reappropriate

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Yet More Yellowface

It's official -- Fox Home Video is run by a bunch of racist, bigoted, anti-Asian Klansmen. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but how else can we explain the hot-on-the-heels-of-Charlie-Chan release of the 'Mr. Moto' DVD collection today? In the 1930's, a lesser-known 'Oriental protagonist', played by an actor in yellowface, was Mr. Moto whowas featured in a number of films, including "Mysterious Mr. Moto", and "Thank You, Mr. Moto". Mr. Moto's character was advertised as mysteriously Oriental ("Thank You, Mr. Moto" describes him as "an adventurer, explorer, soldier of fortune — one of the Orient’s mysteries"), his ethnicity unsecured until later films where it was revealed that Mr. Moto was of Japanese descent. Mr. Moto was played by Jewish actor Peter Lorre. The NY Times article linked above says:

On film, Mr. Moto acquired the distinctly non-Asian features of Peter Lorre, the brilliant Hungarian-born Jew who fled Hitler’s Europe after his star-making appearance in Fritz Lang’s “M.” After playing a heavy in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 British film “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” he arrived in Hollywood in 1935 for much-ballyhooed performances in a pair of ambitious projects: as a demented surgeon in Karl Freund’s “Mad Love” and as Raskolnikov in Josef von Sternberg’s “Crime and Punishment.” But it was as Mr. Moto, fitted out with gold-rimmed glasses, taped-back eyelids and what appears to be a set of buck teeth, that Lorre first caught on with the American public.
Note that in the article, the reference to Peter Lorre's "distinctly non-Asian features" are the only discussion of the films' yellowface content. Unlike the release of the Charlie Chan box set of DVDs, this article makes no mention of the offensiveness of re-releasing yet another series of films featuring yellowface. Part of me imagines that perhaps we, the Asian American community, are to blame. After all, we didn't exactly take to the streets when Charlie Chan first made his appearance in the 1930's, nor during his re-release a few months back. And Mr. Moto will barely make ripples now in our community. We could organize a boycott, but it would be like Jay-Z urging the Black community to boycott Cristal; any Asian American who would buy these box sets aren't socially aware anyways. How, then, can we send the message, once and for all, that this treatment of our community is racially insensitive, downright offensive, and will not be tolerated? Then again, the other half of me thinks this isn't even our responsibility. Those racist fools shoulda known better. And anyone who buys this crap should be taken out back and shot. Courtesy: Angry Asian Man

4 Comments:

Blogger Bankuei said...

Yeah, I don't blame the asian community of the 30's, they had more pressing issues like fearing getting lynched as unemployment hit, or run out of town again, etc.

On the other hand, it definitely says a lot when no one will say anything about sweatshop labor but turn around and get upset with Abercrombie & Fitch shirts (because they don't want to have to shop at a different store, see...)

But yeah, there's a lot of blame transference we take up as a community- it's also like saying, "Why don't women get up and march more about rape and domestic violence? It's their fault if they don't speak up!"

White people have had massive media spin for centuries, so they have the privilege of being blind to it. They can't imagine the need for responsible and respectful media because they've never been on the bad side of that stick.

8/02/2006 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Aaron said...

I agree that the NY Times piece was totally myopic about the yellowface issue. But what would you propose as a solution for dealing with this kind of material? Would you rather it never see the light of day ever again? In some ways it might be better that it is out there for people to critique.

8/11/2006 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Thanks for the comment, aaron! I support the availability of such materials for the purpose of education and historical record. However, these DVDs are being released for appreciation and general consumption, without discussion about the racist implications of the show. Fox must release the DVDs under the context of educational materials and address the problem of the racism and yellowface, or not release them at all. The fact that people purchase these DVDs and suggest that they are excusable or not offensive because they are "classics" shouldn't be tolerated.

8/11/2006 05:59:00 PM  
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