Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Free Yunjin Kim

I'm shocked that nothing has been done yet. This tragic violation of basic human dignity and justice demands that we devote our full attention to this, the most pressing of issues facing us today. This is more important than the Iraq War, more important than the November elections, more important than the impending premieres of the Fall 2006 TV season. We are the petitions? The T-shirts? Angry Asian Man decrying it all as racist? We need to send our message straight to the top decision-makers in Hollywood. We need to shout at the top of our lungs. Say it with me now: Free Yunjin Kim! Before there was a motley band of possibly-dead, possibly-guinea-pigs-in-a-top-secret-scientific-study misfits stranded on a mysterious island full of polar bears and coconuts following a devastating plane crash somewhere between Australia and L.A., Yunjin Kim was one of Korea's superstar actresses. She was a leading lady in the mould of Gong Li, Audrey Hepburn or a young Susan Sarandon. She was respectable, decent, and a talented actress. And then she decided to try to do the transition to America. All of a sudden, Yunjin Kim is being put on display like some sort of pet, wearing practically nothing, and all with that same vapid "fuck me" expression on her face. What happened? First, there was Arena magazine which boasts an image of Yunjin with a thumb in her crotch. Then came Stuff magazine (where they didn't even bother to clean poor Yunjin off, just leaving her all half-nekkid and muddy), which advertised itself as revealing images from the women of 'Lost', but was really just an excuse to showcase a six page spread of Yunjin pictures followed by some blurry photos captured by paparazzi of a few of the other female castmates at Awards shows. Stuff even included one image with Yunjin looking unconscious -- suggesting that Yunjin be sexualized in a "come rape me while I'm sleeping" kind of way. Hell, Yunjin's captors even trotted poor Yunjin out to take the cover photo for Golf for Women magazine. Golf for Women?!? That's not Michelle Wie! We don't all look alike!! It just goes to show you: it doesn't matter how great an actress you are, or how famous you are in another country. In America, if you want to be a famous actress of colour, the only way to do it is to be hypersexualized and dehumanized, to fulfill the racialized fantasies of the typical White male viewer. Take a look at Bai Ling, who was forced to give up her Chinese citizenship to make a pseudo-smart political drama about Chinese repression, and is now stuck playing the same Asian dominatrix in six or seven different Mel Gibson movies. Asian American women don't need to see the same hypersexualization of our female role models, over and over. Yunjin Kim is just as palatable being a smart, strong capable Asian American woman who doesn't need to strip silently for money. Please, Hollywood -- free Yunjin, before it's too late.


Anonymous Adam said...

I see where you're coming from Jenn, I really do, but you make it seem like the big bad American media machine forced all of these Asian actresses to do everything that you posted about. The fact of the matter is, is that these actresses, wanting to have "success" in the American market, chose to go along with what some marketing or magazine guy told them would sell. Bai Ling could have chosen not to take the roles, she could have chosen to find a different path, just like Yunjin Kim.

Please, don't get me wrong and think that I'm trying to totally shift the blame onto the actresses. They are choosing to do what they think is right in the context of what is offered to them. Hollywood has equal responsibility in what roles and images they choose to believe are bankable.

I guess what I'm trying to point out is that I experienced your view as disempowering the Asian actresses you mentioned, something I don't think you really meant to do.

9/19/2006 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

I'm kind of lost here. About a year ago, you were upset that no Asian/Asian-American actors and actresses made it onto "Hot Lists", but was happy when the dude from Lost made the list. Now, they could have clearly omitted this woman from the spread, but I feel like we'd be reading about how there's a "perfectly good and attractive asian cast member who has been suppressed by The Man."

First off, she was the only cast member who even wasted her time with the spread, which is why they used candids of the other women. Also, she went along with the photo shoot. There are MANY occasions when a star voices that they don't feel comfortable with something in a shoot. Either the photographer is understanding or works with them or, worst case scenario, the star is replaced on the shoot. In the matter of integrity, neither of these options would have been negative for Yunjin.

I've gotta go with Adam and say that nobody made her do this. She chose to. Now, we could go into Hollywoodese and say the patriarchal system made her THINK this was acceptable, but I'd rather not go there until I hear some kind of statement or interview from her.

Why is it so hard to believe that she LIKES golf, and isn't some Michelle Wie allegory? It's not like they said "Yunjin enjoys difficult math problems and playing the violin in her spare time." THAT would be stereotypical and offensive.

And frankly, the Stuff pictorial ain't even that hot. If anything, we should be arguing about what a piss poor job they did trying to "sexualize" her, because she's looked better dirty, and in clothes, on the damn island...

9/19/2006 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Adam said...

Of course, I also could have missed the entire point of your post since the beginning did have a snarky, cynical, dry humor kind of tone.

9/19/2006 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous gatamala said...

Adam - I see your point. I understand that actors sometimes have to take shit jobs just to stay in the spotlight. They have to take even shittier jobs as non-Americans in America. HOWEVER, do these shitty jobs HAVE to be hypersexualized, racist stereotypical roles?

Jenn hit the nail on the head. As I understand you (Adam), you are alluding to the ability to make a choice. I don't think Jenn's view necessarily disempowers Asian actress - she is merely pointing out their lack of power, & lack of REAL choices. Every actor has to make choices. Every actor risks getting typecast. Women must battle age in order to keep working. However, white women get to choose b/t the chanteuse, mother, factory worker, ceo, detective, district attorney, quirky best friend, love interest, writer, trust fund kid, dancer, scientist etc... Nothing a little hair dye, contacts, prosthetic nose can't change. Why must the default/"universal" be white? Bai Ling gets too short booty shorts or no acting at all. Lucy Liu gets dragon lady/sexpot or sits by the phone. Yunjin gets me so horny or nothing at all. 3 women of different backgrounds are fighting for the same role in Hwood. Asian-American women have been fighting this fight since the 1920s & Anna May Wong.

You're sort of right about what Hwood deems bankable. Frankly, as an American, I am insulted by the crap Hwood thinks appeals to the public. Ever notice how every decent horror flick is stolen from Japan (sometimes Korea), yet when it comes to casting, no Asian-Americans are present?????? How can Lucy Liu get past Anna May Wong, when Brian Dennehy is in Yellowface!!! ARRGGGHH

This is why I urge people to see foreign films to see how non-American actors act when they have non-racist writers/directors/producers (Penelope Cruz comes to mind). If Hwood were REALLY concerned about making buck$, it would allow American/non-American POC to be humans instead of stereotypes. Imagine how much more money can be made from a greater talent pool? More people would try their luck over here. Films would become more interesting, more diverse (not colorwise-genre, complexity). There is serious talent under their noses, if only Hwood could get past its own bias.

9/19/2006 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Point of Clarification: a year ago, I wasn't upset that Asian/Asian Americans didn't make Hot Lists, I was upset that Asian/Asian American men didn't make Hot Lists.

Here's the post in question:
Beautiful People

9/19/2006 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Bankuei said...

Fact: Asian American women in America only get screen time if sexualized. Period.

Any individual's choices in the face of that do not negate the issue, as much as having black overseers does not excuse slavery.

9/19/2006 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

That is not a "fact", bankuei. That is an opinion. Even if you have examples, and I'm just sure you do, that does not make it a "fact".

And please, the slavery card? Are we arguing the status of Asian-American women in Hollywood, or are we arguing over Yunjin? Because I'm focused on the latter, but you all have made the mistake of SO many minorities by using her actions as an example of the race. She didn't ask to be a role model. Now, we could say that society puts the emphasis on minorities in the spotlight and that they don't have choices in the matter. Fine, but I wonder if Yunjin is as worried about her image as you all are. I'm not negating the ISSUE, but I am saying that this is not a good example of the cause to which you're rallying.

9/19/2006 01:11:00 PM  
Anonymous philly jay said...

"Any individual's choices in the face of that do not negate the issue, as much as having black overseers does not excuse slavery."

Ok, I was going to just read the comments and not post,but after seeing that quote above I just had to :)
Where in the world did that come from?That's a pretty poor example to use, not to mention a wee bit overboard.And I got to agree with william.It's not a fact, but an opinion.

Now I DO agree that there are few 3 dimensional roles for asians in america in general and that there need to be much more.So I guess the question is how do you go about it?Can't expect every asian american(or every minority for that matter) to think of these things when it comes to finding acting jobs.Gotta put food on that plate some how. Even though other minority groups like blacks and some lations as well, are starting to get better roles, there is still a really long way to go.Native americans probably have it worst then all of us.

9/19/2006 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Adam said...

Gatamala -

I agree with a lot of what you said. I didn't mean to say that Hollywood is totally fair and open in the kinds of roles that they offer to every actor or actress regardless of race, and the therefore being objectified is the fault of the actor and actress for choosing it.

I just can't believe that there are NO full, real, fleshed-out roles for actors and actresses of color out there. They have to be there as Hollywood isn't totally lily white (though it is mostly).

Surely, a lot of the blame for the lack of roles definitely has to be lain at the feet of the producers and casting managers who refuse to think outside of the box, to take risks. I huge example of this is the casting of "The Fast and the Furious III: Tokyo Drift". Justin Lin, the director, was able to get the studio to open the casting call for the lead male character to men of all races, even though the studio staunchly believed that there were no "bankable" Asian male actors. Of course this meant there were no known Asian-AMERICAN actors the studio thought were "good" enough for the role. It didn't even enter their mind to open it up to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. actors.

Basically, the issue is how committed the minorities in the business are to expanding the number and quality of choices available to actors and actresses of color. How far are they willing to go? Are they willing to start their own production companies, studios, etc, and forgo the fat pockets of already established studios who will only over the racialized, stereotyped roles we've come to hate? And, how committed are people of color to supporting these efforts by buying them instead of the mainstream content?

9/19/2006 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Everyone has valid points, but in some ways, this discussion seems to be getting off-topic. It began as a scathing account of how Stuff Magazine oversexualized Yunjin, just as it is done by the other media in Hollywood.

Well, it begins on a shaky foundation because it's based on Stuff Magazine! How can you be surprised at Stuff for oversexualizing women? This may sound callous and chauvanistic, but this is what Stuff does. You don't go to a party that's in progress and then complain about the music.If this were People or Newsweek we were talking about, fine. Does that make it right? no, but it's hardly a punishment/privilege divided along racial lines. This is something faced by all women, of all races. Not just some "me-love-you-long time" caricature. Now, this discussion can veer off into that argument, but by those standards, Yunjin is a victim because she is a woman in Hollywood, and NOT solely because she is Asian in Hollywood.

I still don't get the issue about the golf magazine. This is bad why, exactly? The woman claims to like golf. I don't want to dare say that this is a case of oversensitivity, because no one really has the right to say that they understand how another feels in a given situation. I will say that it reminds me of the Chappelle skit where he's afraid to eat chicken for fear of being stereotyped. Are Asian women supposed to stay away from golf for fear of being characterized as Michelle Wie? And is that so bad, seeing as how she IS a good player. From my worldview, I just fail to see the problem.

9/19/2006 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

And is that so bad, seeing as how she IS a good player.

I really think you don't want to go into that territory.

9/19/2006 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Some random notes:

1) New Rule: Sarcasm is funny ... when people don't take it so seriously.

2) It's interesting that guys generally have less of a problem with hypersexualized female photoshoots then women. That being said, Will's right, Yunjin Kim's looked better. On the show she's passable, on the cover she's mentally challenged.

3) Watching the Gong Li collection does nothing to degrade Hollywood hypersexualization of Asian American actresses. Even if one could negate the subtitle factor (and no, English dubbing doesn't really help), one has to contend with the general trend that American moviegoers still want Hollywood blockbusters, with expansive budgets and insane special effects. The indie/ foreign film market has increased dramatically over the years, but given the choice many Americans will spend their $9.50 on Spiderman 3 long before they consider Curse of the Golden Flower.

9/20/2006 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

As for the post itself...

The real question here, all humor aside, asks whether people should be concerned that White Hollywood's misogynistic "strip-for-success" pressures continually trickle down to influence actresses of color. I realize the inherent bias here, but I'm not that concerned when White chicks like Keira Knightley periodically bare all for glossy periodicals. To maintain their prized neo-Victorian sexual omnipotence, White women have performed burlesque and called it high art since antiquity. Marilyn Monroe flashed the world over a street grate; Madonna stripped ... well ... just pick one. The question becomes whether this is more reprehensible when the darker nations show skin.

