Monday, January 30, 2006

Tonight... Appearing in Yellowface...

Today I ask the age old question, "are we all the same?!" I mean really, to average Joe Schmoe here in the U.S. are all Asians the same? The reason I ask is because apparently to the makers of Memoirs of a Geisha Asians of different origins and different countries are completely interchangeable with one another. What else could explain the use of Chinese actresses in a movie about JAPAN and one of its most well-known traditions?

I think one of the explanations used by the filmmakers is that the Chinese actresses used in the movie spoke better English than any Japanese actresses they could find. What I find most absurd and ironic about this explanation is that these actresses, cast because of their English fluency, were instructed to speak with accents (for a more "authentic" representation I assume). Its like there was a certain FOBiness level that the film tried to achieve - too much FOB and America gets disinterested; not enough FOB and America doesn't buy the story.

In a way isn't this usage of Asians and Asian culture in Hollywood almost like the minstrel shows of the Antebellum South where performers donned "blackface"? Now you maybe asking, "isn't' blackface where white performers imitated black slaves?" But as I found in the liner notes of the Little Brother's newest album, The Minstrel Show, "Blacks eventually broke into the act, but to participate, they had to play by the rules. They wore 'blackface', too, so as not to offend the white audiences, who preferred their Negro culture second-hand, and therefore insisted that their darkies dress up like whites imitating blacks." Memoirs of a Geisha seems to be such a film. A movie about Japanese culture as Hollywood would have it imitated by others. An "ethnic" film catered towards and made palatable for white American audiences with its slightly accented English. It could very well be argued that Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang were donning a "face" for these white audiences when they stepped into kimonos and danced (as choreographed by John DeLuca) for the cameras. Furthermore, the second-hand nature of the Japanese culture presented in the movie was made abundantly clear to me after reading an excerpt from a review in Japan's Asahi Times which stated, "While it's a shame that no Japanese actress could meet Marshall's (film's director) requirements, his choice of Zhang does not disappoint." There is no doubt that Ziyi Zhang is a brilliant actress, but what the fuck does Rob Marshall know about this ancient Japanese art!? Seeing that geishas are Japanese women from Japan how could he not find a Japanese actress that fit the role? Maybe Rob should have just gone old school Hollywood? Cast Paris Hilton and have wardrobe tape her eyes back so they would be slanted.

In the words of P. Diddy, "It's all about the Benjamins!" Cash, y'all! The plain and simple fact is that culture in Hollywood is to be bought and sold - nothing new. Yeoh and Zhang have world-wide star power that keep the registers cha-chinging. The two have proven themselves where it counts, box office sales, and their casting guaranteed success for the film's producers. So to answer the question posed at the beginning, Asians are all the same in Hollywood, especially when filmmakers get blinded by the green of the almighty dollar.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Super Bowl Shout Out

In the first of my Hapa celebrity shout outs, I'd like to wish Steelers' star wide receiver Hines Ward good luck in Super Bowl XL. Ward, whose mother is Korean and father is Black, was born on March 8, 1976 in Seoul, South Korea. Growing up in Georgia Ward attended Forest Park High School and eventually went on to become a standout at the University of Georgia. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Hines Ward in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft. Since being drafted Ward has earned three team MVP selections and four consecutive NFL Pro Bowl selections (2001-2004). On his right arm Ward bears a tattoo with the Korean enunciation of his name.


Monday, January 23, 2006

Strictly 4 My ORIENTALZ

Is it just me or are you still surprised when you hear the word Oriental coming out of someone's mouth to describe a person of Asian descent? I find it almost comical that many of my non-Asian relatives still think they are being politically correct when they use Oriental. I bring this up today because at a family gathering last week one of my cousins asked me what kind of girls I like to date. "So, do you just like Oriental girls?" I know my cousin doesn't know any better, this is why I'm not angered, but c'mon! How do you grow up all your life here on the West Coast and still talk like your some yee-haw from the deep South?

In general, however, should I be angered when someone uses this term? In all honesty, whenever I hear the word I really do want to burst out laughing. I think part of the reason I find the usage of Oriental so humorous is because often the person saying it looks like they came straight from the trailer park. On the handful of occasions that a person has muttered Oriental in front of me they were usually not from the West Coast or any major metropolitan area. Part of my "joy" in hearing such a person use the word is that it just reinforces my general notion that the rest of our country is comprised of a bunch of ignorant hicks. Further, I think that the term is so outdated that when a young person says Oriental they come across looking like some old 1950s geezer. I must say, however, the only time I get irate is when Howard Stern, knowing perfectly well that Oriental is unacceptable to Asian Americans, uses it just to be a dick and argue that it is not really a derogatory term.

