Monday, February 11, 2008

For the Sake of my Health, I Should Stay Away from Internet Forums

As viewed by a group of Brown University students (taking a class on Asian Americans and pop culture, no less), Broken Blossoms smacks of racism. Cheng Huan, as portrayed in yellow-face by Richard Barthelmess, is a meek, de-sexualized, hunched-over caricature. Although it may be unfair to judge Broken Blossoms out of its own historical/socio-political context, I think we reserve the right to be unhappy.

Which is why I am surprised (kind of) to see this: My Students Called This 'Racist' -- Your Response? I have culled a few of my favorite responses:

"My response is that your students have been brainwashed by political correctness. Blame their professors who want to reduce all art to disguised propaganda of whatever power structure was current at the time. I'm glad there are a few teachers like you who are trying to undo the damage. These days, I think an intelligent viewer who hasn't taken a lot of humanities classes is in the best position to appreciate a film like Broken Blossoms."

"GET BETTER STUDENTS!"

Interestingly, Broken Blossoms has an IMDB rating of 7.7 out of 10 (as opposed to Birth of a Nation's 7.1/10). Also interestingly, only 1.5% of viewers/voters gave Broken Blossoms a rating of 1/10 (while Birth of a Nation: 11.5%).

I will concede that Broken Blossoms seems conflicted about its portrayal of Asians. On the one hand, Cheng Huan is the protagonist of the film, noble and kind (a fact that many use to rebut the claim that the film is racist). On the other hand, he is emasculated to the point of pity--indeed, his character bears much resemblance to Lucy (note the similarity in the scenes where Cheng Huan leans against a wall and Lucy sits forlornly on the pier).

Perhaps the ambiguity in the film (and to the reception of the film) stems from the nature of the formation of the Asian male stereotype, the reaction of white men to a foreign sexual predator who cooks and cleans, just like a woman.

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