INTO THE NEXT STAGE: You’ve Got to Be Kidding

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By GUY AOKI
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Mar. 22, 2012.)

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This column’s title applies to at least three different situations.

In 1994, Chinese Canadian Mina Shum wrote and directed a film called “Double Happiness.” It was about a woman (Sandra Oh) who’s pressured by her parents to date only Chinese men. So she tries to.  It was clear the individual identities of these guys didn’t matter: In a montage of scenes, we only saw the back of their heads. In what seemed as an act of defiance and desperation, she met a nerdy white guy, quickly began making out with him, and had sex with him.

As I wrote in my column at the time, I was disgusted. Countless white writers had given us variations of the same theme in television shows and films: Asian woman rejects all the Asian men around her and, for no reason explained to us, falls for the first white guy she sees. The lesson was clear: White men are better than Asian men. That this destructive message was reinforced by “one of our own” was even more irritating.

To make matters worse, at a Q&A for one of the screenings, the director disclosed that she’d never really dated Asian men because to do so would be like dating her father or brother. Lord give me strength. The ultimate symptom of internalized racism and self-hatred.

Asian women are the only females I know who’ve expressed reasons to not date men of their own ethnic background. Ever hear black women who don’t want to date black men? Hell, a black author recently came out with a book telling black women that if they want to marry black men (it’s a loyalty thing with most of them; it’s a laugh that Asian women would feel the same loyalty toward Asian men) they’d have to set their sights lower because statistically, black women did better professionally then black men.

Ever hear of Latinas who don’t want to date Latinos? How about white women who say they never wanted to date white men because it’d remind them of their brother or father? Hell no! Which just goes to show the psychic damage the media has done to many Asian women following generations of negative images of Asian men who’re not allowed to be seen as heroic, romantic, and/or desirable.

Tam (Porter Lynn) helps clean the hands of Brendan (John Ruby) in “Touch.”

OK, there’s a new movie that’s playing in San Jose and Orange County called “Touch.” In it, Brendan (John Ruby), a white mechanic, walks into a Vietnamese nail salon and asks one of the workers, Tam (Porter Lynn), to not give him a manicure but simply clean the grease from his fingers. Because he’s been unable to, his wife has rejected intimacy with him. So Tam agrees to.

Eventually, she begins giving Brendan advice on his marriage, which strengthens it. But Tam, through constantly touching his fingers (thus, the title), also begins to fall in love with Brendan. There’s even a scene of them bathing together.

Gag me with a spoon. Again, another variation of an Asian woman falling in love with, literally, a white guy who walks in the room. The sad thing is it’s written and directed by Vietnamese male immigrant Minh Duc Nguyen, who graduated from USC Film School. His press release points out: “In America, 75% of the nail salons are owned and operated by Vietnamese. The nail salon industry provides countless job opportunities for Vietnamese immigrants, but their stories have never been told on-screen. For the first time, we have a film that poignantly depicts the lives of women working in a typical nail salon.”

Well, I would add that in American film and television, probably 95 percent of all romantic pairings of Asian women are with non-Asian men. Maybe the director does depict the lives of Vietnamese nail salon workers. But why did he feel the need to regurgitate the tired old white male fantasy that once again presents a white male/Asian female hook-up for us to root for? Why not give us a romantic Asian man with whom some woman falls in love? Wouldn’t that have also given us something lacking in Hollywood’s depiction of Asian people?

I have no idea of Nguyen’s background or his motivation for this love story. I can’t find an interview where he says the white character was needed to get funding or distribution. As it stands, the director doesn’t have any film company behind him and is releasing the movie on his own in select cities. So he can’t use the excuse that there was that “Hollywood mandate” that we needed a white man for “the audience to identify with.”

In the “Celebrity Apprentice” boardroom: Debbie Gibson, Aubrey O’Day, and Tia Carrere.

Oh C’mon, Not Again! Department: Last time out, I recounted how George Takei became the first contestant from the men’s team of “Celebrity Apprentice” to be fired by Donald Trump. Takei could’ve survived if he’d put up more of a fight to stay as he could’ve reinforced what others had been saying, that teammate Lou Ferrigno wasn’t pulling his own weight and was their least-valuable member. This past Sunday, the women’s team lost when Tia Carrere volunteered to be project manager. They had to sell a mop (yeah, I know, real sexy).

In the boardroom, the women blamed about five teammates for their downfall. Aubrey O’Day, one of those 20-somethings who feels slighted whenever she doesn’t get attention, kept talking and talking and talking about why Carrere was a weak leader. And all the actress could do was make exaggerated faces that looked as if she was thinking, “Really?!” and “I can’t believe she Said that!”

