Category Archives: representations

Yea ‘Aloha’ is Super White, But What’s Up With the Way We’re Talking About It?

Still from Aloha

by Sharon Chang, originally posted at  Multiracial Asian Families

Okay first let’s just get this out of the way. Aloha is a really, really bad movie. Like REALLY bad. It’s getting horrible reviews (as it should) for lousy directing, a terrible script, mismatched A-list actors, poor production etc. It’s boring as hell to watch. I’m not going to even bother giving a a story synopsis here because the plot is so pointless and uninteresting, it doesn’t matter anyway. If you want or need a synopsis, it’s easy to find one online. Just do a web search.
No all you need to know, if you don’t already, is this: Set in Hawaii where Native Hawaiians continue to be besieged by whites and the military, the movie centers white people and the U.S. military anyway, all of which is supposedly made better by the conceit of a military-serving mixed-race Hawaiian/Chinese/Swedish character, who is actually played by a white actress.

Yup. Pretty much.

I saw this movie not because I wanted to (believe me there were so many other things I’d rather have been doing on a sunny day in Seattle), but because I felt I needed to. It’s rare that any sort of discussion about mixed-race/Asian intersections enters public discourse. So when it does, it’s a really important opportunity to get a glimpse into how society views and thus treats people of multiracial Asian descent.

I think almost everyone acknowledges/agrees here that casting a white woman in the role of mixed-race woman of color is crap; that blatant Hollywood whitewashing against a Hawaiian backdrop merely renews the license on an insidious practice that keeps marginalizing people of color. But as the scathing reviews keep rolling in, here’s what I’m really noticing: “Why is Emma Asian”, “Emma Stone Isn’t Asian”, “Not Buying Emma Stone As An Asian-American”, “Emma Stone As An Asian”, “Asian Emma Stone”.

Do you see it too? This is a film set in Hawaii which yes, doesn’t depict the many Asians who live there and alludes to yellow peril, but ultimately is a place that belongs to (and has been stolen from) the Hawaiian people. And yet in our conversations somehow this crucial point seems to be getting subsumed under the shadow of politicized Asian America. Even multiraciality seems to be less interesting to the public than that a character was supposed to be a ‘quarter’ Chinese. To be fair, reviewers do mention Native Hawaiians, Hawaiian culture, history and oppression to varying degrees (they sort of have to), but it’s pretty clear the fact of Stone’s non-Asian-(sometimes-mixed)-ness, is the one calling shotgun:

“…[multiracial people] comprise the fastest-growing population in America. Which makes Crowe’s choice of Stone as the melanin-free embodiment of Hawaiian soul and one of the most prominent part-Asian characters ever to appear in a mainstream Hollywood film so baffling.”

Entertainment Weekly

“Emma Stone, a white actress best known for her role as a white savior with a heart of gold in ‘The Help,’ plays a character who is ostensibly the result of an Asian penis interacting with a white vagina.”

The Frisky

“‘IT IS THE YEAR 2015. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME HOW EMMA STONE, WHO IS WHITER THAN WHITE, GOT CAST AS A HALF ASIAN CHARACTER.'”

Salon

Aloha actually features one of the more prominent Asian/mixed heritage female leads in any studio movie in recent memory. She just happens to be played by Emma Stone.

The Daily Beast

“In an industry that already severely lacks Asian representation on the big screen, they get EMMA STONE to play an Asian…Have you learned nothing from Breakfast at Tiffany’s? It’s offensive. And it’s offensive to let the talents of many Asian actors go to waste. Plus, it’s just plain rude pulling this during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”

Complex

As far as I can tell, none of these mainstream reviewers are of Native Hawaiian descent and less than half are of mixed descent.

This, I don’t like. At. All. I’m deeply invested in exploring the facets of a mixed-race Asian identity and looking at the many questions it raises in a raced/racist world. But I am notinterested in a conversation about that identity which moves towards anti-indigeneity. This is what I see as the Hapa narrative, where mixed-race gets used as a wedge to further divide people of color while advancing white supremacy; something I wrote about in “Say Hapa, With Care” for AAPI Voices (2014):

The hapa of [Native Hawaiian] people stands in stark contrast to a widely commodified version, which lumps together mixed-race Asians and Pacific Islanders and then somehow magically loses the Pacific Islander part. This is no accident (whether intentional or not). It stems from a history that has sought to forget and remove Native peoples for centuries.
This is why, over the weekend, I called my fierce Native Hawaiian friend, scholar and activist Maile Arvin again to get her weigh in. And this is why, right now, I’m going to stop talking about my analysis immediately and let hers take final-center stage.


