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Pet Sins May 2003

Negative reactions to Asian and Black partnerships in movies

I am a film buff who is always on the lookout for interesting films. I read your September issue on movies with black and Asian characters. Seemed interesting, but I didn't have any interest in seeking out movies just for their black-Asian cast. Then, quite accidentally, I found some other films with black and Asian characters while surfing the web for movie reviews.

Now what really caught my attention is not the black-Asian combination of the cast, but rather, the reactions of certain reviewers. For example, I came across a review for a black-Asian cast movie Brother that wasn't featured on your site. Anyway, a reviewer on Amazon.com described the movie as "another Romeo Must Die", "another Rush Hour", using strongly negative language. It seemed the only reason for the scathing remarks in that particular section of the review was a presence of black-Asian pair of friends in the movie. Some more positive reviews also compared Brother against Rush Hour, simply because of the Black and Asian characters.

I went and saw Brother, and found that it had little in common with Romeo Must Die or Rush Hour. The films belonged to different genres and were designed to elicit different responses from audiences. Sure, the film is not without flaws, and the 1st negative reviewer was right on some of them, but the legitimate flaws have nothing to do with the black-Asian combination.

The way the reviewer put it, it sounds like a black-Asian cast is trite and overused. There are many other movies with multiracial casts: In the past there were many white hero-black/Native American/Asian sidekick movies, and today there are many white man-Latina/Asian woman romantic movies, but I have never heard any of them being criticized as having a cliched racial combination. For example, Miss Saigon, Good Morning Vietnam and Heaven and Earth all feature white American man-Vietnamese woman couples, but I've never heard Heaven and Earth being described as another Good Morning Vietnam, or Miss Saigon being described as another Heaven and Earth, because these are very different films. In fact, reviewers seldom mention the race of characters unless it is relevant to the plot.

And in the case of Brother, the black-Asian combination isn't key to the plot, it could just as easily have been white-Asian or anything-Asian. So why are black and Asian character combinations singled out for special opprobrium?

I find this rather disturbing. Obviously, we do not know the race of the reviewer in question, but I wonder if there is some underlying prejudice which caused him to react so fiercely. This has me thinking about another possibly quite unrelated issue - for some strange reason some white people don't like to see non-whites having positive interracial relationships with each other. But I will write more about that in a separate message.

D.F.
2001