Jan. 8, 2018Print | PDF
Hot off the press is my new book – Criminalization/Assimilation: Chinese/Americans and Chinatowns in Classical Hollywood Film (Rutgers University Press, 2019). This book was made possible by an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada that I received in 2012, which financed various research trips to archives in California.
Criminalization/Assimilation traces how Classical Hollywood films constructed America’s image of Chinese Americans from their criminalization as unwanted immigrants to their eventual acceptance when assimilated citizens, exploiting both America’s yellow peril fears about Chinese immigration and its fascination with Chinatowns.
In the book, I examine Hollywood’s responses to social issues in Chinatown communities, primarily immigration, racism, drug trafficking, and prostitution, as well as the impact of industry factors including the Production Code and star system on the treatment of those subjects. Looking at over 200 films, I illuminate the variety of racial representations within American film in the first half of the twentieth century and brings to light not only lost and forgotten films but also the contributions of Asian American actors whose presence onscreen offered important alternatives to Hollywood’s yellowface fabrications of Chinese identity and a resistance to Hollywood’s Orientalist narratives.
The most surprising aspect of the project is how the archival research I completed changed the breadth of the project. My original goal was to focus on about 40 sound films (~1930-1960) that featured key Chinese characters; however, as I completed research in archives in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., I uncovered more and more films concerned with Chinese American immigration and, in the end, my project expanded to the examination of over 200 films. The majority of those films are silent (1985-1929) and have been lost or forgotten; however, in the archives, I found materials related to the films—including outlines, drafts of scripts, film reviews, promotional materials, industry correspondence, newspaper articles, and stills from the films—and, on rare occasions, I even found copies of the films themselves.
Examples of these films include:
In the end, my research project morphed in keeping with my archival discoveries and has grown into two distinct book projects—the first is now out in print, Criminalization/Assimilation: Chinese/Americans and Chinatowns in Classical Hollywood Film and the second which I am now working on is tentatively titled Yellow Hands across the Border: Chinese/Americans in Classical Hollywood Border Westerns.
We see you are accessing our website on IE8. We recommend you view in Chrome, Safari, Firefox or IE9+ instead.×