I’m not really interested in what they think is a more culturally competent movie but still is a white romance. It’s fundamentally flawed. It’s about a military contract and using Hawaii to protect the US from China and Japan…I haven’t seen critique of that. I’ve seen a lot of critique of the word ‘Aloha’ [but] more fundamentally it’s a settler/colonial movie. It’s not just about the name of it but the story they tell about Hawaii.

Maile was completely even-keeled, unruffled and unsurprised by the whitewashing of Aloha:

Hollywood doesn’t usually do well by Hawaiians. The tourism industry depends on all these movies about white romance in Hawaii. It’s not lucrative for Hollywood or tourism to tell any other story. There are so many movies that are shot in Hawaii and often they’re not identified as [being in] Hawaii, like Lost orJurassic Park. Hawaii is often used as the backdrop for all these stories that are about uninhabited islands – or – if it’s about Hawaii, it’s about white people falling in love.

She said she’d heard the movie-makers were claiming, in their defense, that Cameron Crowe loves, adores and respects Hawaii; that he researched his film for months and worked to incorporate the story of the Hawaiian people. But, she replied:

What Maile said she’s been far more interested to see is so many articles criticizing Aloha‘s whitewashing when, by contrast, Descendants (which also featured a mixed-race Hawaiian character played by white actor George Clooney) drew so little attention in 2011:
It seems like the Emma Stone character being Asian has sparked more critique than Descendants. Nobody seemed to have a problem with George Clooney playing a Hawaiian. [So] for a large audience, Hawaiians looking white isn’t a problem, but a mixed Asian person looking white is unbelievable. Which is kind of disturbing. The wider public thinks that Hawaiians could look like Emma Stone, but if they’re mixed with Asian, they can’t. It seems connected to larger problems like the API [Asian Pacific Islander] designation and Asian Americans speaking on behalf or over Pacific Islanders. It shows gaps in solidarity.

In conclusion, she powerfully spoke on the kind of intention/action it really takes to build coalitions and work in alliance with the Native Hawaiian community:

There are definitely a lot of mixed families and people who are Asian and Hawaiian. They are not necessarily always in conflict. At the same time, a lot of people who aren’t mixed [Hawaiian] grew up on the island and identify as Hawaiian. That’s the same problem. It just covers up Native Hawaiians again. And Native Hawaiians are erased from so many things. It’s important to be clear about how you represent yourself. For example, there are some Asian American activists [in Hawaii] that identify themselves as Asian settlers. Some people hate that idea. But it’s a way to express solidarity and really involve in activism with Native Hawaiians.

I think we need to be very very careful, aware, and far more thoughtful about the ways we critique this film. At this point I’m maybe even less concerned with Cameron Crowe (who’s an idiot) and his dumb movie, and way more worried about us. If we’re truly outraged by Hollywood whitewashing because it invisibilizes and erases, do we do much better when we erase too? Aren’t we just cloning the same that’s been done to us? Emma Stone should not have been cast in a person of color role. I one hundred percent agree. But let us never forget what that role was truly supposed to be. Not just an Asian one – but a very marginalized Indigenous and mixed-race one too.

Undoing racism is about uplifting oppressed voices, remembering forgotten histories, and not allowing our own suffering to become more important than the suffering of others. In thinking on Aloha, please make sure you are also hearing/centering Native Hawaiian voices and the story of Native Hawaiian peoples:

“Say Hapa, With Care”

“Possessions of Whiteness: Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness in the Pacific”

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Flapping In The Breeze: The New Captain America Faces Challenges From Within

By Arturo R. García

The Falcon is going to be the new Captain America! Great! But then what?

Oh, you expected this to stick? History says otherwise. But there’s a potential problem ahead.

SPOILERS under the cut

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Racialicious Is Looking For POC Creators At San Diego Comic-Con

We’re just over a week away from the pop-culture experience that is San Diego Comic-Con, and while Arturo and Kendra pore over the event schedule to prepare their preview, we’d like to ask your help in finding some people who might be flying under the radar.

If you or somebody you know is a POC creator at the show, drop us a line at team@racialicious.com — use the subject line Racialicious SDCC — or in the comment thread here and let people know about your project. We’ll give you a signal boost in not only our two-part SDCC preview next week, but on social media, as well.

