White People, Subtitles, and the Original 21 Jump Street

Mimura’s piece The Ghostlife of Third Cinema was similar to Shimizu’s piece for me because it would relay information I had known about but it resonated more deeply with me because I was able to materialize and see these thoughts in a physical form. Mimura explained the power relationship between whites and blacks and how Asians fell into that debate. The Westerners have always seen blacks as their binary opposites and Asians did not fit into either category of whiteness or blackness so Asianess became its own entity. However, Westerners were unable to classify Asians into any categories but did succeed in labeling them as “aliens.” This is a keen example of how white supremacy was used to control social relationships. The white people have continued to be the ones to make the definitions of who and what fits in and everybody else has continued to struggle trying to mold themselves into that image when they clearly cannot fit into that category to begin with.

As far as Fresh Off the Boat is concerned with this week, I never knew subtitles could be so enjoyable. I had grown accustomed to only seeing subtitles when I would watch Japanese anime, Korean drama, or other Chinese movies. I could have never imagined for subtitles to be a prevalent occurrence on an American sitcom that features mostly English speaking actors. It may be a subtle aspect of the show but for Fresh Off the Boat to incorporate subtitles into the script comforts me for two reasons. The first reason is that the subtitles make the show feel more real. The way Jessica interacts with the grandmother reflects similar experiences that I have had. The second reason I find subtitles comforting is that it makes me accept and feel better about my own native tongue. The fact that this show on an American network featuring Asian Americans as their leads are incorporating their language into the show means that this show is taking it one step further towards breaking down barriers and becoming a revolutionary show. This might not seem revolutionary in nature but I feel that it is such a monumental facet that pushes the show into a more effective medium for Asian Americans to connect on but also for those who do not identify as Asian or Asian American to gain a perspective into Asian American lifestyle.

Finally, Slanted Screen, the documentary we watched in class earlier this week, featured a lot of prominent Asian American actors, directors, and scriptwriters but one particular piece of the documentary connected with me on a deeper level. The Asian American actors talked about how most times their characters are not even written of prior to the Asian American actor auditioning for a role. Most of the time, there are no roles for Asian Americans and they have continually had to force their way into the conversation. Dustin Nguyen’s experience on the set of 21 Jump Street and how his character was treated made me so proud of American television. On a mainstream television series, the writers had originally written Dustin to be a character of Japanese descent but after realizing Dustin’s Vietnamese heritage, the writers decided to write an episode dedicated to uncovering this issue. The episode explored the Vietnam War and how Dustin had wanted to escape so he took on the identity of a dead Japanese baby. To have a television series dive into that topic was such a monumental act and I can only hope that other television series and movies will continue to showcase difficult and complex issues in an accurate and realistic portrayal.


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