Sunday, February 10, 2008

“What makes you so good to me Chinky?”

First of all I can’t believe that people could sit through an entire movie without any dialogue and such limited information about the plot. I went back and forth between laughing and being offended by the movie. I couldn’t believe that Richard Barthlemess could pass as Asian. I guess back in 1919 all of the other Asian actors were busy in other films. The role didn’t win Cheung Huan an Oscar apparently.

I was offended on multiple levels. The depictions of Cheung Huan as a rat-like “sensitive yellow man [who] shrinks in horror” (a broken blossom); the images of China as a place full of opium smokers, images of Buddha, American sailors, and bamboo pushcarts; the force that Battling Burrows felt justified exerting over Cheung Hang and Lucy; the use of Chinky as a term of endearment (Broken Blossom Lucy: “What makes you so good to me Chinky”)

Ironically, the movie attempts to make the audience sympathize with the miscegenation of the “interracial” couple and the injustice of racism. There’s history here though. The director of the film, D.W. Griffith, was also the director of “Birth of a Nation” (the racist propaganda film that glorifies the KKK and vilifies blacks). Was “Broken Blossoms” Griffith’s response to the racist remarks made about “Birth of a Nation?” If it was his attempt to clear his racist conscious, I think he missed the boat.

Net Gross for “Broken Blossoms:” $1 million
Net Gross for “Birth of a Nation:” $18 million [the most profitable film for two decades]

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