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LIFTING OF THE PERFUMED SHROUD

Interview with Sheridan Prasso
Author of the book "The Asian Mystique"

In a land perceived by the Western world as filled "Mystery and Sex, Fear and Desire"
Perception of The 'Orient' that has always meant lands far away,
full of opulence and sensuality, danger, depravity, and opportunity in Western eyes"
(Taken from Sheridan Prasso's "The Asian Mystique")

 

ACCURATE PORTRAYALS
US ASIANS: With the many films portraying life in Japan from American directors/producers, what do you feel are the reasons why the stories portrayed differ so greatly from the various Asian/Japanese women that you have interviewed - especially since you've called them "Ten People, Ten Colors?"

SHERIDAN PRASSO: It's all part of the Asian Mystique, and it is the result of our centuries of cross-cultural and East-West interaction. We continue to misperceive and misrepresent Japanese culture in Hollywood because of Asian Mystique. Memoirs of a Geisha is the latest example. We prefer to maintain our fantasies of exotic difference instead of getting it right.

US ASIANS: Remembering your words "that Asians - whether in their native countries or in the diaspora - are seen through a filter of "received cultural perceptions", reinvigorated by Hollywood and other media," when should see substantial and tangible changes prompted by the various motivating financial factors (i.e. International marketplaces, International/Asian stars, fast-approaching world of multiculturalism, etc.) - especially since Hollywood is very anxious to enter the Chinese marketplaces - as evident by the many co-production deals set-up between the major American film companies and Chinese production entities?

Daring Films Featuring
Asian Male & White Female Relationships
There has been relatively few daring attempts in dealing with interracial romantic relationships with Asian/Asian Pacific American males in films throughout history. Listed below are some prominent and rare examples.

In the early 1900's, isolated films such as Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat brought to the screen the feelings of forbidden love between a White woman and an Asian man.

In the 1950's, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Crimson Kimono (in which, James Shigeta won the gorgeous White female - Victoria Shaw - from his White male co-star) featured an Asian Male and a White Female in starring romantic roles in major films!

In South Pacific, the song "You Have to be Carefully Taught" highlighted in the film one of the main reason why people fear interracial romantic situations.

In Bridge to the Sun, James Shigeta was married to the pretty Carroll Baker in a daring story during WWII!

In the 1990's, Disney's Johnny Tsunami was one of the last example of romantic featured roles featuring an Asian/Asian American male and a White female.

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I hope so.

US ASIANS: Recognizing that Gwen Stefani have a number of giggling Asian women (supposedly representing Harajuku girls from Tokyo's fashion-forward shopping district of the same where they personify radical and hip insouciance) silently shadowing her at various red carpet appearances and performances, could she have gotten away with this if they were another ethnic minority such as Black or Hispanic? Do you feel that Gwen Stefani's "Harajuku Girls" is part of an unfortunate trend that was also seen in Sophia Coppolla's "Lost in Translation" that resulted in a non-Asian's "viewpoint" of Asia/Japan?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: No, of course not. The Harajuku girls are yet another manifestation of our Asian Mystique.

CHANGES?
US ASIANS: Has today's times change much since the late 1960's where Steve McQueen and James Coburn told Bruce Lee that he could never reach their star status because he was Chinese?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: No, I don't think so. The cycles of Hollywood have been the same for a century. Lucy Liu is still playing the same roles that Anna May Wong did 80 years ago.

US ASIANS: Noting your observation the rarity of an Asian male teamed with a White female on a U.S. news broadcast (as compared to the opposite being true on main television stations in China), what would characteristics are needed to make this more of a normal pattern - higher "Q" ratings, skills in the newscast industry - Asian and/or U.S., reporting skills, etc.?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I'm not sure what specific factors can bring about such changes, but awareness is the first step. When I make this observation, people tell me that they simply never noticed this before.

US ASIANS: With the fast-growing influx of Asian actors/directors such as Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Steven Cho, Lea Salonga, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Sandra Tsing-Loh, Tony Jaa, Maggie Cheung, John Woo, Ang Lee, M. Night Shymalan and others - what is causing the delay?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Images of Hollywood are entrenched and have been for a century. Unless there is an active market - and in fact the opposite is true because Hollywood studios know that Memoirs of a Geisha is a sure thing - there isn't much reason to change.

