Category Archives: exoticisation

Re-enter Charlie Chan?

By Arturo R. García

As Angry Asian Man noted this week, the images of Warner Oland playing Charlie Chan are associated with a side of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” it would prefer nobody remember. Oland, who played Chan in was arguably the face of Yellowface in the 1930′s, playing not only the “Honorable Detective,” but Fu Manchu in another film series. But a forthcoming book has renewed interest in both the character and the men who brought him to both the printed page and the silver screen.

Yunte Huang’s Charlie Chan: The Untold History of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History tells the story of Chang Apana, a detective with the Honolulu Police Department who was the inspiration for Chan. As detailed in a review of the book by The New Yorker, Apana – son of a Chinese immigrant father and a native Hawaiian mother – was allegedly “discovered” in 1924, when novelist Earl Derr Biggers noticed his name in an arrest record in a Honolulu newspaper. Within two years after Chan’s first appearance, Huang writes, Chang was being called “Charlie Chan” around Honolulu. But the detective’s job went beyond the usual police beat:

One of Chang’s jobs was to capture lepers, for forced transport to a leper colony on the island of Molokai, to die. Hawaiians called leprosy mai pake, “Chinese sickness,” because it came to the islands in the eighteen-thirties, and appeared to have arrived with the Chinese. Chang got that scar above his right eye while trying to capture a Japanese man who had contracted leprosy and who, armed with a sickle, refused to be sent to Molokai, on a journey over what came to be called the Bridge of Sighs.

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Race + Comics: How Open is Marvel’s Runaways Casting Call?

By Arturo R. García

Thanks to the folks at Racebending for the heads-up on this one: Yesterday a casting call went out for a film adaptation of the Runaways comic-book series, and there’s a red flag as regards the casting Nico Minoru.

The series follows Nico, a Japanese-American – that’s her in the black coat and pink shirt – and a group of teenagers who run away from home after discovering their parents are supervillains, and inherit their powers. Later in the series, Nico, a sorceress, assumes leadership over the group. But here’s the open call breakdown for “Girl 1,” who is presumably based on her character:

Uniquely beautiful, nurturing but guarded
Female, must play 16-18
Must be at least 16 by January 2011

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War, And The Clothes Brought ‘Here’ From ‘There’

By Guest Contributor Mimi Thi Nguyen, originally published at Threadbared

Browsing through cardboard boxes, I bought a library discard called Customs and Culture of Vietnam by Ann Caddell Crawford, published some time in the early 1960s, a sort-of guidebook. (I always buy this stuff, old LIFE magazines with “exposes” on Viet Nam and garishly colored desserts, Third World travelogues with “tips” for dealing with “the locals.”)

Apparently “comprehensive and authoritative,” the book is typically full of pastoral descriptions and shoddy pseudo-anthropological observations, snippets like, “The first things that newcomers usually notice in Vietnam are the smiling faces of countless children, and the lovely fragile-looking women in their flowing dresses reminiscent of butterflies. The people are a gentle type who are shy, yet can be outgoing with foreigners, especially Americans.” The Vietnamese are thus described as docile and submissive, never mind the lengthy history of native Vietnamese struggles to oust the Chinese, French, and Americans from the region, of course. (I roll my eyes.)

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Human Zoos, Conservation Refugees, and the Houston Zoo’s The African Forest

By Guest Contributor Shannon Joyce Prince

Note: The Houston Zoo uses the term “pygmy” and specifies no particular so called p*gmy ethnic groups.  According to the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee, “This term [‘pygmy’]is used by some communities and organisations, but is considered pejorative by others.”  When I first began writing about the Houston Zoo it was my research-based understanding that as there is no one word that names all the African ethnic groups racialized as “p*gmies” the term wasn’t offensive when speaking of the groups collectively while the names of the different ethnic groups should be used when speaking of them in particular.  In my writings on the Houston Zoo I continue to navigate this issue. Since some communities consider “p*gmy” to be pejorative, I use an asterisk when employing the word when not quoting another source.  When speaking of a particular ethnic group, I use the group’s name, clarifying that the group is labeled as “p*gmy.”  When speaking of the ethnic groups collectively I refer to them as labeled as rather than as being “p*gmy” as I have never been able to find a comprehensive list of all the ethnic groups.

