by Guest Contributor Terry K Park, originally published at Hyphen
Celine Parreñas-Shimizu begins her latest book, Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies, with a close reading of the controversial “Gay or Asian?” photographic spread from the April 2004 issue of Details. For those who need a refresher, the spread featured an Asian American male model accompanied with captions that conflated stereotypes of Asian American and gay men, such as this gem: “One cruises for chicken; the other takes it General Tso-style. Whether you’re into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial tastes.”
As you can imagine, this recycling of well-worn racist and homophobic images sold as “satire” did not sit well with a lot of folks, especially Asian American men, for whom this “straitjacketed” representation of Asian American male sexuality was a reminder of the many ways in which Asian American men have historically “fallen short.” But this crisis of masculinity, Parreñas-Shimizu warns, “must not lead to solutions that actually deepen and reemphasize Asian American masculinity as lacking such that the presumed and unstated racial problem is really the queer and the feminine.” Instead of beating up other men or conquering women to lick racial wounds, Parreñas-Shimizu wants us to consider “ethical” manhoods in which Asian American male sexuality is re-defined as the care for self and care for others.
Where can we find these alternative masculinities? In the same site of representational injury: the cinema. Parreñas-Shimizu, a professor of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara, takes her readers on a critical tour of Asian American films, characters, and actors past and present such as James Shigeta, Bruce Lee, and the Hmong American actor Bee Vang from Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. In fact, a fan of her work, I hope to work with her next year, on a fellowship at UCSB. I sat down with Professor Parreñas-Shimizu last March during the 2012 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, where she served as a respondent for a panel on Asian American media, to talk about her new book, the joys and challenges of being both an academic and a filmmaker, and of course, Jeremy Lin. Continue reading