Asian Americans have been part of America for almost as long as its existence. From the Chinese laborers building the transcontinental railway, inner cities laundry services, to Asian farmers who have helped build the agriculture communities around the country, Asian American have contributed to the industries and economy of America. Despite their loyalty and contributions to this country, Asian Americans have been discriminated and considered as “unassimilable” by many Americans. Racism toward Asian is further extended by Hollywood’s use of “yellow face,” where Caucasian actors applied make up and prosthetics to pose as Asians, stereotypes such “yellow peril” and “orientalism.” (Garcia, 13) From the beginning of motion picture, Hollywood’s portray of Asian has been highly influenced by political climate and propagandas from characters such as Fu Manchu, Chinese Warlord, to “Red Menace,” communist fanatic during strong anti-Communist Era. Although many American film contains resistance to Asian immigrant and on-screen Orientalism, American media also exhibits obsession with Asian culture.
According to Gina Marchetti’s America’s Asia: Hollywood’s Construction, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction of the “Orient” (Marchetti, 37) American cinema begins
during the time where America’s Imperialism has being to spread toward Asia. Thus, several early motion pictures adopted the mysterious East as a back drop to depict American soldiers
fighting in the Spanish-American war in the Philippines. Since the United States was rapidly becoming a colonial power, American adopted European’s mentalities of such that the Asian are primitive and uncivilized. Also, invention of “yellow peril” quickly follow as United States’ interaction with Asian nations increased. The creation of this stereotype lead to the birth of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character in a series of novels. As the popularity of Fu Manchu increased, Hollywood was quick to take advantage and portray this character as a threat to white supremacy.
According to Eugene Franklin Wong’s The Early Years: Asians in the American Films Prior to World War II, Rohmer, the creator of Fu Manchu stated “I MADE MY MANE ON FU MANCHU BECAUSE I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT the Chinese... I know something about Chinatown. But that is a different matter.” (Wong, 57) This presented a problem as the whole perception of Dr. Fu Manchu was based on generalization and ignorance. Unfortunately, ignorance of Asian culture became the root of Asian characters in motion pictures. The ambiguity and general facelessness of Asian characters and communities lead to the creation of a low-budget film called Chan is Missing (1981) by Wayne Wang. As two amateur detective cab drivers search the San Francisco’s Chinatown for the mysterious Chan, but never do find him or even reach any conclusion about why he is missing. (Marchetti, 53)
On the other hand, Hollywood’s depictions of different ethnic Asian are...