BLIND-CASTING IN AN "HYPHENATED SOCIETY"
US ASIANS: In the final analysis of living in the U.S.'s "hyphenated society" at this time, has any Asian been provided with the ability to explore and create without boundaries - if not, what is needed to create this situation?

 
BLIND-CASTING (David Henry Hwang)
 
US ASIANS: What will it take for the general public and Hollywood to accept "blind-casting" choices such as Jonathan Pryce playing an Asian character, James Earl Jones can playing Italian characters and B. D. Wong can playing a Jewish character?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: In general, I feel this is starting to happen in the theatre. Denzel Washington can play Julius Caesar, James Earl Jones can star in "On Golden Pond," Brian Stokes Mitchell can star in "Taming of the Shrew" & "Man of La Mancha," and Jose Llana can play a character named "Chip Tolentino." We are still miles away from this happening in the movies, however, where verisimilitude is taken much more literally.

US ASIANS: In the final analysis of living in the U.S.'s "hyphenated society" at this time, has being Asian (where you are telegraphing your identity through your physical characteristics) provided you the ability to explore and create without boundaries?

DAVID HENRY HWANG: Basically, yes. My main handicap at this point is that my all-Asian works, after their initial NY productions, tend to be produced less often than other successful Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, because regional theatres feel they're too hard to cast. Normally, a play which has been well-enough received on Broadway to receive a Tony Nomination will be popular with regional theatres, but this has not proven the case with "Golden Child," for example.
Read David's views by clicking HERE

SHERIDAN PRASSO: No, not yet. What is needed is for Asians to be cast in "normal" roles - as regular mothers, professionals, lawyers - on television shows and in Hollywood movies, so that their race is not the defining characteristic of who they represent on screen. Currently, Asians are typically cast only when the script calls for an "Asian" to play the role, and typically those roles are limited to the stereotypes we have seen throughout Hollywood's history. Erasing the boundary between what roles are considered "Asian" and what roles are considered "normal" is what is needed.

ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN COMMUNITIES
US ASIANS: What would be your media suggestions to the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities to not be adversely affected by constant one-sided stereotyped portrayals of their own communities - since they are also affected by the existing programs that are seen by the general public?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I think that everybody who grows up in America and sees the ways that Asian people are portrayed in Hollywood and on TV is affected. Sometimes Asian Americans try to tell me that they "get it" because they are of Chinese origin or Korean origin, but what I find is that they hold views of, say, Japanese people and Japanese Americans because of the images of geisha and, for example, Mrs. Livingston on "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," just as any other American would. I have even met Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) men in Vietnam who grew up in California but went to Vietnam to find what they thought might be more submissive Vietnamese wives -- women more like their grandmothers at home -- because the Vietnamese American women they were meeting in America were too career-oriented and assertive. They are also affected by the stereotyped images from Hollywood and media and the belief in "Asian Mystique." So I think that Asian Americans have to be doubly aware of the attitudes they hold.

US ASIANS: In your opinion, why does the various stereotypes listed at US Asians' "Ethnic Diversity" article affect Asian American actors - along with why do you think that these stereotypes still exist from the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act?

"All of the stereotypes that we have about Asians affect Asian Americans the most profoundly because they're American and certainly don't act in a way that we see on TV or in movies. The result is that in the work force Asian Americans feel held back from creative positions because they're supposed to be good at math, Asian-American women feel that they have to act nice because if they don't that affects their careers and a lot of Asian-American women feel affected by fetishism or "yellow fever," that is perpetuated by images we have from Hollywood and TV." - The Asian Mystique

SHERIDAN PRASSO: The stereotypes as I have outlined them in my book were created due to our history, including the interaction of European missionaries and traders with the people's of Asia, as well as the experiences of the first immigrants to America, and then perpetuated by Hollywood and the American experiences in the Pacific in the last century, as well as by the superficial nature of our continuing interactions. I have a whole chapter dealing with the origin of stereotypes and why they persist, so I encourage further reading of my chapter in order to seek out the important details of this history. They affect all people of Asian origin, whether they are actors or not.

