11/21/2017

Grow the AAAFund

We’re growing the AAAFund and from us here on the media team, we float a few ideas:

  • Facebook/Twitter/Instagram takeover; we want you the average Joe and Jane to do this with us as we get the high profile folks like Congress(wo)men to do it, too
  • media team staff do a Reditt AMA since surely there’re tons of questions out there
  • crowdsource the newsletter and our website (actually run as a blog)
  • Twitter Town Hall, #AAPIPolitics or something, have an expert and you get 24h to ask questions

I must note that we’re re-designing our website, we know it looks dated.

Post your ideas below.

Yellowface, Whitewashing, and the Colors of Historical Oppression in Film

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second on Tam v. USPTO, third on power, fourth on feminism, and fifth on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism, sixth on activism, seventh on voting access, eigth on fearing microaggressions, ninth on fearing microaggressions, and tenth on firgetting Chinatowns.

​This last week, the film adaptation of acclaimed Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell came to theaters, and was immediately met with immense criticism over the casting of Scarlett Johansson, a white woman, as the Japanese female lead Motoko Kusanagi. According to Paramount, the film faced difficulty in the box office as a result of this.

Ghost in the Shell (Manga / Anchor Bay)Before I begin this discussion I first must disclaim that I have watched neither the original anime of Ghost in the Shell nor the movie, and am by no means an expert on the story itself. However, I am fairly well versed in the history of race and casting in media. To this day, nothing itches at my skin, grinds against my bones, or shakes my soul the way whitewashing does.

For a seemingly small act, it riles and perturbs many, and many others have difficulty understanding why. Many say the message of Ghost and the Shell conveys that the body doesn’t matter, that race and the physical construct of self is irrelevant, and therefore the changing of race supports the story. Others, even Japanese people who have loved the original anime, say it’s an American production and the race should not matter.

But the truth of the matter is that race does matter, and there is a much greater history of whitewashing at play. The Good Earth, The Dragon Seed, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charlie Chan: yellow face has been in practice since film began. In those times, laws in Hollywood actively kept people of color from seeing the silver screen. The origins of yellow face were marked by active exclusion and segregation within the film industry, not only keeping Asian Americans from representation, but from jobs.

The acts of whitewashing and yellow face are politicized because they are rooted in historical oppression, and today they still reflect this act of white people claiming Asian narratives as their own while simultaneously excluding actual Asian people. We are taken out of the equation even in telling our own stories—no representation belongs for us anywhere.
And what that tells us as Asian Americans, is that our stories, the one that are truly ours, don’t matter. That perhaps we don’t matter. The evidence for this in media is staggering.
In a study among children, self esteemed dropped in response to exposure to television among all groups except for white boys.

In a study of top grossing films worldwide, 1.2% of leads were Asian, and all of them were male, compared to the 60% of the world population that is Asian.

The only Asian woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Actress was Merle Oberon who was ¼ Indian, ¾ white, and at the time of her win hid her half Indian mother from the public eye, lied about her birthplace, and presented herself as white to the world in order to avoid discrimination. The only Asian woman ever to win Best Actress was thought to be white.

And still, in media as recent as Ghost in the Shell, Aloha, and Doctor Strange, Hollywood continues to refuse to let Asian Americans tell their own stories and instead grossly excludes Asian Americans while co-opting their bodies.

Even now every new instance of whitewashing, of yellow face, reminds me of these facts, and still often feels like someone telling me that I do not matter to Hollywood, so maybe I do not matter to the public, and so why should I matter to anyone.

Lupita Nyong’o once said, “Until I saw people who looked like me, doing the things I wanted to, I wasn’t so sure it was a possibility. When I was a little girl, the first time I thought I could be an actor was when I watched The Color Purple.” Representation is important. Hearing stories we identify with makes the world of difference in what we believe we can accomplish, and therefore what we can accomplish.
At our very core, it is true—race does not matter and all people are equal, and ideally changing a character’s race should not matter. But we must acknowledge that race is not treated as equal, and has not been treated as equal in film for a long time. Change comes slowly, but we have a responsibility to actively change the narrative of the film industry, to push for diversity in film. For a better society, for one in which every person can, and furthermore believes they can, do anything, representation is of the greatest necessity.

Ghost in the Shell, your box office flop was not for naught.