Now, if I may digress somewhat I want to take this time to further inquire about the terms used to describe people of Latin American descent. With all the words in usage - Latino, Chicano, Raza - I am always baffled to see hip hop icons from New York in interviews using Spanish to describe themselves or other Latinos. A prime example is in the DJ documentary Scratch where Rob Swift tells the camera, "... I'm Spanish. My parents are Colombian." So I ask you(sarcastically) Rob, how is it that somehow you are from Spain yet your parents are from a country on a different continent thousands of miles away? Hello! Spanish = from Spain. Colombian = from Colombia.

Ok, enough sarcasm for today. I love Rob Swift - one of my favorite DJs in the world. And, I actually do understand that the term Spanish, as it is used out East, refers to those of Spanish speaking cultures. However, I feel that we got to truly represent who we are. Latinos are not just of Spanish heritage but a mix of indigenous, African (and even Asian) cultures as well. Moreover, if we were solely Spanish (i.e., European) we would not be facing some of the struggles in white American society that we do.

Back to Oriental. I heard a rumor about five years ago that some academics wanted to turn Oriental into an empowering term much like the word Chicano. Instead of allowing history to define and use Chicano as a derogatory word, activists in the 1960s and 70s took hold of it and redefined it in a positive way. To my knowledge, such a change in the usage of Oriental has not occurred yet. A similar on-going debate seems to be happening in African American academia. Has nigga replaced and redefined nigger? The actual spelling has changed but does this evidence a change in its definition? To quote Tupac, "Niggers was the ones on the rope, hanging off the thing; Niggas is the ones with gold ropes, hanging out at clubs." Though I am all for the 'jacking and redefining of derogatory terms, I don't know if Oriental would even work out as an empowering designation. For one thing, many people don't even realize that the word is a bad thing to say! The significance in calling ourselves Orientals as a way to shed the negative connotations would be completely lost on white America.

Well, there you have it. My little fling with the word Oriental for today. I am consoled by the fact that I am not alone in the way Oriental amuses me at times. In fact, let me end with a story that my friend Dirty Viv once told me regarding her travels through Georgia. As she sat at a diner with her Korean mother an old Anglo man excitedly approached and asked her, "Are you an Oriental?!" He than proudly showed-off the two "Orientals" of his own - his wife and son.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hajimemashite... Bienvenidos

What Up All?! Welcome to Hip Hapa, a site dedicated to two incredible forces that define who I am and what I obsess over on a daily basis - Hip Hop and my Hapa background. The purpose of this site is to highlight and explore various aspects of both hip hop culture and hapa peoples (though not necessarily a combination of the two). However, although these two facets of my life will be showcased, in true hapa fashion Hip Hapa will have an array of postings serving different purposes and taking on a wide range of tones. On the one hand I would like to use Hip Hapa as a forum to discuss social and political issues that affect young people of color today. On the other hand I hope the site is of some entertainment value to readers as I post hip hop event information and provide music sound bites. In other words, I plan on using the site as a platform for my friends who promote shows and make beats to gain exposure. Finally, Hip Hapa will be a way to give mad props to famous hapas making news. Now, in order to understand how two seemingly mismatched subjects have captured my fancy and earned a page on Blogger, I offer the following.
Hapa is a word of Hawaiian origin that is today used to describe people of partial Asian descent. "So if ya don't know, now ya know...!" Why is being Hapa important to me? For the obvious reasons. My ethnic backgrounds have shaped all aspects of my life from my moral beliefs to my mannerisms to the way I look and speak. Furthermore, many of my closest friends are hapa. Though I don't actually obsess over my hapa identity, I do tend to bombard these friends with e-mails whenever I discover that a celebrity, athlete or pop icon is part of "the team". I figure that this blog would be a more courteous way to disseminate such info rather than fill up their in-boxes. C'mon! Didn't you get really excited when Damon Dash named a half Black half Japanese kid from California, BET's "Ultimate Hustler"?!
I truly feel that hip hop can be used as a tool to create social change in America. For young people of color it is our Voice. Hip hop tells the world the realities of our everyday lives in an artistic manner. Hip hop is therapy for the soul. The beats, lyrics, sounds and visuals of hip hop can relax , energize and comfort. Hip Hop has been the topic of countless conversations both heated and friendly. Hip hop is the livelihood of many close friends. Hip hop has brought me friends from all across the globe. Hip hop empowers me.