Just like last year, both Kendra and Arturo will be live-tweeting panels and posting during the event, on their respective Twitter accounts and the official Racialicious feed. Do let us know, Racializens, if you’ll be around as well. We’d love to see you there!

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A Call For An Annual #PrezRezVisit

By Guest Contributor Megan Red-Shirt Shaw

Only four United States presidents have ever visited an Indian reservation during their terms: Calvin Coolidge in 1927, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, Bill Clinton in 1999 and now, Barack Obama, here in the year 2014. Last week ended a 15-year-long gap between visits by our country’s leader to Indian Country. As I watched footage of President Obama and First Lady Michelle sitting at a powwow hosted by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation, the thought shocked me: over the past 80 years, the president of our country has only come knocking on our doors four times.

Four.

Clinton’s visit ended a 63-year gap between presidential Rez visits. During that time, the Indian Reorganization Act was created; roughly 25,000 American Indians served in World War II; the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Youth Council came into existence; the American Indian Movement seized Alcatraz Island; Wounded Knee was reoccupied; the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs was reestablished; and the United States v. Sioux Indian case was decided by the Supreme Court. Yet, in sixty-three years, within Indian Country – none of these happenings warranted a visit from the President of the United States.
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Jenny Yang’s ‘If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say’ A Fast Online Hit

By Arturo R. García

In just four days, comedian Jenny Yang’s “If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say” has amassed more than two million views on YouTube. It helps, of course, that it’s been buoyed by being on Buzzfeed. But the video is strong on its own merits, as well; it’s a sharp successor to the “Sh*t [x] Say” realm of clips because it turns up the awkwardness.

The preview image, with Yang making her eyes “rounder” as a visibly uncomfortable white guy looks on, sets the stage for her and co-star Eugene Yang’s antics, set to “Home On The Range,” inflicting a barrage of microaggressions at their companions. (“Do you have a normal name, too? Or just your white name?”)

“I just love dating white guys,” she tells one guy. “Because they’re so large and overbearing.” In another “romantic” scene, Eugene smoothly tells a white woman, “You know, I’m really into white girls. Just white girls,” only to protest, “Where you going?” as she runs.

Yang is also co-host of the Angry Asian America webseries on ISA with Phil Yu (aka AngryAsianMan) and co-produces the Asian-American comedy showcase Dis/orient/ed project, which is playing Los Angeles on July 12. Yang shared the origin of the group with Bitch Magazine last fall:

Well, when you first start out as a standup, at least for me, it feels very solitary. And so what I realized is that if I didn’t organize something with like-minded people, I wouldn’t find those people, because we’re just grinding it out on our own.

And so after I had been doing it for about a year, I had noticed the different Asian-American female comics as well as female comics and comics of color who were out doing things. So actually I had a lot of camaraderie with white female comics, but I definitely made note of when there were Asian-American female comics. So much so that I found an article about a woman named Yola Lu. Yola had just graduated from the University of Washington and was just starting out doing standup comedy, and there was this coverage of her. I was like, “Oh, this sounds like someone I want to meet.” And I literally just Google stalked her, and found her, and she was super cool, and I was like, “Hey, I just want to know what you’re doing, because I’m doing it.” And we actually ended up doing a little Skype date just to get to know one another. And we hit it off! And just half-joking at the end of that Skype chat, we were like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we had enough critical mass of Asian-American female comics that we could do a whole tour of just us?” Like, someday, someday.

A few months later, she emailed me and she was like, “Jenny, remember how you were saying about that tour? I kept on thinking about it and I feel like we should just do it.” She instigated it, and we sat down and really thought about what it would look like. Then we recuited a good buddy of mine in LA, Atsuko Okatsuka. That created the initial trio of us who founded the tour.

Yang also shared more of her story in this clip from The Always Summer Project:

“I got to a point where I realized, in my professional career, in politics, which is my main career, it wasn’t really fulfilling me as much,” she said. “I kind of had this moment of like, ‘I’m a writer. I’m a performer. I need to take myself seriously, rather than dismiss it.'”

Check it out: United Colors of Amani

Amani Starnes’ new web series centers on what it’s like to be an “ethnically ambiguous” actress in Hollywood and the recipient of a host of stereotypes and biases. Starnes writes that she has “dealt with the ‘What are you?’ question her whole life. But what does it mean to be black, white, and everything in between as she navigates the entertainment industry and life in LA? The United Colors of Amani, a comedy with sociological undertones, sheds light on the uncomfortable, awkward, and outrageous constructions of race permeating showbiz.”

Episode 1: The Tryout