Wednesday, March 08, 2006

2006 SFIAAFF—The Slanted Screen



It doesn't surprise me in the least that Jeff Adachi's documentary The Slanted Screen: Representations of Asian American Men In Film & Television was sold out to the Center for Asian American Media's membership before it ever reached the general public. One can only hope that the Center will negotiate an additional screening because this documentary deserves to be enjoyed by more than its own. It certainly speaks to more than its own; undoubtedly Adachi's intention. As the press notes state, "anyone fascinated by media criticism, politics, civil rights, or film and television history" will be attracted to this film.

Identity politics have repeatedly demonstrated that marginalized minorities hunger for accurate and appropriate cinematic representation. Adachi has successfully satisfied this hunger and accomplished for Asian American males what The Celluloid Closet did for its queer constituency and The Bronze Screen for Chicanos. The premise of The Slanted Screen is articulated in its project summary: "Movies and the mass media help form our world view, shape our identities, and define our roles—onscreen and off. Unfortunately, these effects frequently work to the detriment of some groups—including Asian American men. Too often, film and television misrepresent the world they claim to reflect. Their stories revise history, and rationalize inequities. Rather [than] portray[ing] three-dimensional individuals, their characters manifest prejudice, and reinforce bigotry. Moreover, their ubiquitous and persistent messages encourage viewers to internalize confining definitions of identity and self-worth. Ironically, film and television images extol our fundamental ideals of democracy and equality, and at the same time, betray them."

Darrell Hamamoto, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at U.C. Davis, writes in Monitored Peril: "Images of control are used as an iconic shorthand to explain, justify and naturalize the subordination of Asian Americans within a society that espouses formal equality for all."

In order to understand history, to situate ourselves within history, we must be engaged by it first and foremost and Adachi has provided an informative, engrossing well-structured vehicle to review how Hollywood's Dream Factory has portrayed Asian Americans from the turn of the century through the turn of the millennium. Utilizing a wealth of clips and interviews Adachi has balanced a recapitulation of representations past with divided concerns over future representation. By its thorough methodology, the documentary achieves solidarity with other minorities in film endeavoring a mutual historical task. It is one of those cases of enantiodromia, where by diving headlong into the particular concerns of a specific minority, by unveiling "the symbiotic relationship between stereotypes and prejudice", we come out addressing the issues that affect us all, aiming for a society more just for all. That is, at any rate, the hope. The Slanted Screen inspires hope that stereotypes might eventually be no longer necessary.

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