Beyond Gran Torino and Asian Males in Media

So...Bee Vang.

If you don't know him, then it's probably good to know who he is.

If you can know who Clint Eastwood is, you should definitely take time to know Bee Vang. Bee Vang was Clint Eastwood's co-star in Gran Torino.

I wrote a kind of synopsis of Bee and his experience making the film on my "ideas" AMMMO blog. Clint Eastwood included.

Bee Vang's a cool kid. It was at once surprising and refreshing to hear him spit hot fire on topics of race, masculinity, and media activism, ultimately deconstructing a movie that he played the lead role in.

Gran Torino was just one in a line of big Hollywood movies that have either ignored, impersonalized, de-masculinized, taken away the agency of the Asian male. Avatar: The Last Airbender directed by M.Night Shyalaman was based heavily on Chinese culture. However, the lead characters were three white actors, leaving Asian faces to provide the background. The movie so blatantly erased Asian culture and identity that it sparked the website

21 the movie was based on the life of mostly Asian MIT students who learned how to beat the Vegas tables using an intricate card counting system. The main guy was based on Jeff Ma, a kid who grew up in Massachusetts. His was centered around his circle of friends who were mostly Asian. However, in the production of the movie, the lead roles, went to London-based actor Jim Sturgess, a white guy and Kate Bosworth, a woman whiter than a New England winter.

So the question brought up by those two movies: Why would they cast white people in stories?

Simple! Because Asian characters wouldn't generate revenue, say studio executives. And that's the bottomline!

Unfortunately, the bottomline more often than not leads to less-than-ideal results, particularly if you're interested in representations of reality. It seems like a story's reality is represented to the extent that it doesn't interfere with making money, especially in Hollywood. The priority seems to be based on doing anything that gets people excited enough to fork over 10 bucks to earn the privilege of staring at 50 foot screen for 2 hours.

And unfortunately, movies can influence thinking and stereotypes about groups of people.

However, it is an accepted common practice to deny that you would let a movie influence your thinking.

The Asian Male in the Media and the Implications of it

The workshop held be Bee and Professor Schein, organized by Prof Scott Wilson, for me was pretty much the affirmation of a lifelong narrative of feeling invisible and insignificant. I mean, I don't suddenly need all this importance placed upon me, but it's nice to be acknowledged instead of categorically dismissed.

I wrote about how the only time I remember seeing a Filipino acknowledged in American media as a 9-year old was in an FBI warrant list. It was fascinating and scary at the same time, having someone who looked like he could be my uncle. I always wondered how mean the FBI dude actually was. I wrote about how the tide seems to be changing today and why Manny Pacquiao, the boxer is very important to a lot of us.

Now why is it important that Asian males have more representation in the media?

Well, I just kinda wish people would get used to the idea that we are subjects too, with emotions, opinions, ideas. My entire persona can't be dismissed just because I fit maybe a few characteristics of stereotypes.

I think the representations and stereotypes have a connection to the everyday decisions people will make about me: whether or not to engage in conversation with me to important things such as whether or not they will offer me a job. It's already been shown in sociological studies that a name that "sounds" black can be the basis of a systematic categorical dismissal of black job applicants. It's also been shown that faculty members described with stereotypically "woman" adjectives such as "nurturing", "kind", and "agreeable" got less faculty positions.

So we can make micro-decisions based on names and overly-simplified adjectives that conjure up stereotypes of identities. And they can affect not only my life, but a lot of people who fit into categories that are not at the top of the hierarchy.

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