Sunday, February 10, 2008

films on race: boan v broken blossoms

I am always particularly interested by the portrayals of gender roles and intersectionality with race. i was surprised at first when i first noticed this was a dw griffith film, because only 4 years before the release of blossoms, birth of a nation portrayed racism in a very different way. BOAN had a more complex plot, probably due to white america's familiarity with the african american population at the time. the fact that blossoms had a simpler plot seems to support eugene franklin wong's claim that "the american film industry's early feature-length productions and serials depicting asians, asian americans, and various asian themes reflected american society's general ignorance of the people and thematic materials depicted" (53).

Back to me being surprised. in BOAN, griffith's infamous blackface controversial film, we see the beginnings of the 'hypermasculine' stereotype of black males. in blossoms, we get an introduction to the emasculating stereotypes brought on asian males. both films show the crafted sexual inferiority of a race, serving as racist propaganda against miscegenation, but the two do it in very different ways.

in BOAN, the african american character gus gets portrayed as a sexual predator who tries to rape a white female protagonist. played by a white man in blackface, gus drives the young white woman to jump off a cliff rather than be taken advantage of. similarly in blossoms, the yellow man lusts after a 'pure white woman' as he idolizes her in a completely opposite way. being passive and possessing more traditionally feminine characteristics, this character also played in yellowface treats the 'broken blossom' as almost a holy being, something he always desires for but knows he can never touch.

this points out a very important reality of the politics and influences of 'popular culture.' it seems as the time, the popular culture was to make political films about race; whether they were based on actual knowledge or pure ignorance, they were critical in impacting the image of ethnic minorities for generations to come. these films, ironically 'silent' as they are, seem to deprive the minority of a voice but usurping the faces and widely projected images of their cultures. we know that in 1919, many poorer-class americans were illiterate due to lacking educational resources, and many immigrants couldn't read or understand english. though there is power with the ability to influence a literate audience, we also know from these silent films that images can speak louder than words. what does this say about the power of popular culture to direct the progress, good/bad, of social consciousness?

No comments: