Fu Manchu, Jade Tan one can resentfully understand; what with the regrettable “Yellow Peril” and all. Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi and Rob Schneider as an Asian Minister (being one-quarter Filipino does not make it okay, Mr. Schneider) is pushing it. But a movie where all the bad guys are Asians – switched from Chinese to North Korean, in an ironic attempt to not harm the Chinese market for American film – and all the good guys are Caucasian? In this post-civil rights day and age, normally a setup like this would be handled with a little more tact. As it is, it is already a racism-bomb ready to go off.
Let us move beyond that. Perhaps the target audience of 18-25 year olds – children born in the late eighties, early nineties – is tolerant and progressive enough to understand that what they are watching is not representative of modern life. Perhaps their parents – who grew up during the Civil Rights era, fighting against the draft – taught them well so that they know they are watching nothing but a Republican WASP fantasy.
Or perhaps after decades of seeming progression, we have learned nothing at all.
Have the powers that be in Hollywood forgotten that film as a medium is capable of changing schools of thought on a global scale? During the last stages of World War II there was an glut of Latin-American films produced in order to foster a sort of familiarity between America and their neighbors (i.e., allies just in case). Surrounding the Cold War, the enemies in action films were Soviets and Cubans (e.g. the original 1984 Red Dawn). Currently, the antagonists are Arab, with no guesses why.
What happens to American popular culture when the enemies are Asian? Racism will manifest itself like a disease. Who remembers when Chinese-Americans had to wear buttons on their clothes that said they were not Japanese-Americans so they would not get beat up or thrown in an internment camp in their own country? Probably not the 18-25 year-olds who have seen Red Dawn (in fact, they may not even know how Communism and “Redness” factor into this film). As Jeff Yang writes in an amazing article on this topic: “Xenophobia is bad. Blurry xenophobia is, arguably, worse — at a minimum, because it enlarges the potential target pool.”
It is bad enough that Americans lump Sikhs, Arabs, and Indians in one group. It is all too easy to do the same with Asians.
Here’s a pitch for all the right-wing movie-goers: The South decides to secede again, is invaded pathetically by the liberal blue states who are subsequently beaten into submission due to a lack of red meat in their diet. The Second Amendment becomes the First Amendment and all non-Aryans become second-class citizens. You heard it first here.
You tried, Bruce Lee. Happy belated birthday.