Tag Archives: Orientalism

Katy Perry (Sorta) Addresses Cultural Appropriation Critiques

June 13, 2017
DeRay McKesson (left) and Katy Perry (right) recording an episode of McKesson’s podcast. (Photo credit: Katy Perry livestream / screen grab from YouTube video posted by Kiwi in Munich)

In the latest episode of DeRay McKesson’s podcast, “Pod Save the People” (Episode 8:  “When You Have to Face Yourself”), McKesson interviews singer Katy Perry. During the conversation, Perry and McKesson discuss many topics, including the subject of cultural appropriation.

Perry has been heavily criticized — including by this blog — for multiple incidents of racial insensitivity and cultural appropriation, including at the 2013 AMA Music Awards when Perry dressed as a geisha in an Orientalist staging of her song “Unconditionally” (video after the jump). Perry was also accused of racism and appropriating black hair for her music video, “This Is How We Do“, wherein the singer was shown wearing cornrows and eating watermelon.

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Orientalist Caricatures of Chinatown Resurrected in the Pages of The New York Times

May 26, 2017
The streets of NYC’s Chinatown. (Photo credit: Heather Paul / Flickr)

By Guest Contributor: Jan Lee

It was Valentine’s Day in New York City. While others were thinking about where to buy last minute chocolates and flowers, my thoughts were entirely elsewhere. I was reading restaurant reviews in the New York Times and found myself confronted with an article exploiting my community’s perceived exoticisms.

The review was from the New York Times (“Culinary Clashes End in Harmony at Chinese Tuxedo“), but I would have sworn I was reading a Chinatown caricature by Chuck Connors—the 19th century Rhode Islander who shamelessly profiteered by hawking exaggerated, cartoonish tales of exciting and foreign “ethnic” life in turn-of-the-century Chinatown to upper-class white tourists. National news correspondent Arthur Bonner described Connors as “a hanger-on in Doyers Street saloons who earned tips by showing thrill seekers tame wonders like the Joss House. For an added tip he would show them an opium den complete with a ‘fallen woman’.”

This treatment of Chinatown as a seedy den of foreign crime and taboo thrills to be packaged and sold as a form of ethnic tourism would be best left to the past. Yet, writers and editors seem perfectly willing to revive old stereotypes and evoke the worst of Chinatown’s history in a vain attempt to remain relevant, regardless of the consequences.

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REVIEW: I Watched ‘Ghost in the Shell’ So You Don’t Have To

April 2, 2017

This weekend, Hollywood’s live-action remake of the classic Ghost in the Shell anime opened in theatres nationwide. The film has been the subject of intense scrutiny including charges of White-washing related to the filmmakers’ highly-questionable decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the leading role of Major Motoko Kusanagi. (In the Hollywood remake, the character is renamed Major Mira Killian to suit Johansson’s clearly non-Japanese appearance.)

Ghost in the Shell (2017) deserves all the harsh criticism it has received from movie critics and the Asian American community. Supporters of the film object, saying that the White-washing debate is a distraction. In fact, the White-washing controversy is totally relevant; moreover, it is symptomatic of the film’s essential problem: Ghost in the Shell (2017) fundamentally misunderstands its source material.

Whether due to ignorance or apathy, Ghost in the Shell (2017) fails to recognize the key thematic elements of the 1995 anime — Ghost in the Shell (1995) — from which it derives its inspiration. While Ghost in the Shell (2017) faithfully recreates many of Ghost in the Shell (1995)‘s most iconic scenes in breathtaking live-action CGI, Ghost in the Shell (2017) lacks any of Ghost in the Shell (1995)’s philosophical or theological essence. What results is an awful, wooden, lacklustre, and overtly racist live-action remake: a stilted, soulless artifice wrapped in the visually stunning iconography of the Ghost in the Shell  anime franchise.

In other words, Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a shell without a ghost.  All the good things about Ghost in the Shell (2017) come from the original anime, and all the terrible things are both uninspired and racist.

This review contains spoilers of both Ghost in the Shell (2017) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), as well as a brief spoiler of Ex Machina (2014). Please read on with care.

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Karlie Kloss Apologizes for Appearing in Yellowface for “Vogue’s” Diversity Fashion Shoot

February 15, 2017
Model Karlie Kloss appears as a geisha in a recent Vogue photoshoot.

Model Karlie Kloss has apologized for appearing in yellowface for a photoshoot for Vogue magazine.

In the most recent issue of Vogue magazine, Kloss appears styled in full-out geisha drag — complete with kimonos, black wig, and winged dark black eye liner — and poses alongside pagodas, waterfalls, and even a sumo wrestler. And of course, irony of ironies: this putrid revelry in offensive Orientalism appeared in Vogue‘s “diversity” issue. That issue has already been slammed for the lack of body or skin colour diversity in the seven models chosen to grace its cover; and that’s even before anyone opened the magazine up to the photoshoot featuring Karlie Kloss (pictures after the jump)

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Matt Damon is Not the Hero China Needs, But He’s The One Hollywood Will Give Us

July 30, 2016
Matt Damon, in a screen capture from the newly released trailer for "The Great Wall".
Matt Damon, in a screen capture from the newly released trailer for “The Great Wall”.

I can’t even right now.

The basic concept of the upcoming The Great Wall seems like a Hollywood studio wet dream: the Great Wall of China is reimagined as the frontlines for a fantasy thriller that pits mankind against an army of invading mythical monsters. If one were going down a checklist for making a big-budget fantasy movie guaranteed to make money, this would be it. Fast-paced action scenes? Check. Breath-taking CGI? Check. An opportunity to film in 3D? Check. A stupid movie plot? Check. People armed with a bows and arrows? Check. Check. Check.

In an alternate universe, The Great Wall might have been kind of cool. I’ve long waited for Hollywood to start earnestly exploring movie concepts outside of the Western cultural, historical, and sociopolitical framework. Non-Western and non-White history is flush with great stories just waiting to be told. The Great Wall could have been such an opportunity. In so doing, it could have recentered the camera’s gaze on non-White people, offered a tale of non-White humanity, and told a silly fantasy story about a pretty interesting era of ancient Chinese history.

Indeed, I’m a fan of Chinese blockbuster films, perhaps because films that emerge out of Asian movie houses are refreshingly unbound by American cinema’s racial stereotypes. As a consequence, Chinese cinema accomplishes naturally that which American Hollywood still struggles to do: in Chinese cinema, (East) Asian characters occupy the full range of the human condition. In American cinema, we are always the oddball, the outcast, or the supporting character. In Asian cinema, we are treated by the camera as if we are fully, messily, complicatedly human.

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