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Making Asian American Film and Video

Making Asian American Film and Video: History, Institutions, Movements

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    Making Asian American Film and Video
    Book Description:

    The words "Asian American film" might evoke a painfully earnest, low-budget documentary or family drama, destined to be seen only in small film festivals or on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). In her groundbreaking study of the past fifty years of Asian American film and video, Jun Okada demonstrates that although this stereotype is not entirely unfounded, a remarkably diverse range of Asian American filmmaking has emerged. Yet Okada also reveals how the legacy of institutional funding and the "PBS style" unites these filmmakers, whether they are working within that system or setting themselves in opposition to its conventions.

    Making Asian American Film and Videoexplores how the genre has served as a flashpoint for debates about what constitutes Asian American identity. Tracing a history of how Asian American film was initially conceived as a form of public-interest media, part of a broader effort to give voice to underrepresented American minorities, Okada shows why this seemingly well-intentioned project inspired deeply ambivalent responses. In addition, she considers a number of Asian American filmmakers who have opted out of producing state-funded films, from Wayne Wang to Gregg Araki to Justin Lin.

    Okada gives us a unique behind-the-scenes look at the various institutions that have bankrolled and distributed Asian American films, revealing the dynamic interplay between commercial and state-run media. More than just a history of Asian Americans in film,Making Asian American Film and Videois an insightful meditation on both the achievements and the limitations of institutionalized multiculturalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6503-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Shared History of Asian American Film and Video and Public Interest Media
    (pp. 1-11)

    In 1967, the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television published a report that showed a troubling lack of multicultural diversity on commer­cial television, the remedy for which would appear in the form of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The report, titledPublic Television: A Program for Action,not only described the absence of people of color on and in televi­sion but prescribed a highly ambitious yet vaguely articulated solution, stating that public television should “help us see America whole, in all its diversity.” It “should be a mirror of the American style” and “should remind us of our heritage and enliven...

  5. 1 “Noble and Uplifting and Boring as Hell”: Asian American Film and Video, 1971–1982
    (pp. 12-38)

    In his bookIdentities in Motion,the film scholar Peter X Feng marks the unexpected box office popularity ofChan Is Missing(Wayne Wang, 1982) as the beginning of a recognizable genre: Asian American film and video. The film “announced that Asian Americans could be artists, could be commercial filmmakers, and could support Asian American filmmaking, as well as successfully market Asian American films to wider audiences.”¹ What this particular origin point elides is the fact thatChan Is Missing,a neo-noir film nominally about a search for a missing Chinese immigrant and more symbolically about Chinese American identity, began...

  6. 2 The Center for Asian American Media and the Televisual Public Sphere
    (pp. 39-54)

    The 1980s represent the decade of institutionalization of Asian American independent media. Nationally, Asian American film and video, as well as other minority film movements, consolidated through the establishment of the Minority Consortia, a funding body established by Congress in 1979 dedicated to supporting the diversity mission of public broadcasting. The Asian American contingent of the consortia named itself the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), renamed the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) in 2006.

    The focus of this chapter is the impact of public television and the Minority Consortia on Asian American independent media. It is important, first,...

  7. 3 Pathology as Authenticity: ITVS, Terminal USA, and the Televisual Struggle over Positive/Negative Images
    (pp. 55-78)

    The arrival of the Independent Television Service (ITVS), a programming consortium for innovative content by way of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1988, transformed the discourse on race and representation in public media.

    What made ITVS different and experimental was that it was run by and for independent producers without the intervention of executives of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It represented a number of contradictions: a positive coup for independent producers who desired control, an ultimate fiscal failure, and of course, a chance for Asian American filmmakers to finally address the problem of the “positive image.” This chapter considers...

  8. 4 Dismembered from History: Racial Ambivalence in the Films of Gregg Araki
    (pp. 79-96)

    As discussed in this book’s introduction, the question of definition has been the timeless dilemma of Asian American film and video. Indeed, independent filmmakers of Asian American descent who refuse to participate within the genre’s institutional bounds have exacerbated the problem of defining it. Enter Gregg Araki. As Peter X Feng puts it, “this problem was so familiar to everyone concerned that I used shorthand to refer to it—I called it “The Gregg Araki question”—and everyone knew that I was asking, ‘If an Asian American filmmaker makes a movie which doesn’t engage with Asian American issues, would you...

  9. 5 Better Luck Tomorrow and the Transnational Reframing of Asian American Film and Video
    (pp. 97-123)

    Better Luck Tomorrow(Justin Lin, 2002) occupies an exceptional place in the history of Asian American film and video in that it achieved mainstream, popular acceptance, a rarity within the genre. By entering into the mainstream, Lin’s film addressed an ongoing theme of the genre’s history, which is ambivalence toward “selling out” to Hollywood. How could Asian American film and video engage in the institutional racism of dominant media without sacrificing its social change ethos?Better Luck Tomorrow,for all intents and purposes, seemed to solve this conundrum by blending a seemingly contradictory mixture of Hollywood genre cinema, Hong Kong...

  10. 6 The Post–Asian American Feature Film: The Persistence of Institutionality in Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee and American Zombie
    (pp. 124-133)

    Whether it is overt or covert, the sign of the “institutional” in Asian American independent film and video is ever present. This sign, which is an acknowledgment or indication of a film’s relationship to institutional forms of support—that is, PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Minority Consortia—is an intrinsic aspect of Asian American film and video. Yet, institutionality is not merely a historical context that is outside of the text but, importantly, also an integral textual element. What this means is that Asian American films are not only “about” the real world—that is, topics and...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 134-136)

    This book has examined the institutional history of Asian American film and video. But more than this, it advocates for the continuation of a dynamic, well-funded public media that must exist in order for diversity to flourish in the United States. Particularly in the current landscape of a so-called postracial, neoliberal media landscape, we must remember the struggles of the past lest we fall back into the institutional racism of the past, but under different guises. This book demonstrates that ultimately, for good or ill, Asian American film and videoisthe public media institution, uniquely entwined unlike in any...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 137-144)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 145-152)
  14. Index
    (pp. 153-166)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-167)