Generasian

Thursday May 23

Know Your History: Anna May Wong

mark-tseng-putterman

In celebration of Asian Pacific American month, Know Your History presents a series of profiles of prominent Asian/Pacific/Americans, chronicling an American history too often overlooked. Far from being “perpetual foreigners,” our collective history has shaped this country’s trajectory in important ways.

In the 1920s, a Chinese American actress graced the silver screen in Hollywood and rose to international stardom. To many younger Asian Americans, such a statement seems no more than a fantasy, a wishful rewriting of history. Even in 2013, Hollywood is noteworthy for its lack of Asian American actors/actresses with true star power. But Anna May Wong’s story, though fantastical, is no fantasy. The first Asian American actress in history, Wong was not only a Hollywood star but a leading lady in films and plays abroad in Germany and the U.K. All this while fighting stereotypes and typecasting in an era in which American xenophobia and anti-Chinese sentiments were remarkably prevalent. Despite the frustrating career limitations she faced as a woman of color in a time of overt racism, Wong handled her fame with grace, deft, and strength—and is remembered as a true trailblazer of Asian Pacific American history. 

image 
Portrait by Atelier Gudenberg, 1920s.
 
Anna May Wong, born Wong Liu Tsong, was born in 1905 in Los Angeles, California. According to Wong’s memoirs she was a third-generation Chinese American—her father’s father emigrated to work the gold mines of California prior to the era of Chinese Exclusion. Her father owned and ran a laundry business. Raised in a traditional household, Wong attended public schools in Los Angeles before she and her sister transferred to an all-Chinese school in LA’s Chinatown, after traumatic incidents of playground racism, which, as Wong recounted later, “left a scar on my heart.” 

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Tuesday Apr 3

Seeking Asian American Actress

mishielee

EMOTIONAL CREATURE Open Call Notice

Stephanie Klapper Casting, in conjunction with Amy Potozkin (Artistic Associate and Casting Director of Berkeley Rep), will be holding an open call for the new play EMOTIONAL CREATURE by Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), directed by Jo Bonney.

Date: Thursday April 5, 2012

Location: Pearl Studios (500 8th Avenue, Studio 1215)

Time: 1:00-5:00. Sign up begins at noon.

Please prepare: A contemporary monologue and a brief song (rock, pop, hip hop, folk, etc.) of your choice.

EMOTIONAL CREATURE deals with many issues that face girls across the globe. Some of the issues dealt with in EMOTIONAL CREATURE are body image, name-calling, anorexia/bulimia, gender stereotypes, diseases, sexuality, sexual orientation, teenage pregnancy and abortion, abuse, sex slavery, rape, female circumcision, education, empowerment, etc. For more information about the V-Day movement please view www.vday.org

SEEKING:

Six actresses: 18 - 20’s (to play teen girls 14 – 18). We are assembling a multi-talented ensemble of young women of all ethnicities to represent the Global World of this piece. All need to have great singing voices and dance/move well (a “real” quality vs. musical theatre quality). Seeking at least one actress who can rap. All must have amazing personalities. It is imperative that we believe they are real people, authentic and not actors. The more global the piece, the better. All must be able to play teenagers credibly. They could be poets or stand up comics, rappers and singers, androgynous to feminine. All must have citizenship or be permanent resident (ie: green card).

Theatre: Berkeley Repertory Theatre

First rehearsal: May 18, 2012

First preview: June 14, 2012

Opening: June 22, 2012

Close: July 15 2012 (with probable extension into August)

Contract: LORT B $800/week plus housing and roundtrip travel.

There is a strong probability that the show will move to New York post Berkeley. Actors need to be able to provide their own New York residence. Housing will be for them while in provided in Berkeley.

Note: Please send an email at emotionalcreaturecasting@gmail.com and let them know you’re planning to attend. Please bring a picture and resume with you, if you have them.

Courtesy of NYU’s Asian American Theater Alliance.

Thursday Feb 9

PETE HOEKSTRA’S POLITICAL CAMPAIGN AD: RACIST?

The advertisement of Michigan Republican Senator candidate Pete Hoekstra challenging his opponent, Debbie Stabenow, has raised a significant amount of criticism over the past few days. On behalf of Hoekstra and his campaign, an Asian American actress was hired to act, speaking in broken English, with some words for Hoekstra’s opponent of not-so-friendly cheer:

Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spend so much American money. You borrow more and more - from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you Debbie Spenditnow.

The advertisement, which was aired during the Superbowl this past Sunday. has prompted many to inquire whether Hoekstra had stepped over the line for using an Asian American actress acting in the Asian stereotype, to challenge Stabenow. On his Monday night show on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell, who himself is a former actor, criticized the unknown actress for “playing a character in a political ad that cast her as a racial stereotype,” saying that he’d like to know “what she was just thinking” (Huffington Post).

It’s one thing for Pete Hoekstra to buy 30 seconds of television time to tell us, if he can in clear English… what troubles him about this country’s relationship to China. But it is quite another for him to hire an actor to do his dirty work for him.

In an effort to raise the issue of actors’ struggles to find casting jobs, O’Donnell then called on actors, including members of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) as well as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to “make a pledge of simple decency… [to] not play dirty politics.”

Directed towards the actress in Hoekstra’s ad, O’Donnell ended, “I’ve done things in show business… that I’m not proud of. But I’ve never done anything that I’m ashamed of,” he said.

For those of us who understand and are familiar with what it is like to hear one speaking broken English with an Asian accent, you may watch this advertisement and, like me, may not be able to take this advertisement seriously. The actress clearly is able to speak perfect English, and fails to accurately mimic the broken-English speaking Asian character. The act continues to be rather insulting, with the scriptwriter’s attempt to simplify this so-called grateful message to Stabenow into short, grammatically incorrect sentences. 

But the sentences were all too clear. The actress failed to personify the stereotypical Asian caricature, but provided just enough for us viewers to conclude that she was supposed to embody the character in a way that makes us forget about the campaign’s poor attempt to justify her role with the rice field and Asian music. 

All this in itself sparks current reactions and criticisms that claim this ad to be racist. In an interview on FOX news, Hoekstra tries to justify himself and the ad, saying,

The only group of people that this ad is anti to… it’s anti-Debbie Stabenow, it’s anti-Barack Obama, the spending policies… the ad points to the spending opportunities that America’s dumb economic policies create… opportunities for countries like China and others to take advantage of our weakness, which weakens the US economy, and it strengthens our competitors.

The ad is irking, racially offensive, and silly, for a political campaign ad. Is this what political ads have come to? Whether it’s anti-Debbie Stabenow or not, the fact that Hoekstra and his team were comfortable with portraying this racialized Asian caricature and aired this during one of American television’s most popular hour of the year is stubbornly brave, and perhaps evident of just how much they didn’t realize this would perhaps cause more reaction against Hoekstra and his campaign than for him. Yet at the same time, with just how much popularity this video in itself has gained over this past week, it is also a bit troubling to me to also think that perhaps this controversial advertisement might very well work in favor of Hoekstra and his campaign.

So goes the art of politics.

Courtesy of Huffington Post and YouTube.

Check out Jeff Yang’s piece on his reaction to this video here, on CNN.