema.

  56. The original point of this was to show how raising our voices is not enough. Why because of the obvious racism against Asian Americans in hollywood as some other posters posted. Why all the excuse making for these white masters? Maybe take some action like the blacks, By Any Means Necessary. Militant Asian Americans anyone? Oh, and I checked out Joe Rogan Vs Ned Holness/carolos “fake mexican” mencia on youtube. Great stuff. Do you think rosie odonell, sarah silverman, jon “olympics in China” stewart, chelsea “I make fun of Asian kids/angelina’s son” and all the other white liberals in hollywood want more Asian Americans in film?

  57. Great post. I just posted about the post myself.

    http://www.bigwowo.com/2009/09/show-me-the-money/

    I agree with Ji-Hyun about writers. Part of the issue, I think, is the fact that Asian Americans as a group do not spend enough time thinking introspectively. A lot of the issues that we see in Asian American literature and film are portrayed in overly simplistic terms–my traditional parents don’t understand me, the food I eat is different from American hamburgers, I can’t speak Chinese as well as my parents, etc. We don’t spend enough time thinking introspectively and focusing on the bigger issues–emasculation, finding a calling, understanding the need for growth and contribution. In most societies, this introspection usually takes place among the writers and readers. We do have exceptions–some writers, like Gish Jen, for example, spend a lot of time with introspective thinking. But the trend has yet to trickle down to many of the rest of us. If we could make introspection a trend, and if we could get people to share their thoughts, we’d have a revolution.

    So that’s my thought–improve the writing, improve the introspection, and the film industry will follow.

  58. I guess you haven’t seen Better luck tomorrow, map of the human heart, the lover or any other of the scant offerings. Check out Slanted screen to find out how really “introspective” Asian Americans are and how badly we are treated. Where is the self respect from the so called Asian Americans? Just like some other AsAM said, “why are you making excuses for the whites?” The dude rizal put up specific people, not just “hollywood” who sets Asians up for failure and keep repeating the bad stereotypes about us. And if Asian Americans keep okaying everything and going along with being treated like dirt, that is how you will be treated. Is self loathing really that ingrained in the Asian American experience?

  59. OW –
    Does Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters count? Directed by a white guy starring an all Japanese cast. It’s Asian AND American, tho technically not Asian American.

    I’m not comfortable with extreme interpretations. Perhaps I wasn’t articulate enough, but I certainly did not mean “stuff White viewers will want to see” when I wrote “film real American stories.” It comes off as too jingoistic for my taste. I wasn’t even thinking about White viewers, but all people in general and mostly me and what I want to see.

    I simply meant filmmakers would do better if they concentrated first on stories they know well… if you worked in a hospital, write a medical drama. There is certainly room there for a Korean doctor character or a Filipino nurse. Without first hand intimate knowledge of the world the story is based in, films can come off as extremely unauthentic which is a terrible movie-going experience for everybody.

    In any case, I’m simply reiterating the same point most folks are making here over and over again, which is to write better stories overall. I may not know the answer, but that will hopefully be my approach.

    Great thread, Phil! It’s been lots of fun reading everybody’s commentary on this topic!

  60. r.,

    The point of this article is that Hollywood careers are based on bankability, i.e. having an audience that will pay money to see your work. Without that, it’s likely we’ll never be able to support a career that allows for the innovative creativity that you believe Asian Americans should aspire to, despite a ton of critical acclaim and awards. Mainstream success really is a lot more than the taste of cineastes.

  61. In the 80s magazines like vogue had very few blacks on the cover because they said that revenues went down. But guess what, liberal editors insisted on it anyway. It comes down to this, guilty white (term by black writer Thomas Sowell) liberals will not do Asians a favor like hooking them up in a movie. They just put us down and don’t report stories that injure us. Look at the recent Philly story about Asian kids getting assaulted. Where is the outrage from the ACLU? If it was blacks or mexicans harassed then the whites would have their panties all in a bunch. Quit making excuses for the liberal whites, they’re more racist than you think. Look at the examples stated earlier. The posters that stray off the subject do nothing to address the problem. They
    re full of crap and are probably whites with Asian fetishes pretending to be Asian. If the press (liberal) won’t do anything then I agree with an earlier statement that Asian Americans should defend themselves by “any means necessary” but instead of KKK members it’s blacks and members of the liberal white community (who own’s Chink’s restaurant in PA? That’s right, a white fucker). The red pill or the blue pill people. Asians are suppose to be smart, then wise up and see who really is racist against us.

