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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