Carrere could’ve gone along with the faction that believed former Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza had crappy ideas.  Or she could’ve asserted that, as creative as comedian Lisa Lampanelli is, it was her writing that made for a lousy video that failed to impress the executives of the mop company.

Instead, Carrere asked Trump, if she agreed to fall on her sword, would he fire a second person as he did last week when Adam Carolla refused to name two other contestants for firing consideration? Trump said no. OK, then, she basically said, “Fire me!”

What the…?! Seriously, are we so nice that we’re afraid to take a stand and fight for our “life” and charity on the show? In her exit interview, Carrere said she’d rather leave with her head high and not get negative. And apparently, she was looking out for the welfare of those remaining. How Asian of her. In the end, we had two Asian American celebrities who failed to stand up for themselves and reinforced the notion that we’re wimps.

How Long Can His Luck Last? Department: I’m continually amazed at the staying power of Heejun Han. The 22-year-old Korean immigrant has avoided landing in the bottom three on “American Idol” despite giving repeatedly shaky performances. Two weeks ago, he sang Stevie Wonder’s “All Is Fair in Love.” While I enjoyed the texture of his voice, he didn’t seem to have control of his bottom range.  Still, the judges had nothing but great things to say about the performance. Last week, Han was even shakier on Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting.”

This time, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson said it wasn’t his best. At the end of the night when host Ryan Seacrest asked the judges who was in trouble, Jackson even said Han’s name.

Yet he sailed on through yet another week. Apparently, the people at home voting for their favorites love his dry sense of humor. America loving a Korean immigrant who speaks with an accent is great for the acceptance of Asian Americans in general. I just wish he’d develop a sturdier voice.

Jessica Sanchez after performing “I Will Always Love You” on “American Idol.”

On the other hand, two weeks ago, Jessica Sanchez — whose father is Latino and mother Filipino — knocked everyone out with her imitation of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” The original version spent 14 weeks at No. 1 in 1992 and 1993, becoming one of the biggest hits of all time. I was burned out on it and its a cappella beginning 19 years ago. I became even more sick of it after Houston died and we kept hearing it even more during coverage of her death.

But at the end of the day, it’s an extremely difficult vocal arrangement to pull off, and Sanchez passed with flying colors. And she’s only 16!

Jackson excitedly said she was one of the best performers in the competition. Lopez stood and encouraged the crowd to keep cheering. Tyler said, “You may be the one.” The following night, Interscope Records Chairman Jimmy Iovine (the most critical of them all) said it was the best performance he’d ever heard on any edition of “American Idol.”

Wow. Last week, Sanchez upped the tempo with “Turn The Beat Around” (another difficult song to do), but the judges weren’t as excited, saying she didn’t keep up with the song’s speed and lost her breath at one point. One of them preferred to hear her singing ballads.

Still, Sanchez demonstrated she has the chops to potentially go all the way. It’s nice to once again have two Asian Americans in the Top 10, the first time since 2004 when Jasmine Trias and Camile Velasco made us proud.

The “American Idol” performance shows airs Wednesday nights on Fox with result show on Thursdays.

Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

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Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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3 Comments

  1. I just want to give you some color from my oversea perspective. I grew up in the US and I now live in HK for the past 4 years. Living here in HK, I have a different experience on race vs back in the US. One thing I want to mention is what you said about the immigrant Vietnamese director for ‘Touch’. I don’t know much about the director, but if he had grown up in Vietnam and some other parts of Asia, the environment here in HK is still one where Asians thinks of themselves as 2nd class. It is ironic, but I still see it in many of the locals here. They still view people from oversea as superior. I can’t say exactly that’s how it is in Vietnam, but I would not be surprised if it’s the same as HK. In parts of Asia where there is still such huge income gaps, expats from overseas are still viewed as rich and superior because of their social status. Just my thoughts.

  2. I think you should probably grab a beer and go watch ‘The Lover’, with Tony Leung and Jane March. It’s not quite your point, but it may provide a little balance (not much mind you, as it’s a rare example).

    As to the reasons why Asian women show a certain amount of weakness, I blame the parents. To change that you need to basically get them to throw away thousands of years of cultural indoctrination. Good luck with that. I can’t see it ever happening.

    In mainland China it’s a tiny percentage that would ever choose a non-Chinese/Asian for marriage, and a bit less than half of 1.3 billion can’t be bad figures. It’s a non-Asian countries issue, not exactly an Asian one as such.

  3. Being Khmer and never dated a khmer women because my excuse was “it was like dating my sister.” was my thinking. All of my sisters have never dated Khmer men because of the same thinking. As a matter of fact they all married non Khmer men. I wish the thinking changes.

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