Free Yunjin Kim

I'm shocked that nothing has been done yet. This tragic violation of basic human dignity and justice demands that we devote our full attention to this, the most pressing of issues facing us today. This is more important than the Iraq War, more important than the November elections, more important than the impending premieres of the Fall 2006 TV season.

We are the petitions? The T-shirts? Angry Asian Man decrying it all as racist? We need to send our message straight to the top decision-makers in Hollywood. We need to shout at the top of our lungs. Say it with me now:

Free Yunjin Kim!

Before there was a motley band of possibly-dead, possibly-guinea-pigs-in-a-top-secret-scientific-study misfits stranded on a mysterious island full of polar bears and coconuts following a devastating plane crash somewhere between Australia and L.A., Yunjin Kim was one of Korea's superstar actresses. She was a leading lady in the mould of Gong Li, Audrey Hepburn or a young Susan Sarandon. She was respectable, decent, and a talented actress.

And then she decided to try to do the transition to America.

All of a sudden, Yunjin Kim is being put on display like some sort of pet, wearing practically nothing, and all with that same vapid “fuck me” expression on her face. What happened?

First, there was Arena magazine which boasts an image of Yunjin with a thumb in her crotch. Then came Stuff magazine (where they didn't even bother to clean poor Yunjin off, just leaving her all half-nekkid and muddy), which advertised itself as revealing images from the women of 'Lost', but was really just an excuse to showcase a six page spread of Yunjin pictures followed by some blurry photos captured by paparazzi of a few of the other female castmates at Awards shows. Stuff even included one image with Yunjin looking unconscious — suggesting that Yunjin be sexualized in a “come rape me while I'm sleeping” kind of way.

Hell, Yunjin's captors even trotted poor Yunjin out to take the cover photo for Golf for Women magazine. Golf for Women?!? That's not Michelle Wie! We don't all look alike!!

It just goes to show you: it doesn't matter how great an actress you are, or how famous you are in another country. In America, if you want to be a famous actress of colour, the only way to do it is to be hypersexualized and dehumanized, to fulfill the racialized fantasies of the typical White male viewer. Take a look at Bai Ling, who was forced to give up her Chinese citizenship to make a pseudo-smart political drama about Chinese repression, and is now stuck playing the same Asian dominatrix in six or seven different Mel Gibson movies.

Asian American women don't need to see the same hypersexualization of our female role models, over and over. Yunjin Kim is just as palatable being a smart, strong capable Asian American woman who doesn't need to strip silently for money.

Please, Hollywood — free Yunjin, before it's too late.

Cosplay with Caution

With Halloween rolling around, I'm mentally steeling myself for the bombardment of nigh-racist masquerading that we'll see in the next few weeks. Every year, some Halloween company inevitably reinvents the wheel with yet another racist or Asiaphilic interpretation of the East and our people (this year, I've already seen a line of “geisha girl” dresses which, incidentally, are modelled after Chinese chi-pao).

People of colour are no less culpable; last year, I went to a Halloween party at a local night club and saw no less than four BM/WF interracial couples with the Black man dressed in an orange jumpsuit and the White woman dressed as the cop.

However, costuming occurs year-round at some other events, and as the summer wanes, we are coming to the end of a plethora of science-fiction/comic book conventions that took place around the country. One of the popular parts of these events are the fans who take great pains to create (or purchase through online vendors) replica costumes of their favourite characters.

And while it seems like all fun and games to dress up as Rogue from the X-men or that White Mage from the Final Fantasy game (the special costume in the third act for the second cut-scene, not her generic costume — get it right!), these costumes are not without its own level of racial fucked-up-edness.

Upon returning from this year's GenCon, Yeloson reported seeing not one but several instances of racially White fans donning blackface to emulate the Drow race of dark elves from the Dungeons and Dragons world. He managed to snap a picture of one of them find a picture of one of them online:

Upon seeing this image, I was reminded of the countless anime fans who lambasted me when I spoke out against Asiaphilia and the ninja/samurai fetish. By definition, these genres are worlds of fantasy, willingly divorced from reality, and as such, the fans of these genres seem to desperately protect the fantastical aspects of these worlds.

And yet, it is impossible to consider images such as the one above outside of reality. Conventions like GenCon do not take place in alternate universes where racism does not exist, and in this case, one cannot help but find the burnt cork tint of the woman's skin reminiscent of historical blackface. Yes, the woman imaged above was emulating a fantastical race, but it was nonetheless the use of makeup to emulate a race of darker skinned, inherently evil, beings. In this case, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.

And certainly not when the same woman is then seen cooperating with other convention attendees simulating a public lynching.

Update (9/18/06): Thanks, again, to Yeloson who commented on this post and directed our attention to this fabulous post by Bryan Thomas written six years ago about Halloween and White privilege insisting that racialized costumes be celebrated during this holiday. At a party, Thomas encountered a group of three White people who donned Black makeup and leather/animal skins to emulate what was later described to him as a “head-hunter”. One even wore a bone through her nose.

