Looking forward to trying Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time; and getting ready for the holiday seasons, I grabbed my fluffy blanket and pillow. On the drive to the drive-in theatres, I was content. It had been a productive day; I had completed two hours of work for my Senior Year Project and was starting the weekend off with a Christmas movie at a drive-in theatre.
My mom had mentioned beforehand that the movie was a comedic holiday film, created in the ‘80s, with no diversity. Unsurprised, I was ready to sit back and relax.
Through the film, I found it to be a little comedic, responding in giggles here and there. It was a very predictable film and was not very interesting.
While watching A Christmas Story, I found some of the script problematic. From “there are starving people in China”, to equating a white character to an “Arabian Trader”, and a character bringing up some “Chinese water torture”. Many of these comments generalized countries and groups of people. Nothing seemed to be too damaging but made me feel uneasy. I guess I spoke too soon, because while I was thinking that during the movie, I had watched a grotesque scene that wreaked sinophobia. After the Parkers had their turkey eaten by their neighbor’s poorly-behaved bloodhounds the family went out to eat at the only restaurant that was open: a Chinese American restaurant.
When the Parkers sat down, the waiters, all Chinese American men, stood around the Parkers and began to sing Deck the Halls with broken English. Instead of “fa la la la la”, it was “fa ra ra ra ra”. Anger and humiliation filled me up; I was fuming. I couldn’t take this. Mrs. Parker’s reaction to the roasted duck was the cherry on top of the racism, sinophobia, and humiliation all in one. Making fun of the cuisine Chinese people eat was childish and disgusting to see on the silver screen. Within two minutes I had already decided, I would never watch that movie again, nor would my future children. Within 130 minutes, this movie had made uneducated and generalized statements of Chinese people, made Chinese people a comedic relief, and topped it off by making fun of our delicious food and the perceived broken English Chinese people could speak.
I was humiliated. After the movie was done, the one thing I was thinking about was that I was glad I hadn’t seen this movie when I was younger. It has taken me years to love my beautiful Chinese heritage. Years to think that my food is delicious, my mother tongue is beautiful, and years to feel American, and not an outsider. This movie illustrated that Chinese people could never fully assimilate into American culture. It taught me that in the ‘80s when racial justice was a hot topic, Asians were still seen as the perpetual foreigners. This movie taught me that to be considered American, you have to speak perfect English, and be white.
Angry and frustrated, I washed that racism off with Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Why are drive-in theatres and movie theatres still allowing A Christmas Story to be played? Why are people allowing this racist movie to be played? Children are watching this movie, what will this “teach” them about people of Chinese descent? How could I explain to younger generations of Chinese children what this movie is trying to portray? That Hollywood sees us as perpetual foreigners, eating weird food, and speaking broken-English? That we’re little chinks that could never assimilate into white American culture? How do you try to excuse this when we are repeatedly the butt of all comedic jokes? Where the society we live in excuses the microaggressions, racism, and trauma we have experienced. We get told that it’s just a joke and that we need to relax. How can we relax when we are repeatedly dehumanized by television, movies, and comedians?
Representation matters to me because it impacts how people like me are perceived. From growing up and being told my eyes were too almond-shaped, too chinky, and too Chinese. In my teenage years where I see Crazy Rich Asians where our eyes are not the center of the conversation, and where non-Asians finally understand Asians are beautiful. When I have been taught through the media, movies, and television that the white race is superior, through their physical appearance, mannerisms, and language, I have questioned why I can’t obtain that perfection. For years, I have aspired to look white; to have rounder eyes, a pointer nose, and a skin tone that doesn’t have yellow hues.
Through movies starring Asians as the main lead, the romantic roles, and humanizing representations of what Asian people can look like. I have disregarded the white beauty standards. I have embraced my almond-shaped eyes and my skin tone that goldens under the rays of the sun. I continue to learn Mandarin Chinese, and I have realized that the language is beautiful and doesn’t sound like “ching-chang-chong”. Through representations of Asians in Hollywood with Crazy Rich Asians, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, these movies and television shows portray Asians that aren’t your model minority monolith that responds in broken English.
Representation matters because I have been taught that I am inferior through films. But representation can also empower and celebrate, who Asians are, and challenge the old stereotypes Hollywood has perpetuated.
By Zabrina Richards