Straitjacket Sexualities by Celine Parreñas Shimizu reveals how the portrayal of Asian-American men in the media takes a toll on the overall representation of Asian-American men not only in the media, but also in real life.
She goes on to describe this key concept of straitjacket sexuality which is the “inaccurate assessment of asexuality, effeminacy, and homosexuality as emasculation” (3). In other words, Asian-American men in the media and in real life are seen and presumed to lack all qualities of what make up a man. Bruce Lee is used as an example of deconstructing this idea.
Bruce Lee challenged the stereotype that Asian males can only be seen as feminine, weak, and subordinate compared to other men (mainly white males). However, it did not stop others to still question his sexuality because of how differently he responded to women in his films. What got me while reading this whole analysis of how people doubted Bruce Lee’s sexuality was that they actually questioned it. How can people view a man as not a man because he actually treated women as human beings? It blows my mind how narrow minded and ill educated people were (and are probably still today) about the definition of a man. They defined them as dominant, controlling, and objectifying towards women. I love that Bruce Lee was able to be seen as noble and respectful in these movies when it came to women. It just shows how necessary Bruce Lee was in media in general, not just for the representation of Asian-American men, but for men, period.
Furthermore, in the documentary Slanted Screen Frank Chin claims that Bruce Lee created a new stereotype for Asian-Americans in the US. He can only be playing a good guy while wearing a mask and told to attack on command as seen in The Green Hornet as Kato. Now people are going to think all Asians know kung fu. Other Asian-American men hold another opinion. Bruce Lee, Mako Iwamatsu, Sessue Hayakawa, and James Shigeta are some of the exceptions who took on roles that did not represent Asian-Americans in straitjacket sexuality.
They played the protagonists and/or much more complex characters that were beyond the usual depictions of Asian-American men. Earlier roles that were available to Asian-Americans were very limited. They were either portrayed in yellow face, or were roles where they played the enemy and caused audiences to feel xenophobic towards Asian-American men.
From this point on, there have been surprisingly many more films that depicted more complex characters played by Asian-American men that “go beyond the ethnic milieu.” I thought that was pretty interesting to know through the Slanted Screen documentary.
As also touched upon in the documentary, in order to really make that change in how Asian-Americans are depicted in the media, Asian-Americans must make a collective effort in becoming more visible and more involved with the production process. Not only should Asian-Americans contribute to this collective cause as actors, but they should also be integrated as producers, directors, writers, etc to really make a difference in Asian-American representation.