Hollywood’s the Limit

Julie Huynh, 46376331

The third chapter of Celine Shimizu’s The Hypersexuality of Race is entitled “The Sexual Bonds of Racial Stardom.” In this section, Shimizu focuses on the limits that Asian American actresses such as Nancy Kwan, Anna May Wong, and Lucy Liu all encounter whilst trying out roles in the film industry.

Shimizu asks in this chapter how a person could evaluate the “political possibilities of performances” by Asian American female actresses in Hollywood, which all (more or less) represent an image of a hypersexualized female Asian.  From observing all three actresses’ works, it is safe to say that Anna May Wong was herself unhappy with the stereotype that her roles perpetuated for Asian women, whereas Nancy Kwan did not find a relationship between her roles and the possibility that those roles could be influencing a stereotype or type of belief. Lucy Liu, on the other hand, tries to navigate both ends of the spectrum.

The proper way to react to Hollywood’s (and in turn, America’s) fixation on Asian female stereotypes (the hardworking peasant, hooker/prostitute, or dragon lady) is to be like Anna May Wong and be angered about it. However, sometimes I like to try to understand the other side to see where Nancy Kwan might be coming from. I feel that to have a mindset like hers, you have to be less multi-dimensional in your thinking and to null social and political issues tied to your work. Perhaps Nancy Kwan is more focused on her craft and feels that as long as she fulfills it the best she can, markers of success such as box office numbers and rave reviews are enough. She is entitled to that opinion she has where she says “It’s up to you and how you feel about yourself” (58). While that may be valid, she at the same time also relinquishes responsibility and accountability for a certain aspect of her work that is the social impact that Hollywood has.

Lucy Liu’s perspective is a bit tricky for me to digest, although I feel like I understand it. One of her stances is that at times you have no choice but to take those undesirable roles because at the end of the day, the role will provide you the money to pay your bills and make a living. I think that Lucy Liu is trying to compromise because she acknowledges that a lot of these roles that she embodies — the unfeeling, hypersexualized Asian woman — isn’t opportune, she has to work with what she’s given with initially in order to pave a path on which she can later create change. I think this is a perfectly valid course of action, where beggars can’t be choosers so you have to make the most of what you’re given and when you do start becoming successful, you can wield that power to create influence.

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