screenplay by Julia Cho, Domee Shi
directed by Domee Shi
by Walter Chaw There's a classic ONION article where an Asian San Francisco dry cleaner is picketed for upholding harmful Asian stereotypes that I think about a lot--especially when I wonder what would happen if I ever wrote something about my experiences with a domineering mother and a father who often stood by and watched when I could've used a champion. There are so few representations of Asian-Americans in American film that the other edge of that sword of getting a shot at telling a story is, what if the story we tell is merely a (hopefully) more nuanced version of the same old shit? Asian women are slotted into two types by this culture: prostitutes and dragon ladies--the assumption being that the former eventually ages into the latter. They are fetish objects with their own category in porn and shorthands for stentorian parenting and management styles, heavy on the scolding and light on the positive affirmation. These stereotypes arise from WWII GI encounters with brothels in Pacific war zones and a myth of Asian exceptionalism constructed to pit Asians against Blacks in the United States. I have seen white versions of these characters as well (both the whore and the drill sergeant-as-mom), but I have also seen the entire range of human possibility expressed through white faces and bodies in the same films. What I have not seen is a similar courtesy extended to minority characters. One dragon lady in a movie filled with other Asian faces and experiences is fine; it wouldn't even be unrealistic. When it's the only characterization, however, it's a problem that actually gets people murdered. I mean, no one watches Carrie and thinks Mrs. White is a stand-in for all white mothers.