Something keeps happening time and time again, so I thought I’d post it. This way, when it happens next time, I can refer people here. I found the photo above at this site, which is a great analogy for what happens when our community does its Robin-Hooding-in-Reverse. When they do it, it’s business as usual. When we protest, we’re supposed to be the bad guys.
Robin-Hood-in-Reverse Activism takes place when an activist asks the less powerful to give to the more powerful. In Asian American circles, Robin-Hood-In-Reverse Activism usually takes place in media fundraising. An Asian American will approach an activist and ask him/her to “support my movie!” either through Kickstarter or some other fundraising tool. They’ll appeal to the activist through kinship, saying that we ought to support our own, that the Asian American community needs to support its artists. They’ll talk about how racist Hollywood is. Then when we give them money, they take that money and make yet another Asian Female-White Male movie. Of course, we need another AF/WM movie like we need a hole in the head.
Now I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally helped promote AF/WM movies before. I promoted Joyce Wu’s The Real Mikado. But Joyce was different in that she was willing to hear the Asian male side. She understood our concerns. Plus, I agreed with her point that the story itself would be different had it had an Asian male lead.
That said, I think we need to stop. Especially when it comes to indie movies, it makes no sense for the less powerful–Asian men in this case–to give money to promote the more powerful–White men. Despite what RHIR activists say, there is no dearth of movies that star an Asian American woman paired with a White man. That is the most common interracial pairing in movies AND in real life. There is no dearth of White men in Hollywood. They don’t need to benefit from Asian American activism. WE need Asian American activism, which is why it’s called “Asian American.”
It’s come to the point where it’s insulting and stupid. Red Doors, Dogs of Chinatown (which opened in Chinatown with Asian support), Falling For Grace, almost anything by David Henry Hwang, The Real Mikado, movies about Vietnamese nail salons, movies about the Japanese American internment, movies about the Chinese Railroad workers, movies about the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan–they’re all about Asian Women falling in love with White men. Jock Challengers will tell us that that’s all that sells, when in reality, it’s all that’s being made. Even among the independent filmmakers who are supposedly independent from Hollywood, it’s the common theme. And they’re asking for our dollars to promote movies that perpetuate the same old exclusion that Asian actors have faced for years.
Here’s my advice: just say NO. Recently, I got this video in my inbox:
“What do you see when you look at me?” Well, I certainly didn’t see someone about to ask me for money in the name of Asian American activism and then use my money to shoot, produce, and market a WM/AF movie!!!
Of course, I said NO (which is why I’m posting this after the Kickstarter period ended). In her video, she makes a pitch that describes racism in Hollywood. She gives the role of the one-dimensional, racist director to the Asian man–because, you know, anti-Asian Hollywood racism usually comes from Asian men. Then, when it’s casting time, when it’s time to talk about the details of the featured film, when it’s time to talk about where the money is going, when it’s time to choose the male co-star–we find out that the special role is reserved for a White man. And we’re supposed to support this. Robin-Hood-in-Reverse.
The sad thing about this movie is that it would have been better if they had had an Asian man in the Brazilian role. It would have been more interesting than the standard White-Man-Makes-Asian-Woman-Complete storyline. There are tons of Asian people in Brazil, my favorite fighter Lyoto being one of them. It would have been a fascinating story if she had gone into the background of Asian people in Brazil. But nope, she gave the role to a White man. Again. Of the backs of our activism. Robin-Hood-in-Reverse.
The standard excuses will always come. “We couldn’t find an Asian actor.” “This breaks stereotypes because she’s not playing a sidekick.” “She’s a strong Woman Warrior.” Of course, it perpetuates the most common stereotype–that Asian women are only able to find fulfillment in the arms of a White man–but we’re supposed to ignore that while we cough up our dollars. Robin-Hood-in-Reverse. As in the past, if you object to this robbery, the usual cast of clowns will come in to back the filmmaker. You’ll have those Asian male tools who will swipe in and accuse you of being angry and bitter, the two most common Asian male stereotypes. They’ll accuse you of being sexist. Like the “house Negro” whom Malcolm described, they’ll talk about how it doesn’t bother them “at all!” Then you’ll have the Asian female activist Deflection Coaches, who will talk about how they have loving relationships with their White husbands, and how we all need to relax in order to “help each other” since “we’re all on the same side.” (just not on the “same side” of the camera)
“I’m here to help you, Byron. Now pay up, or I’ll stick you with this knife! Actually, pay up, and then I’ll stick you with this knife! And then I’ll ink this deal with my white costar over your prone and bloody body. YAHH! Die, Chinese man, DIE!”
I’m happy I promoted Joyce Wu, and I’m grateful that she came here to stir up discussion–I think we all learned something from that talk. But I can’t do it again. We need to make it clear: Supporting yet another WM/AF movie isn’t what we want to see. Make it on your own, but don’t make the appeal based on racial solidarity. Clearly, half the race isn’t included on these Robin-Hood-in-Reverse projects.