  62. ow –

    “Most Asian American movies don’t suffer from “narrow” themes. Seriously, name me one Asian American film that was brilliant in all ways EXCEPT that its themes weren’t universal enough?”

    i think in my rather verbose and inarticulate way, by saying “non-universal themes” i mean that AA filmmakers tend to limit the scope of their own work by writing (and selling) it as a specifically AA story. maybe it’s all in the marketing, but whenever i see something that is about “the chinese american experience” or “the vietnamese american experience,” or if it’s a film that sells having an “asian american cast,” it’s a huge turnoff and i’m rarely ever inclined to plunk down my dollars just to watch it.

    earlier generations of writers and filmmakers, when our “art” was in a more nascent stage, could justifiably address the immigration tale or the generation gap and tell those stories because the voices had to start from somewhere, but i personally feel like asian american artists, nay, asian americans IN the arts, should have evolved past that stuff by now. and sadly, i really don’t think most have.

    as an AA of a different creative stripe (i’m not a filmmaker or an actor, but rather a musician btw) it pains me to see someone put out a work and say “this is an AA film”, or “we are an AA rock band.” what that does is that automatically positions the artist or work for qualification against some sort of nebulous, mainstream norm that is somehow the standard of excellence we should all aspire to. (“See! Asian Americans can rap!” “Asian Americans can act!” “This is an Asian American story!”) It just comes off as rather lame, and to tie it all back to the article, I’d say that has a LOT to do with why our shit doesn’t sell.

    you wonder why people will go see rush hour, but not a film like The Debut? it’s because we effectively marginalize ourselves by putting out “asian american” content and selling it as that.

    now i’ve recognized that i’ve gone on a huge tangent from the initial blog entry, which was simply about the economic realities of it all. but as an artist, that’s not something i particularly care to expend too much time and energy worrying about. i’d rather simply focus on my craft, and would urge fellow AAs to do the same. that way, when the opportunity DOES arise for say, an actor, he or she can go out for all the non-ethnic-specific roles and they won’t have any excuse to be passed up simply because they’d be too damn good. the same goes for directors and filmmakers; they had NO CHOICE but to sign Justin Lin and pick up BLT for distribution, simply because it was hot ass shit.

    perhaps it’s a naive view, but i do think that work of real quality and innovation will get recognized, no matter the ethnicity behind it.

  63. This poster r. is definitely some white dude trying to confuse people into thinking he’s Asian. He writes,

    “you wonder why people will go see rush hour, but not a film like The Debut? it’s because we effectively marginalize ourselves by putting out “asian american” content and selling it as that.”

    I guess he’s never heard of spike lee or any of his early work specifically about blacks or any of the black directors that specifically focus on black themes. Also look at the size of his post. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. You wanna know why there were no Asians in Star Wars? Racist liberals. Some of the other posters that say liberals can be racists are right on the money.

  64. You guys can complain all you want about how white liberals are at fault for all the racist depictions, but it still doesn’t change the fact that there is a significant lack of support from Asian Americans for AA films. I’m not sure if some of you guys really realize this, but the posters on this site from some of the guys from BLT (Justin Lin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan) as well as other AA filmmakers who have been doing this for a long time. Since they’re the ones who live off of doing this kind of work, I think their opinion has a lot more merit than you guys who are just ranting and not coming up with any solutions. I’m tired of seeing guys like you who just complain all the time about being in an unfair position but don’t do anything to change it. Sure, there are probably a ton of racist liberals in Hollywood. But think about it, if you were in their position, wouldn’t you rather do something that would maximize your own profits instead of just for the sake of offending other people? In other words, I think there are a lot more people in Hollywood who are there for the money than there are people who are there because they have some weird vendetta against Asian people.

