BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Out of the Shadows: Asians in American Cinema edited by Roger Garcia [in aMagazine: Inside Asian America]

Out of the Shadows - screenLaying a Golden Egg

Everything – let me say that again – everything about this book is fabulous. So you’re off the hook: you can stop reading this review right now.

A result of the 54th Locarno International Film Festival which occurred August 2-12, 2001, you could look at Shadows as a major, glorified film program. The outside, with its sleek visual of a golden egg emerging from the shadows of a near-square of matte black has design award written all over it.

Inside, that golden egg proves to be quite a treasure. Roger Garcia’s introduction is a major gem. My first reaction was a fervent wish to photocopy the piece and distribute it to every citizen across the nation. At first read, it’s a succinct primer of the history of Asian American cinema – from Sessue Hayakawa to Anna May Wong, from yellowface almost a century ago to 1995’s “The Complete Make-Up Artist” which explains how to do “Caucasian to oriental,” from Fu Manchu to Mr. Wong. But more than that, two unforgettable points emerge. The first is simple, although non-Asian Americans (who really, really need to read this book!) seem to fail to grasp this simple truth: that the Asian American identity is its own entity distinctly separate from its various Asian roots. Secondly, Garcia is adamant about calling a racist a racist: “It has always seemed odd to me that one should try and make excuses for racism and exclusionism in American cinema by concentrating on auteurship and genre, or ignore the issue completely. D.W. Griffith, Cecille B. DeMille, John Ford, Frank Capra among others, share a talent – if one wants to call it that – of disguising prejudice with art in order to promote the notion, often shared by film critics, of white superiority in culture, economy and sexuality.” Hats off to Garcia for being brave enough to name the truth as he sees it.

Shadows is a collaborative production. Text is intermingled throughout with striking black and white photos of film stills, makers, shakers and movers of almost a century of Asian American and Asian filmmaking. Garcia’s text is followed by a section of five essays that juxtapose Hollywood’s fantasies of the inscrutable Asian with the diverse, ever-changing realities of Asian American experience. Gina Marchetti, who Garcia refers to as his “guru,” opens with “America’s Asia: Hollywood’s Construction, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction of the ‘Orient,’” which looks at Asian America’s struggle to move beyond Hollywood’s constructs of the “good,” subservient, assimilated melting-pot Asian, and the “yellow peril” incapable of becoming “real” Americans. …[click here for more]

Reviews: NAATA: National Asian American Telecommunications website which has since disappeared since NAATA became CAAM: Center for Asian American Media

“New and Notable,” aMagazine: Inside Asian America, December 2001/January 2002

Readers: Adult

Published: 2001


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