Opinion: Seeking a real Asian man? Don’t look in Hollywood.
By Jeff Ho, AAV Opinion
I never see “me” in movies. I mean, I’m not some kind of narcissistic egomaniac or anything—well, my ex might argue otherwise—I just never see any Asian-American characters in popular movies with whom I can identify and say, “Yeah, I can relate to this character; s/he is just like me.”
I saw Charlie’s Angels a few weeks ago. Before I sat down I knew I was in for another spectacle of violence, anorexic women, and apathetic kitschy writing, but I thought, “hey, why not, what else is a single Asian guy to do on a Friday night?” The lights went down, the previews blared by, and there up on the big screen were America’s three new sweethearts.
It’s a habit of mine to look for Asian men in all the movies I see, to see what they look like, how they behave, how their masculinity is portrayed. I found two of them. One was a fat, nerdy, pocket-protector-and-glasses-wearing guy, who sat in a room full of computer geeks that Lucy Liu’s character contemptuously lectured in her usual S&M-like style. When compared to Liu’s studly, white, on-screen boyfriend, played by Friends’ Matt LeBlanc, the Asian guy had zero sex appeal. The other Asian guy in this film played a thug who tried to kill Drew Barrymore’s character. With her hands tied behind her back, Ms. Drew kicked his yellow ass in a matter of seconds. Those were my choices: a sexless eunuch and an incompetent villain—choices I’m all too familiar with.
Where is my Brad Pitt or my Ben Affleck? Where are all of the young, sexy good guys I can look up to and say, “Yeah, that’s who I want to be—that’s how I want the world to see me”? Jet Li? What? Didn’t you see Romeo Must Die? The guy is a sex symbol in Asia and the second American movie he’s in where he actually plays a good guy (remember what an evil bastard he was in Lethal Weapon IV?), he doesn’t even get a screen kiss from the female lead, not even a peck on the cheek. Come on, the guy’s a babe, but Hollywood obviously believed that America wasn’t ready for an Asian guy with sex appeal.
Although there are independent and “alternative” films that wonderfully portray Asian Americans as unique individuals, rarely do these films get the publicity, recognition, or distribution they deserve. In fact, you have to either work for an ethnic studies department on a college campus or be a freakin’ detective to find and view these movies. So we are left with Hollywood’s grotesquely racialized images of Asian Americans.
But who cares what the viewing audiences think of Asian Americans? After all, we’re strong, we’re intelligent, we know who we are—don’t we? None of us Asian-American guys have had our sense of masculinity affected by images like Long Duck Dong or Mr. Miyagi—right? And I’m sure none of our Asian-American sisters have been treated like they were sex-fiends, dragon ladies, or exotic fetishes—right? Even though we’re portrayed as cold, calculating, cerebral, unemotional people, we all know that we’re really cool, funny, irresistibly attractive, and as unique as anyone else.
When I look in the mirror I see an “Asian man” and I constantly find myself trying not to see all of the stereotypes associated with that image. Maybe it is my problem and I’m just being another “oversensitive” and “whiny” minority, or maybe I need to see a psychiatrist like my mother suggested years ago. But if anyone ever sees a movie with a guy like “me” in it, please let me know.
Jeff Ho writes for the Seattle-based Northwest Asian Weekly.