My belief remains that different problems arise. I'm desensitized to White female celebrities dressed like strippers and streetwalkers - excuse my cynicism, but part of me almost thinks that's the state of nature. The sad commentary emerges here when one inspects the time needed for actresses of color to break into respectable Hollywood circles. Yunjin Kim from all accounts was a respected and acclaimed actress in South Korea long before Lost; the idea that she's half naked on a low-budget lad-mag at that height of her American success boggles the mind simply because you'd think she doesn't need skin exposure to increase her public profile.

I'm not surprised if Paris Hilton or Tara Reid strips to pay rehab tuition on FHM's covers; in a sense, they've already shown 'ho tendencies. But I despise KING because it's basic argument to minority actresses is that no matter your credentials, minority audiences will not support your next project unless you remove your clothes in our magazine for easy promotion. This represents a growing trend of modern White patriarchy men of color would do well to reject.

9/20/2006 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Mac said...

"Yunjin Kim from all accounts was a respected and acclaimed actress in South Korea long before Lost"
She may have been respected and famous but don't get it twisted, she's not on the same level of aGong Li. That's like saying Camron Diaz is on the same level as Meryl Streep.

What's the difference of her posing in these types of pictures here in America and her doing it in Korea?

9/20/2006 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger little light said...

I'm just going to keep swooning over the smart, emotionally-convincing, strong, complex, character-over-sexualization work Grace Park's doing over on that other show, thanks.
That or swooning over her.

9/20/2006 11:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

The question becomes whether this is more reprehensible when the darker nations show skin.

It's probably easiest to break it down like this: when white women show skin, they tend to be framed as "classy". When women of colour bare skin, they tend to be framed as (choose any misogynistic descriptor of women).

On the other hand, stars from Asian countries are still spat upon when reaching Hollywood. See Andy Lau for the classical example (he was asked to act in the film version of M.Butterfly, and he refused to take the role.)

little light, that's not helping, as I believe Grace Park did do a Maxim photoshoot a while back.

9/21/2006 12:01:00 AM  
Blogger little light said...

Damn. True that, Jay, I just found it. It's pretty ridiculous, too.

9/21/2006 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

"It's probably easiest to break it down like this: when white women show skin, they tend to be framed as "classy". When women of colour bare skin, they tend to be framed as (choose any misogynistic descriptor of women)." - Jay

I'm not sure I agree Jay. Certainly that's true in many cases (Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction comes to mind), but the recent nude Vanity Fair cover was decried in many media quarters. Or take Tara Reid's drunken nipple slip - it seems that in recent faith and values Bush years, all of these White female burlesque moments come under fire, in ways that frame the debate around the continued pressure to "strip-for-success" in Hollywood.

Some stuff is just nasty (I don't need Britney Spears naked and pregnant anywhere, and I doubt I'm alone), but I doubt that a cut and dry "they can take it off and gain respect, we can't" dichotomy fully captures the complex media and social perceptions at work here.

Mac, I never implied that Yunjin Kim was South Korea's Gong Li. I just find her above a Stuff magazine photo shoot. Further, the difference in location implies huge differences in social status and cultural tolerance of media nudity, but aside from the obvious, I think it's a valid concern that actresses of color may endure certain pressures to hypersexualize their bodies in public that denigrate the race as a whole.

America's multiracial cosmopolitanism means that when Yunjin Kim undresses, more than just her own people will pay attention, watching with their own prejudices and biases. Kim can't live her life around other people's thoughts, but if appearing in a bikini on a lad-mag cover has any definable link to general hypersexualization of Asian American females, I think questioning Kim's photoshoot is appropriate. Do you?

9/21/2006 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Bankuei said...

I think James is summing up the issue- when white folks get naked (or do anything in media), it doesn't reflect on all white people, whereas, POC representations -do- become the reflection white people use on them.

This does reflect on the larger issue because as Jenn points out- Yunjin was doing fine in Asia taking the respectable route, but coming to America, suddenly the image has to change to fit the American ideal of the hypersexualized Asian woman.

I pointed to the slave bit, because often people use the excuse that if any POC was compliant or chose to take part in something messed up, that justifies the whole situation.

9/22/2006 03:13:00 AM  

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