  65. Yo, RL. You know people are out to make money but how do you explain movies like boysnda hood or do the right thing. These films made little money but still got these directors huge deals. The name of this post is “why protests won’t help” if you can’t remember. Also why can white liberal hollywood put a black character in place of a white one while never doing that with someone like Jason Scott Lee or roger fan for that matter. Check out Slanted Screen, an excellent doc to see real discrimination today and ask yourself truthfully who controls hollywood. My brother actually started as an Agent at Endeaver and the character in Entourage is based on him but they made him gay. Would they have done that to a white or heaven forbid black person? RL you at least entertain the thought of racist liberals in LA but remember that I would love it if Asians were working in hollywood as much as at least the mexicans.

  66. I agree with Choomok. This isn’t as simple as money. There is ingrained biases and racism in hollywood. This article and a lot of comments seem to rationalize this bias as benign and a result of economics. This is not true. Hollywood has always taken on esoteric causes. For example, spreading the popularity of the dalai lama and the good naturedness of Jews. In fact, the movies and media themselves are a tool to shape popular thought. Recently, all you see are heroic protrayals of African americans.Of course blacks will fill up seats when they see themselves protrayed in a good light. Same will happen with any race. But hollywood is not taking the lead in portraying asians in a good light, in fact, they do the opposite.

  67. hi Phil,

    your Contact Us “Send” button seems to be malfunctioning (it just keeps spinning those arrows and the page doesn’t change), so i’m resorting to sending this email below thru your comments instead. please help redirect as needed!

    thanks much.
    erin

    *************
    hi there, Offenders.

    we at Hyphen are looking to put together our annual set of holiday gift guides, and would love one (or actually, two) supporting AsAm filmmakers and musicians. so we thought, who better to guest post than the Offenders?

    please say yes! this is very much in the spirit of Phil’s piece on putting $ where our protest is, and Winston’s tangentially on the closing of record stores… but of course we love our Offenders equally and would be happy to have any of you help us plug AsAm arts this year.

    looking forward to hearing from you.

    erin
    blog co-editor
    Hyphen magazine

  68. Hello Phil, I agree that more Asian Americans need to rise up and need to start spending money to support Asian films. The problem is that Hollywood only cares about money and they don’t seem to care if they offend Asians as long as they sale tickets. I’m not saying all Hollywood filmmakers do this because there have been successful films that stars Asian actors/actresses, but the majority of the American films just makes Asians look bad for whatever reason…especially with the upcoming Avatar the Last Airbender movie.

  69. One thing I would like to add is that whenever there is something we (human beings) experience as being negative, it’s seems human nature that people tend to exploit it. There are people on the extremes and some feel it’s offensive, some feel it’s not, while others just don’t care and want to be entertained. There is misunderstanding with every race, gender, religion, culture, that theirs is better than others and I just feel the entertainment industries (not just the ones in the U.S.) could do more to address the issues people face everyday rather than singling out a certain group.

  70. Last thing I would like to add is that, you mentioned there were activists in the past and how not much progress came about. You’re right that there hasn’t been a definite change in the Asian community compared to some of the other minority groups, but I feel times are changing. As technology improves, more people would have access to the internet. The more information that is shared, the better people will understand about Hollywood’s attitude’s towards people of color. I’m not saying the internet is a radical thing for change, but it does help.

  71. As of one of the asian/americans who loves movies, I have to agree with Cee’s earlier comments. The main thing we as asian/americans should do first before anything else is,all the asian/americans,I mean chinese,japanese,korean,vietamese,and all the rest of asian/americans should all come together and united first,then we should battle the hollywood’s biased,and racist portrayel of asian/americans,after all hollywood have sinned against asians way far too long.