The Houston Zoo has proudly announced a new project, The African Forest, which is set to open December 2010 if we don’t halt it.  According to the Zoo’s website, The African Forest is not just about exhibiting “magnificent wildlife and beautiful habitats.  It’s about people, and the wonderful, rich cultures that we all can share.”  Actually, The African Forest is about exhibiting and teaching inaccurate Western conceptions of African indigenous cultures in a place designed to exhibit and teach about animals.  The African Forest is also about displacement in the name of conservation.

Fairs, exhibitions, and zoos that showcase, market, or teach about Africans and other non-white peoples as though they were animals are called “human zoos.” Only non-whites are exhibited as or alongside animals. Human zoos allowed and still allow targeted non-whites to be redefined as animals in Western, European, or First World spaces in order to justify white past, current, or planned mistreatment of non-white peoples in the non-white peoples’ homelands.

According to the Zoo’s website, The African Forest includes an “African Marketplace Plaza” selling gifts from “from all over the world” and offering dining with a “view of giraffes;” a “Pygmy Village and Campground” showcasing “African art, history, and folklore” where visitors can stay overnight; “Pygmy Huts” where visitors will be educated about “pygmies” and “African culture,” hear stories, and be able to stay overnight; a “Storytelling Fire Pit;” an “Outpost” where visitors, while getting refreshments, will view posters “promoting ecotourism, conservation messages, and African wildlife refuges;” a “Communications Hut and Conservation Kiosk” where “visitors will use a replicated shortwave radio and listen in on simulated conversations taking place throughout Africa;” a “Rustic Outdoor Shower” representing the fact that the fictional “Pygmy Village” “recently got running water” where children can “cool off;” a section of the “Pygmy Village” where children can handle “African musical instruments and artifacts;” and “Tree House Specimen Cabinets” that showcase “objects, artifacts, and artwork.”[i] (This information is difficult to find on the Zoo’s website, so use the web addresses at this endnote if you want to look it up.)

The African Forest is problematic for several reasons.  For example, Africa is not a monolith.  Africa is a continent of fifty-three nations and even more cultures.  So while one may speak of a Ugandan forest, Yoruba marketplace, or Xhosa culture, Africa is such a diverse continent that the idea of, for example, an “African marketplace” is meaningless.

The Zoo’s website specifies that “The African Forest” is really the “central African forest,” but beyond the fact that Africa is not a monolith, central Africa is also not a monolith.  Central Africa contains Burundi, the Central African RepublicChad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.  Therefore, it’s problematic that in a website video the Zoo refers to “the culture of central Africa” as though there were only one.  (Furthermore, the Zoo doesn’t bother to name the village it’s creating a Baka, Mbuti, Twa, etc. village.  But as the Zoo is educating its visitors that all Africans are the same and all central Africans are the same, perhaps all so called p*gmy groups are the same, too.)

The ironic part of representing all Africa in the context of the central African forest is that certain aspects of both Africa in general and central Africa in particular are conspicuously absent from this “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.  For example, why are the large cities, skyscrapers, boutiques, and movie theaters of Africa missing while The African Forest shows off the village that just got running water?  I am emphatically against the idea that there is anything less modern about a “Pygmy hut” than a glass and steel tower, but the Zoo is only showing aspects of Africa that fit Western stereotypes of “primitivism.”[ii]

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Sex and the City, Just Wright, Gender Bonding, and RomCom Fantasy Worlds

by Latoya Peterson

“I mean, what did you think?”

My friend EJ asked me this as we were walking back to her car around 2:00 AM, having spent the last eight and a half hours on a Sex and the City themed bender.  She waited until we had separated from the larger group, knowing like I did that race and gender analysis would blow the moods of the other women.  I thought about my answer for a bit.  It struck me as hilarious that we were the type of women that Carrie and company would hate on if they met us . There was an episode where Miranda snarked on Steve’s new girlfriend for wearing cheap shoes and being from one of the bouroughs, instead of Manhattan proper – between the seven of us, we had all the wrong traits (including too many women of color and the “wrong” kind of white girls), rocked a mix of Benetton and knock off fashion, and went to the Cheesecake Factory for our big night out. Our dinner conversation revolved around friends, weddings, launching and starting businesses, and… Arizona SB1070 and racial profiling.* After the longest dinner ever, we trooped over to AMC Columbia to catch the movie.  Even at the last show that evening, the theater was still packed full of women.

