A friend of mine asked, two days before the theatre premier of Straight Outta Compton, what impact I thought the N.W.A. biopic would have on the Black Lives Matter movement. My answer, since I had not seen or read much about the film, was insufficient and characterized by stock hip-hop feminist answers: white viewers and critics of the Movement may very well use the film to say, “See! They’re advocating violence, glorifying it even!”; hopefully it’ll give historically contextual backing to the legacy of violence visited upon Black bodies to which Black Lives Matter is speaking directly; and, of course, as with all things venerating hip-hop, I worry about the gendered violence and erasure of (Black) women.
This last point — the violence and erasure of Black women in particular — is what the conversation in the car ride with a few other Ph.D. students at my graduate school revolved around. And rightly so.
If we are to allow the film to speak to the plight of Black bodies in contemporary America and use it to do the work of Black liberation, then we must honor the aims of the Black Lives Matter Movement—and the three queer Black women who founded the movement—by critiquing the normalization of violence against Black women. Read the Post Straight Outta Compton, Black Women, and Black Lives Matter
Today, UC Santa Barbara will cancel classes to mourn George Chen, Katie Cooper, Cheng Yuan Hong, Chris Martinez, Weihan Wang, and Veronika Weiss, the six people whose deaths at the hands of a young biracial man — we will not print his full name in this space if we can help it — over the weekend brought sudden, needed attention to several particularly toxic strains of performative cis-masculinity.
But, while debates continue over the causes of the fatal attacks and the killer’s motivations, what cannot be argued anymore is that this is an outlier.
Driving that conversation were tags like #YesAllWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen, and When Women Refuse, a tumblr created by activist Deanna Zandt to highlight other stories of men who felt so entitled to womens’ bodies and spaces that they responded with violence to their privilege being rebuffed.
Under the cut, we’ve compiled portions of some of the most informative analyses of the situation.
You thought you were having fun last month at New York Comic Con when you and your film crew gained access to the convention using your job credentials at SiriusXM Radio. You thought this would be a great opportunity to provide footage for your YouTube show (now defunct, thankfully). You thought it would make great television to pull me aside, to put your mic in my face, to drive your camera’s light in my eyes and to ask if you could buy me.
You thought it was just a joke when you said you wanted to buy an umbrella with an Asian girl — because I was holding a parasol.
You thought you were being clever by mistaking me for a geisha girl, like the many submissive, diminutive women you’ve seen on TV or on the Internet or in movies.
You thought that because I was small and female and Asian, it gave you the right to ridicule my existence.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here we are again. Miss Saigon, the musical about a Vietnamese prostitute falling in love with a white soldier during the Vietnam War, then killing herself when he ultimately rejects her, was back onstage at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul (MN), until the show closed this past Sunday. This musical, like any good zombie, just won’t stay dead. Along with it, the racism and sexism inherent in the play have been resurrected. Really, as the mom of two girls under six and the spouse of a candidate running for office, I don’t have time to get involved – again – in the protest against Miss Saigon. I protested this back in 1994. Plenty of good people (Don’t Buy MISS SAIGON Coalition) are already working on it. More articulate writers (David Mura) have written about it.
However, when one of my African American friends said, “No one has said why it’s offensive and I’m unfamiliar with the show, so I can’t relate,” I decided to follow my advice to my husband Blong, who had originally refused to answer the question of a white man: “What does the Trayvon Martin case have to do with civil rights?” Responses to these questions take time and energy. But as I told Blong, “Plenty of people don’t know, so while it is tiresome, you have to answer the question.”
So, why is Miss Saigon sexist, racist and generally offensive?
The above-referenced Vietnamese prostitute is portrayed as a tragic figure whose only hope is being rescued by the white soldier. Since the Vietnamese men in the production are portrayed as morally offensive and undesirable, this white guy is the only choice. The only hero of the musical is a white man. It’s bad enough that the woman at the center of the musical needs a man to rescue her from her life. The fact that this can only happen at the hands of a white man makes it sexist and racist. I am Hmong, not Vietnamese, so why do I care? Unfortunately, people can’t tell the difference. They’ve mistaken me for Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Kim, the Vietnamese prostitute, is me. I am her.
In Miss Saigon, the only image of Asian women is “prostitute”– not that I am condemning sex workers. But not all Asian women during the Vietnam War were prostitutes. When stereotypes are the only images people see, it is necessary to correct the record. This play is telling me and my young daughters that essentially, we, Asian women, exist to serve and please white men.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. My truth about the Asian women I know who lived during the Vietnam War is far different. The women I know were resourceful, strong, and fearless. For example, my mother took care of my two brothers and I after my father died at the tail end of the Vietnam War. After the Americans pulled out of Laos, the Hmong were targeted for extermination for our role in helping the Americans. With my mother as the head of our household, we escaped Laos and survived the refugee camps in Thailand. In America, she navigated the social service system so that we had a roof over our heads, had food in our stomachs, and graduated from high school and college.