Hijacking the Media

the slants

We’ve long empowered all progressive AAPI including Southeast, Sub-continental, and far Western Asians. Today’s NPR story connects the recent string of attacks on Indian-Americans to the need to fight racism. Opponents have tried to hijack the AAPI narrative with media like “Hindus and Trump Rallied Together in a Xenophobic Fever” and AAPIs writing loudly into “letters to the editor” and call-in shows and WeChat-originated efforts to defeat Maryland sanctuary laws and AAPIs booked on (we notice, thanks to the Asian American Media Matters, MediaWatch, and AsAmNews). As our media team efforts are very significant, we not only notice and not only call it out, but take that never-before-done step: explain. Might be preaching to the choir, but we hope to reach at least that 1 open mind.

When Asians feel safe in the minority myth, don’t feel any need to organize or be politically involved (as the vast majority do), want to reap the benefits by being good in suburbia, feel free to collaborate with hateful groups (to, say, hate Muslims as Hindus often do or to hate Communists as many Asians do or etc.), or want to simply get a paycheck and be at peace, there’s a rude wake-up call. Some think our opponents just want to stop illegal immigration (lots of AAPI easily feel resentful at illegals when they’ve spent energy coming legally but fail to realize NumbersUSA’s goal is to reduce all not just illegal immigration, wake up!) or just want to get us into college (hint: removing affirmative action returns us to the days when we weren’t even allowed in America much less college, it won’t allegedly let Asians flood on in, moves like NYC’s edit to its Specialized HS exam are moves to reduce AAPI dominance of merit-based systems) or just want to let our small businesses have less regulations and more profits (hint: non-white businesses need not open). We however have seen for decades our opponent’s real goals: reduce all immigration, reduce AAPIs dominating colleges, and let whites return to work where we succeeded. The truth is far uglier than the innocent moves as whites reappropriate us, their quiet offense-less obedient minorities.

Indian Americans aren’t the only ones put on notice. We refuse to wait until hateful violent attacks (in addition to the stream of microaggressions everywhere and everyday) reaches other AAPI groups, but know that we fight to empower Indian Americans as just 1 subgroup of many AAPI ones. When we say hate and racism and xenophobia aren’t ok, we cite the same not just against AAPIs but also by AAPIs because the circle of harm goes in every way, as we see now, as we’ve seen in history, as we refuse to allow to recur. We exist to empower AAPIs and any threat to it is a target of our resistance. We have our own voice, we will tell our own stories, no media will use a few erroneous AAPIs to hijack the voice of all AAPIs. We’re watching and, as our name says, taking action.

Thank You ECAASU

ECAASU: East Coast Asian American Union

I had the great pleasure and honor of facilitating a workshop ECAASU2017 today, “The United States of Asian America.” This post is just 1 of many post-ECAASU and this time, I comment on that tagline.

A Facebook post popular today is about how America’s greater thanks to this politically charged environment. Same for Asian America. Today, our community involvement, political interest, civic engagement, empowerment, and a desire for a public life are at record highs. From humanitarian orgs in San Francisco to mental health advocates in San Gabriel to pan-Asian Advocates in DC to political greatness in Chicagoland to legal defense funds in NYC & LA to community leaders in Florida to 2017 election work in NJ & NoVA to Santa Ana to celebrities in LA to professional networks in Dallas, Asian America is rich and rife with unity and mutual energy. We have the diversity of people, financing, talents, professions, and connections to continue making our community ever greater.

Asian Americans paid a steep price for most of American history in blood, sweat, and tears for our role in America today. We’ve been attacked for our mere existence here. We’ve been sent to concentration camps (FDR’s words) for being loyal Americans. We’ve been legally excluded from immigrating because of xenophobia. We’ve been bullied, belittled, and micro-aggressioned for going about our lives. I speak of our community lovingly, eloquently, and with unity because you have shown me this heartfelt feeling in heart and mind and action.

Attendees came searching for many things: inspiration, professional connections, an update on AAPI politics, credible ways to get involved, answers to student advocacy, and a path from protest to power. I hope I provided all. I encourage all to continue this work as our community has always invested that kind of work to enable this fortunate present day. AAAFund stands with ECAASU and its attendees, past, present, and future, in the shared work to empower Asian America. Onwards and upwards together and forever.

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