  72. You should have this mass messaged to every asian-american on Facebook.

  73. One time I asked this question. Why aren’t asians much in hollywood film. And you know what that someone told me? It was obvious to them that Asians were not “Americans” to them. They literally said, “you don’t see Caucasians in Chinese films.” –how would they know. But they were missing the point that Asians too were Americans. ASIAN Americans, duh. So hollywood can never accept Asians into this hollywood culture until the audience accepts them into their life.

  74. It’s not only on film making that Hollywood is racist against Asians .Like the Academy Awards show, where they credited the original writer of the movie “The Departed” as a Japanese . The script was not written by a Japanese but a Hong Kong resident.And there is also a censure against broadcasting pictures of actors with their Asian spouse. Like the Ellen show, where Josh Holloway appeared as a guest .They would usually show pictures of celebrities’s on the back screen of the stage ,but when Josh Holloway came on to talk to Ellen , there was no mention or pictures showing that Josh Holloway’s wife is Asian .There are so many examples of Hollywood’s racist censure against Asians. Maybe we Asians have to be super rich to have a say at what work is credited to who or what is broadcasted live on television. That day will come , We Asian are rising up.Just you wait………

  75. 1)
    Marketing (and there lack of) is a huge issue.

    e.g.
    BLT opened up wider in cities that didn’t even know the film was coming (such as Philadelphia: a HUGE audience of Main Line students under pressure to succeed and who are pretty much left to do whatever they want as long as their grades are good). Compared that to the marketing work that went into BFGWedding where they went mad to make sure people knew about the film BEFORE the film came into town and followed that up to make sure seats were filled. And FYI: I thought “White on Rice” was released last year.

    2)
    I never heard of any Irish-Americans protests over the casting made in “The Departed” nor a single protest of actor Cliff Curtis playing ethnicities other than his own.

    However, there is indeed great umbrage in a great percentage (majority?) of the Asian-American community when Asian actors cross over into different Asian ethnicity roles.

    On one occasion, I asked a bunch of Korean-American college students what they thought of a specific actress for a role and the first response was “(frowning) Isn’t she only half Korean? Yeah, I’ll rather having someone who is 100% Korean.”

  76. I thank all of you are racest asses and don’t haave the right to say those thaings about asians if you don’t like the movie then don’t fucking watch it.It must of went over perty good howebver their were Fast & the Furious and if my memory serves me right the last one was about tacking down a latino drug lord and so was the 2nt. I thank all of you that are talking crap about asian film mackers are just jellous because you could do it better it dosent mater if you are black,white,asian,latino whaat ever it is how pashion about it because like I said before their must of been a perty good tern out because like i said thay maid 4 and thay were alll filmed by diffrent film makers and eaven some diffrent actors and they seemed to stay and the same line as the first.

  77. I think the best way for Asians to break into film making is social integration. Like Harold and Kumar then cast was diversified. It’s kind of like baby steps.

    Doing films where there is an Asian lead or Co-star that is just American devoid of the stereotypes.

    Kinda like what a lot of white actors do to break into Hollywood; they act black films and latino films and intergrate.

    Working with Black Directors to break into Hollywood.

    No man is an island especially in USA.

  78. CALL TO ALL ASIANS TO BREAK THE STEREOTYPES!!!!

  79. I appreciate, lead to I discovered exactly what I used to be looking for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  80. Why don’t we NOT PAY freakin’ Hollywood? Why would I pay someone to make me look bad? I say bit torrent and bootleg!!! Burn Hollywood, I never watch their movies because I can guess the plot in 99% of the movies anyways; which basically goes something like this. I$H goes down, hero comes to squash I$H, and gets the girl (unless he’s Asian, or an woman, who then goes for the whiteboy).

    http://www.youtube.com/siniztrproductions

  81. BTW, I don’t care if they don’t consider me American, as long as I get my tax breaks and financial aid. We are the 21st century blacks, like 60 years ago when they had white people play black in black-face, we have the last air bender played by some mutt Mexican-looking white kid.

    BTW, support the Asian arts, visit my channel and comment!

    http://www.youtube.com/siniztrproductions

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