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On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." :: Arundhati Roy ::

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Friday, August 06, 2004  

Harold and Kumar -- Asian-American heroes or same old hollywood?

I've been hearing great things about the movie Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, especially from Asian-Americans, which gave me some hope about the movie's Asian-American heroes. Supposedly, the movie casts them in a positive light, underdogs who entertain in a non-stereotypical fashion. But I've been a bit skeptical, knowing that Asian-Americans are often excited whenever they're cast at all in Hollywood, and tolerate a lot of stereotypes for that opportunity.

Well, my skepticism may be founded (I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'm going on hearsay -- but I was also going on hearsay from others' opinions of the movie). The group South Asian Sisters put out an "Open Letter to the Asian American Community". It's worth reading in its entirety:

We went to watch Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle because we genuinely wanted to support our Asian American brothers. After all, the media coverage told us that this movie was supposed to break stereotypes and be a positive step for Asian Americans. Asian websites raved about the film, and so we were all excited to rally around this film with the rest of the community.

We entered the theater and immediately noticed that the audience was comprised of predominantly Asian Americans. We wondered if a movie based on the same premise featuring white boys would draw a bigger crowd. The movie started, and we sat back, waiting to be empowered.

Well, it's the next day, and we're still waiting. Harold and Kumar disappointed us. They represented Asian American men as being homophobic, spineless, sex-crazed misogynists. All Asian American men should be outraged! Asian American women? Well, there was one Asian woman, and she was the stereotypical Asian nerd. Queer Asians? There were none. How would they feel safe to come on screen when Harold and Kumar are making homophobic jokes all the time? Working class Asians? Perhaps there is one- the convenience store owner. He gets beat up by the racist hoodlums, and Harold and Kumar just walk away.

Then there are the non-Asians. The African Americans include a crazed fast food employee and a guy in prison reading a book on civil disobedience. There is Maria, perhaps Latina, who strikes Harold's fancy. She has very little to do other than look pretty. It still bewilders us why she would make out with him in the elevator after he has stank White Castle breath and can't even carry on a decent conversation. Finally, the white women. They are overly sexualized and throwing themselves all over Harold and Kumar, who are only interested in "fucking" and getting some "pussy".

Harold and Kumar disrespect women in multiple ways throughout the movie. Women are either objectified and horny for them or asexual and undesirable. The most disturbing scene in this movie was when Kumar fantasizes about a giant bag of marijuana. The ganja is personified as a woman who has sex with him, brings him coffee, and becomes the recipient of domestic violence followed by his "loving" apology.

Note that we're discussing Harold and Kumar the characters, not John Cho and Kal Penn the actors. We recognize that actors are put in a compromising situation to succeed in a white-dominated entertainment industry. Therefore we encourage the community to support Asian American artists while putting pressure on the entertainment industry to represent us more fairly and accurately. We also ask the community to view the media critically and not blindly endorse any representation of a particular segment of the Asian community as being positive for all Asian Americans.

We wish John Cho and Kal Penn luck in their careers and hope to see them in bigger and better roles.

Sincerely, South Asian Sisters

posted by Anjali Taneja | 8/06/2004 06:03:00 PM | |


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