Friday, February 04, 2005

White masters of the film showing

Last night (Thursday), Siskel Film Center showed a screening of “Masters of the Pillow” and “Yellowcaust”. The former, directed by James Hou is a documentary about the making of the first Asian American porn movie. The second is an edit of that porn, directed by Darren Hamamoto, which has been cut from the original 50 minutes to 10 minutes with cries of anguish and subtitles detailing the United States’ genocidal practices towards people of Asian descent.

Both films attempted to address the extreme imbalance between images of Asian American females as exotified, objects of fetish with racist overrepresentation in porn and the utter lack of Asian American males in porn, with the exception of being “bottoms” in gay porn.

What was particularly unusual about last night’s showing was that due to the setting and Chicago’s racial demographics, the audience was comparatively white. To be honest, it made me a little uncomfortable especially when many of the white patrons laughed at the clips from racist media comments on the project (Jay Leno had a short mocking Hamamoto’s work). Plus, the projection work was uncharacteristically shoddy. They started the film with Spanish subtitles, accidentally shut it off when trying to turn them off, and we were left in the dark for five minutes wondering whether forces really were conspiring against the showing of Asian American porn.

To complicate matters, the work is a little hard to follow for those not empathetically familiar with the complexities of Asian American sexuality and stereotyped gender roles. I seriously believe that a number of the folks were there because they saw, “Asian Porn” and hoped to catch a glimpse of Asia Carrera’s ass.

Others seemed to be there as the typical emissaries for white guilt. “It’s downtown Chicago, we’re cosmopolitan as shit, we be real cool checking out the colored people’s porn documentary!” The problem with “diversity posers” is that some folks can handle the brutal realities of diversity. It’s like those white kids who joined your Afro American studies class—there to pose on how much they love black folks, but the message is lost when they drop the class after the third meeting because “black folks are so mean to me!” (Translation: they don’t agree with my point-of-view.) These are generalizations and I’m quite sure there were some empathetic folks there as well. I also felt a little bad for one of my best friends who brought her new white boyfriend to the show. They hadn’t seen each other all week and the poor dude was exhausted and here they were trying to sit through this heavy-duty social commentary on race and sexuality. He seems like a wonderful person, but sometimes, mixed couples would just rather be getting their rainbow grooves on rather than dissecting the social indoctrinations that affect their relationships.

I was deeply disgusted by one particular experience following the showing. As we left the theater, there were pockets of white folks outside discussing the film. Interested as headed out, I eavesdropped on the conversations. They were attacking the filmmaker for “misleading the cast”. “They thought they were making a regular porn, and he used them. He used them for his political bullshit!”

This is something I’ve noticed frequently. Often white folks will used mock outrage on behalf of one person of color to attack another person of color. On the one hand, I think it’s great when people empathetically advocate on behalf of others. It’s better than great, it’s the cornerstone of a equitable, free society. Unfortunately, in most cases, white folks don’t take the time or effort to be empathetic. Instead, they take their shallow, poorly-thought out understanding of the issues involved and lack of knowledge of the context and impose it on the performers and attempt to speak on their behalf. They try to use their “colored friends” as mouthpieces for their idiotic viewpoints and assumptions.

Getting home, I hopped on the computer and looked up Hamamoto’s work. It took me two minutes to find James Hou’s explanation:

Dr. Hamamoto has produced two versions. One is a straightforward adult film called Skin on Skin. This was produced for the mainstream market. The other is called Yellocaust: A Patriot Act. This is a politically charged version of Skin on Skin that usually screens with my documentary at film festivals. I guess you could call it “political porn”. This film is intended to provoke reactions rather than titillate. It's quite an experience to watch it with an audience.

It reminded me of an experience a friend of mine who is an amazing performance artist had written about:

I think these folks consciously mean well, but that it is the pathological nature of white privilege that is shining through. They accuse us of being paranoid, yet the illusionary set of perceptions that they use to keep their self-image afloat is far more extensive than any minor edits we might do.

Sometimes, I think we all need to come back to the most important question in the world: Why? Why did you come to this performance? Why do you consider these people your friends or allies? If they are your friends and allies, why don’t you learn more about their positions and magnify their voices instead of just spewing ignorance by claiming to speak on their behalf?

How can we fight racism and other bigotry when we aren’t even willing to give people the same respect that we expect on a daily basis? Let’s stop being critics and get constructive. I don’t agree with everything that Darren Hamamoto has done, but if you read his research, there can be little doubt—he is working his ass off to counteract the vicious, racist stereotypes leveled at Asian American men and women. What are we doing besides going to trendy film showings and nitpicking his execution through flawed assumptions about his work?

Go ahead, spin the question on me, but be prepared to answer it yourself because I have my answer ready.


Anonymous Steph said...

I thought the link to asia carrera's ass was going to be something like this.

that is all.

12:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Listed on