reappropriate

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Geisha, Once More

After Memoirs of a Geisha drew such criticism for transracial casting of nearly all female roles, the one defense Hollywood could make was that, at the very least, the male lead, Ken Watanabe, a Japanese actor, was cast to play a Japanese man. Usually, Hollywood is painfully apathetic to remaining sensitive of the ramifications of transracial casting. Watanabe's career in American Hollywood exemplifies this effect; his most famous roles include instances of transracial casting: Watanabe will be portraying Cao Cao (a Chinese military leader) in an upcoming film by John Woo, and he played Ra's Al Ghul (Middle Eastern) in Batman Begins. In the recently announced film, A Dream of Red Mansions, Watanabe is slated to act as romantic lead opposite Kate Hudson, as an idealistic revolutionary during the Chinese Revolution. On the upside, because this is a romantic film, Watanabe will most likely strike a blow against Hollywood's emasculation of Asian/Asian American men. Moreover, Watanabe's love interest will be a White woman, further breaking down stereotypes and pleasing Asian/Asian American male audiences. And, of course, given the recent debate over sexism within the Asian American community and the emasculation phenomenon faced by Asian American Men, I'm glad to see that steps are being taken to move us (albeit slowly) towards a more balanced representation of AAMs in Hollywood as characters also possessing masculinity and sexuality. Nonetheless, this transracialism is troubling. Watanabe is a talented actor, for sure, but could they not have found one of several Chinese/Chinese American actors to play this part? Hollywood, we aren't all the same.

11 Comments:

Blogger Sheelzebub said...

You know what I'd like to see? More Asian Americans (and people of color) in roles, period. It seems the only time they're "needed" is when the script is about/takes place in Asia (or Chinatown of a city).

Crap. When are we going to see Asian American men (and women) play ordinary roles in movies? Just think of any old role that has been taken up by whites in the last couple of years. I mean, for Hades' sake, everyone in those roles had to be White? Every cop, every parent, every teacher, every professor, every executive, every bad guy, every troubled kid, every college student has to be White??(Note to the peanut gallery: don't bring up Harold and Kumar, that's the exception that proves the rule.)

5/19/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Elliott said...

Harold and Kumar was special precisely because of that. If it weren't for the fact that Harold and Kumar was starred by two Asians, it would have just been another crappy "Roadtrip" flick.

Personally, I think that this transracial casting is not as a big of a deal. I mean, Russel Crow played a Roman, though he was anything but. Will Ferril was definitely not Macedonian, but he got to do Alexander.

Ken Watanabe was picked because well, he's probably one of the more recognizable Asian male actors around. I mean, besides Jet Li, Jacky Chan, Tony Jaa, and Chow Yun Fat.

And with Ken Watanabe, because he's somewhat known, he probably would have better drawing power than say, a good actor from China that nobody outside of China has heard of.

5/19/2006 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger Gar said...

^Colin Farrell, not Will Farrell was in Alexander, but I think those examples are not relevant because obviously, the cultures and languages of ancient Macedonia and Rome no longer exist today (modern Greek and Italian are much different). The movie cited in this post takes place in China in 1949, and the last I checked, there's still plenty of Chinese people around who are living and/or connected to that era.

While I admire Ken Watanabe ('Tampopo' is a modern classic), I have serious doubts about his qualifications for the role, especially considering that a Chinese actor like Chow Yun Fat is completely suitable for the role ("King and I", anyone?). I suppose for the benefit of foreign language-phobic Hollywood, the movie will be filmed entirely in English, but I'd really hope that after the disaster that "Geisha" was (everyone in Japan speaks accented English, yipee!), they'd have the sense to film at least parts of the movie with real Chinese people speaking Chinese (most likely Mandarin). Where's the authenticity?

Like Jenn mentions, Hollywood's habit of transracialism in regards to Asians is more than a bit disturbing...

As to the fact that the plot revolves around the romantic relationship between an Asian man & White woman, I'm sure some Asian / Asian American men might be delighted by the concept, but I myself don't find the concept by itself to be enough to qualify as "empowering" unless the movie chooses to portray that relationship in a nuanced and fair way, rather than exoticizing it as novelty for audiences to say "Oooh, the white chick has a fetish for Chinamen".

Besides, why should the sexual identity of Asian / Asian American men have to validated by having a relationship with a white woman? Aren't Asian / Asian American men masculine enough if they happen to be with Asian / Asian American women? O_o

5/20/2006 12:33:00 AM  
Blogger Ferrous Buller said...

It isn't just Asians who get this sort of transracial treatment, of course: Hollywood tends to treat all people of African, Middle Eastern, Latino, and, yes, Caucasian descent as interchangeable. So you end up with Chinese actresses playing Japanese women, an Italian playing a Russian, a Russian playing a French, a South African playing an Egyptian, an Israeli playing a Latino, and so on, and so on...

Still, look on the bright side: we've come a long way from the days since John Wayne played Genghis Khan or a Swedish actor played Charlie Chan. Progress has been made, we just aren't all the way there yet...

5/20/2006 01:13:00 AM  
Blogger sean witzke said...

Just to make a point, Watanabe played a decoy in Batman Begins - the middle eastern Ra's Al Ghul was played by an irishman, Liam Neeson. That's casting way out of the pool. Then again, he actually was a great choice for the part...

5/20/2006 02:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh cool, they're making a film on A Dream of Red Mansions. I didn't realize that with Geisha coming up in the title again.

5/20/2006 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Elliott said...

Hmm... I was about to say, Will Ferrel didn't sound right.

It's not so much who the Asian man is with that can be powering but I think how the Asian character acts that can be. If he's just going to be another kungfu fighting, almost asexually focused character then there is no empowerment there, being attractive to a white woman or not.

5/22/2006 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Rahul Nirmal said...

Why are Chinese and Japanese referred to as different races!?!?!?

5/22/2006 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

Liam neeson was supposed to be middle eastern...how did I miss that??? I guess I need the David Carradine level of what the hell....

5/23/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Elliott said...

Rahul, because umm... they are? that's like me saying Pakistani and Indians are the same.

5/23/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that the Davinci Code has brought him back into the public eye, Tom Hanks will be playing all these roles

5/26/2006 07:44:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home