While reading the criticism of SATC 2, I noticed quite a few comments asking do women of color even watch this stuff? The answer is emphatically yes.  When we took our sits, the crowd was multiracial and of varying sizes.  But I didn’t need to hit the theater to know that – the ads and give aways for SATC 2 were running on the urban radio stations and many sites for fashionistas of color were gearing up for the film.  One of my favorite spots, the Fashion Bomb, runs a contest around the launch of each movie and has women lining up to submit their best Carrie inspired fashions.

So, a better question to ask would be why so many women of color feel invested in a franchise that is dedicated to perpetuating stereotypes? Continue reading

A Contrarian View of Lady Gaga

By Thea Lim and Andrea PlaidLady Gaga Beyonce WireImage

After watching her Facebook news feed fill up with links to articles adoring the politics of Gaga, Thea emailed her local sex/race/gender/pop culture expert: Andrea.  Thea was puzzled by the wild adulation heaped upon Gaga as “transgressive” and “binary-breaking” by the gender studies crowd…not because Gaga is without merit, but because Thea could think of lots of other mainstream artists who had tried to play with appearances and femininity, and not gotten the same love.  When those adulations started to slide towards race, suggesting that Gaga’s work could be read not just as gender subversive, but also questioning and decentering whiteness, it was time for a Racialicious convo.

Thea: I was reading some articles over the weekend about how trangressive the video for “Telephone” is, and I couldn’t help but feel that people are reading things into her work. Not that there is anything wrong with that (especially considering what I do on Racialicious), but it seems as if people are giving her credit for being deeper than she is, rather than saying, oh look what this work could represent, regardless of the artist’s intentions.

There’s this article, which beyond seemingly giving Gaga way more credit than she deserves, makes a gratuitous comment in the article about how the positioning of Beyonce vs Gaga in “Telephone” is a reversal of the black/white dynamic. But I don’t think so at all. For example, in the video Gaga addresses Beyonce with a silly, cloying nickname with is a little condescending, and the video ends with Gaga definitely being the Decider. The article says that Beyonce breaking Gaga out of jail shows that black/white reversal, but the video ends with Gaga “taking care” of Beyonce: the reversal (which I’m not sure I buy in the first place) effectively nullified.

I do get the Gaga mania among queer and feminist theorists, but I also feel like there have been artists before her who were doing interesting things with gender in their work — like M.I.A. who really does not fit easily into either poptart or rock goddess categories. (And M.I.A. has gone so far as to call out the racist-sexism of the music industry, even at the risk of alienating key collaborators.) Even the evolution over the years of Beyonce has been fascinating, in terms of how she went from being this ideal of hetero desire (and also being a blond, light-skinned black lady who was accessible from a white point of view) to making these crazy-ass videos. Like the video for “Video Phone” is just weird.

So why does Gaga get all the love? How much of it is because, as a small young blonde woman she appears to be trangressive in a way that artists like M.I.A. or even Trina cannot be transgressive, because to begin with they are already seen as non-normative, simply because they aren’t white? Is it because the feminist model is predicated on whiteness, so that is what it is drawn to untangling?

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Feminist Intersection: On hipsters/hippies and Native culture

By Special Correspondent Jessica Yee, originally published at Bitch Magazine

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Lately I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the hipsters and hippies, as well as the hippie/hipster “culture” at large, and have become increasingly annoyed at their depiction/co-option of my ethnicity as a First Nations person.

Kelsey pointed me to this post on Sociological Images last week which rounds up some of the latest and greatest of this ever continuing trend.

I know my parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles have had to deal with this in their time and it’s certainly not a new thing –but it’s 2010 and not only does it still continue strongly to this day – it’s taken some interesting turns down the erasure of true origins road. This isn’t a hate letter, or reverse racism (as if there were such a thing!). It’s also not an attempt to discourage you from finding out more about Native people – and in fact I strongly ENCOURAGE you to do some actual research and knowledge seeking so you might get our culture right and think twice about things like permission and respect before you act on your appropriation.

