Flower Drum Song was the first American movie featuring an all-Asian American cast that both my parents and I had ever watched. While I was at home this weekend, I had my parents watch the movie with me and they were so surprised at how ahead of the time the Asians in the movie were. They hadn’t realized that Asian Americans at the time could dance and be part of a musical that was so westernized. I was also really impressed by the huge Asian American cast and their talents. The makers of the movie talked about how hard it was to find enough Asian Americans to cast and how they had searched everywhere to fill all the roles. I was impressed that the filmmakers did not resort to having non-Asian Americans fill the roles, even though that would’ve been the easier thing to do. The whole time I kept thinking about how this movie was probably not even targeted towards Asian Americans and how non-Asian Americans must have taken the film. Cultural differences and generation gaps were a major theme in the late 50s and 60s for all different races and this musical must have been relatable to so many people. I thought the film did a good job showing the complete spectrum of what it means to live in America from new immigrants like Mei Li to those just beginning to assimilate into American culture like the Chinese father, and then to the totally assimilated through Linda Low. The diversity of the characters and the different life values each had made it hard to criticize any part of the movie for being too stereotypical. Everyone was coming into grips of what it means to be an American in a different way.
When the movie first came out, Asian American embraced it, but then started complaining that it was too old-fashioned. The issue of cultural appropriation as well as portraying Asian Americans as being a little behind in westernization offended people at the time. They argued that San Francisco Chinatown was more modernized and was not correctly portrayed in the movie. Although there is valid reason for this concern, I think it’s important to look at the fact that the actual book was written by a Chinese man living in Chinatown and that the making of this movie was not necessarily a celebration of a culture, but more importantly a celebration and recognition of a community.