US ASIANS: Does the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities need leaders along the lines of John P. Johnson, August Wilson, Spike Lee, etc. to vocalize/immobilize/lead efforts for greater inclusion?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: More than that, I think the APIA communities need an Al Sharpton. I have worked in major newsrooms in America and I can say that one thing that has kept stereotypes of African-Americans from popping up more frequently is the fear that Al Sharpton would show up on the doorstep the next day with a picket line the next day. Threats of boycotts and strikes, as well as vocal outcries, are powerful. Currently, Asian American groups instill no such fear in newsrooms around the country. There are sporadic protests whenever Hot '97 or Details magazine makes some kind of goof; some are effective, some not. But a polarizing figure such as Al Sharpton from within the APIA community would make an enormous difference in how Asians are portrayed in mass media.

COURSE OF ACTION
US ASIANS: Acknowledging your view that "it is unfair to stereotype the Asian female as submissive and sexually available" - noting the Japanese adage that with "ten people, ten colors" - what tangible steps do you feel should have the highest priority and be accomplished first? Should the first step be working with the entertainment community, or should it be with the entertainment community or should it start with the politicians?

"I think any time an Asian is on TV, it's a good thing," agrees Huang. "Even if it's on the most horrible reality show, it's still better than it was when we were growing up. I'd rather see an Asian eating a rat on an island than guest-starring as a dry cleaner or something. If we can do that, people will start to accept that we can do anything. Maybe after seeing that, execs might start saying, 'Oh, right, Mrs. Parker on my new sitcom could be Asian.'" (Comment by Shii Ann Huang - She was the first Asian American contestant on the reality TV shows, "Survivor")
SHERIDAN PRASSO: I think it has to start with individuals who are increasing their awareness and seeking out more information. There is a real curiosity and desire for knowledge among the American population that is not being met by conventional media. It's more of a bottom-up strategy than a top-down.

US ASIANS: With embedded racism being describe as bliss ignorance - as noted when White males feel that referring to a Chinese male as a "Chinaman" was proper because they thought it was the same as calling an English male as an "Englishman" - they never considered that the proper salutation would be a Chinese man - what definitive and drastic (since apparently this is the only option that would carry the weight and impact of effecting immediate attention) actions do you feel are needed to wake up these people of bliss ignorance?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I wouldn't ascribe nefarious motives to all people. In many cases it is simply a case of not knowing better and not knowing how to change that. I'd like to advocate people buying lots of copies of my book and giving them to the blissfully ignorant! That is why I wrote a book, of course, to counter ignorance. So that would be a good start.

US ASIANS: Thank you for your time, attention, information and perspectives that was provided. It is our hope that your insights, books and passions will result in many positive changes in the development of a mutually beneficial relationships between Asia and the U.S. Good luck in your continuing efforts. Again, we at US Asians, thank you for allowing us the privilege of interviewing you.

Note: It is our recommendation to our readers to visit her website at www.sheridanprasso.com to receive additional insights on the issues discussed during our interview. Our formal review of "Asian Mystique" will be online in the upcoming days. An open invitation is extended to send us your opinion for the inclusion within our review to jql@earthlink.net.

  Return to the begiinning of the interview by clicking HERE

 
Read about Sheridan's many perspectives on the "Asian Mystique" by clicking on the below-listed links
Note: "AFM" = Asian Female Mystique About Sheridan Prasso Accurate Portrayals Activism
Anna May Wong "AFM" - Conditions & Reasons "AFM" - History "AFM" - The Existing Status
Asian Pacific American Communities Asian Stereotypes Affecting APAs Balanced Media Portrayals Blind-Casting (Mr. Hwang)
Blind-Casting Business Changes? Course of Action
Daring AM/WF Films Difference Between European & Asian Divide Dr. Wen Ho Lee Films with AM/WF Romances
Historical Anti-Asian Racism History Images are Powerful Interracial Marriage Facts
Media's Bad Choices Memoirs of a Geisha Michelle Yeoh Multiracial Attitudes
Politics Purpose Behind the Book Sheridan's Recommendations Stereotyped Asian Males
Valid Commentary? U.S.' "Crotch-Forward/Chest-Out" Attitude UCLA Syndrome Western Mentality
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