I enjoyed in particular Thomas' recounting of the “head hunter”'s initial reaction to being challenged on his costume.

So his smile vanishes.

He drops the innocent bit.

He's been messing with me.

Waiting for me to say something.

“Look, I'm not stupid,” he says. “I thought about this before I wore it out tonight. I don't see what the big deal is.”

Yeah the smile's gone, but the teeth are still there.

Bared.

Angry teeth.

The audacity — the “head-hunter” was not repentent. He was not dismissive. He was angry.

From the description, his subsequent use of a reference to Al Jolson, this man knew what he was doing. This was no accident, no coincidence of racial mockery, no pretense at ignorance. This man had chosen this Halloween 2000 to make a blatant mockery of another race, and to dare others to call him out. This was his cry of rebellion against political correctness, his personal statement that his Whiteness should grant him the privilege to offend whomever he felt like.

With his statement that, “[l]ast year I went out for Halloween as a woman. Dressed as a woman! I didn't offend any women. You know who was the only woman who got offended? My wife! Cuz more guys were hitting on me than her…”, he even suggests that the reason Thomas is upset is that his caricatured makeup is more authentically Black than Thomas' actual racial identity, just as the head-hunter was “more womanly” than his wife in the previous year.

The parallels are obvious. Those in the racial majority are striking back against racial minorities. No longer just content to enjoy their privilege, they are actively pushing the boundaries, seeking to offend and get away with it, willfully refusing to consider the human story behind each bias-related incident. They can't (but more importantly, don't) imagine that every burnt cork applied to the skin, burns an emotional pain for people of colour.

Why should they care? After all, we're ruining their fun.

From Fu Manchu to Ryan Choi

Loren Javier has done it again; Loren, who excells at exploring race relations in comic books as they specifically affect people of colour and Asian Americans in particular has written a wonderful article exploring the evolution of stereotypes in comics for his One Diverse Comic Book Nation column.

I participated in an interview with Loren to discuss the historical stereotypes of Fu Manchu and others, but Loren did an excellent job placing those stereotypes into context, incorporating characters like Jimmy Woo and Shang-Chi into the chronology for understanding how we have changed over time.

Here're the first two paragraphs:

When I was a child, I was constantly searching for images that represented me, but always had a difficult time finding them. The interesting thing is that people of Asian descent have been portrayed in cartoons and comics as long as the media has existed, but the earliest images were always that of the exotic. Jennifer Fang of Reappropriate and The Outsiders: Asians/Asian Americans in Comics gave me a bit of history of these images. She said, “If you take a look at the earliest Asians represented in American pop culture, you see a lot of exoticist depictions of Chinese and Japanese culture. Even back in the Silk Trade era, travelers to “the Orient” returned with exaggerated tales of hyper-feminized men wearing silk robes and overly-sexualized, masculinized, aggressive females who wore pants instead of skirts and dominated their submissive men.

This was a time when the East was first being discovered, few had a chance to see it for themselves, and the imagination of Europe was focused on this 'New World' that was, by definition, the complete opposite of the West…This fascination could only continue to exist so long as Asians remained fundamentally different, and this difference was underscored with quickly popularized dichotomies: female was male in Asia, male was female, the West was courageous and the East was cowardly, the West was intelligent and the East was bumbling, the West was familiar and the East was foreign, the West was human and the East was animal, the West was heroic and the East was evil.

Continue reading at One Diverse Comic Book Nation

New Layout

Yeah, I probably should have been studying, but I needed a creativity break, and plus the one-column layout was getting unwieldy. So, I've re-designed Reappropriate with a two-column layout plus a really awesome header area that includes most of the relevant information for repeat visitors.

A prize to whoever can identify the character in this image. My guess is only Ragnell will get it.

Chow Yun-Fat

A couple of Chow Yun-Fat tidbits.

First, there's word that he and John Woo have teamed up to direct a snazzy-looking video game designed in the style of one of their old Hong Kong action films of the early to mid-1990's. The video game is entitled Stranglehold, and was previewed at the E3 conference earlier in the year. (The following video shows gameplay of the game, here is a link to the trailer)

This game looks hot! The gameplay seems to be dynamic in how you can control the character, and the fact that you can interact so fully with the environment is incredible. The gamplay action looks like it's movie-quality, and John Woo's signature scenes (i.e. the doves) are given new life by being rendered in video game form.

What I'm most happy about is that Chow Yun-Fat is rendered very well in this video game format — because he and Woo are in charge, we don't see any emphasis of Chow Yun-Fat's Asian features in order to make him “look more like himself”. We see more of that kind of thing with Western video game developers who don't seem to be able to include Asian characters without giving them tiny slanted eyes and yellow-tinted skin, so it's refreshing more Asians becoming involved in video games behind the scenes.

However, the first image of Chow Yun-Fat as Sao-Feng in Pirates of the Carribean 3 was released earlier in the year, and I just now came across it.

And, just, wow. It might be the tint of the picture, but it looks like Chow is wearing yellow make-up in addition to being costumed like a Fu Manchu knock-off. I am so not looking forward to Pirates 3.