So to the hipsters/hippies who appropriate Native culture but aren’t First Nations/Aboriginal/Indigenous, I’m asking you nicely now, to PLEASE stop annoying (the fuck out of) me with the following:

The clothing. Whether it’s headbands, feathers, bone necklaces, mukluks, or moccasins – at least put some damn thought into WHAT you are wearing and WHERE it’s from. I know our people sell these things en masse in gift shops and trading posts, and it seems like it’s an open invitation to buy it and flaunt it, but you could at least check the label to see A. If it’s made by actual Indigenous people/communities B. What does this really mean if YOU wear it?

Organic living and environmentalism as “new” concepts. One of my friends jokes that all Native people should get green energy for free because that’s how we’ve been living for centuries and also taught the colonizers how to live (which may or may not have screwed us in the end). I really do love the resurgence of the green movement and how things are becoming more environmentally friendly – but I don’t need certain members of the movement pretending like they started this or ignoring extreme realities we’re facing like environmental racism and justice. I also think we need actual Native people being in charge of and leading the responses to environmental degradation that are happening in our own territories. It’s not to say we don’t need allyship and support – but it’s also rather irritating when I read an event posting for a cause of some sort for a First Nation where there’s like two Native people in the whole place (who either barely say anything or are supposed to go along with the way the hippies organize without complaint because they’re “doing something for us”).

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Who’s a Pretty Burlesque Princess Now

By Guest Contributor Tiara the Merch Girl, originally published at The Merch Girl

I wrote this for AO (Adults Only) Magazine in mid-October last year, for Issue 3 that was meant to come out…now. I haven’t heard anything beyond “yes we got it”, and since some people have asked, I figure I’ll post my original article here. There weren’t pictures in the original submission, mainly due to copyright issues, but I’ll see if I can add some pics here.

Thank you to everyone who helped with research and quotes.  Feel free to share!

No one is jerkin’ while looking at my merkin, my skin is cracked like a shoddy creme brulee; not even a Prozac milkshake can shake my blues away – oh no, no no, it’s not a pretty princess day!

- Kitten on the Keys

My first taste of burlesque and pinup style was on my 21st birthday in Melbourne. A close friend had brought me to the Royal Melbourne Show (a massive carnival and agricultural show) as his present to me, and while there I spotted a tent advertising Old-Style Photos. I ducked in, put on a saloon girl costume – red bustier with white “boning”, a poofy red and black skirt, fishnets and a garter holding up a set of cards – and hammed up for a set of sepia photos that placed me in the Wild Wild West. I loved the outfit (which was surprising as I don’t normally like many things girly) and ever since then I had been hunting out for anything reminiscent of saloon-girl style.

My foray into burlesque as an apprentice performer and enthusiast meant many hours of looking up photos and art of burlesque performers, many echoing the pin up art of people like Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vagras. Around this time rockabilly and alternative modelling also came in vogue, with many pinups sporting cherry A-line dresses and full-sleeve tattoos. Hollywood and mainstream pop culture also caught on to the cheesecake, with Vanity Fair continuing the tradition of casting upcoming movie starlets in classic poses as part of their annual Vanities Girls series.

While quite a number of the photos and performers were eye-catching, and often inspiring (that dress! that fascinator! THOSE PASTIES!), after a while they started to all look the same. The same poses, the same tropes – naughty teacher, just out of bed, exotic princess – the same look. The same tattoos on the same curvy bodies. The same buxom blondes, devillish redheads, sultry brunettes. Hardly anyone darker than milk chocolate – though if they were they either fit the same poses or had animal print thrown onto them.

Burlesque and pinup has been celebrated lately for its acceptance of diverse body images, and for its openness towards amateurs and hobbyists. There’s no need to look like the models in those magazines, no need for trim bellies and thin thighs; anyone can be beautiful. But does the current scene have standards of its own? What happens if you’d rather not be in a cherry A-line dress or have a tattoo, would prefer your waist be set free than wrapped in a corset, can’t stand a couquettish smile and would rather hold a sneaky sneer?

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