You Offend Me You Offend My Family is a blog that was originally conceived to promote Finishing the Game, director Justin Lin's 2007 mockumentary about the obstacles Asian American male actors have to put up with in Hollywood. The blog name is derived from an Enter the Dragon line that the actor characters in Finishing the Game are asked to perform during auditions (the actual line is "You have offended my family, and you have offended the Shaolin Temple"). The people who worked on Finishing the Game recently became the talk of the Asian American blogosphere due to a You Offend Me post that points out the ineffectiveness of the Japanese American Citizens League's protests against a lame gag involving the beating of an Asian American used car salesman in ex-Chappelle's Show writer Neal Brennan's The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (because hate crimes are funny!). Ken Jeong is a hilarious stand-up whom I've seen perform live, and I love his performance in Role Models, but what the hell was he thinking when he agreed to do that scene?
(If Silver Streak-era Richard Pryor were asked to do a scene like that, he would have walked off the set and caused the shoot to be halted so that the scene would have to be changed. That's exactly what Pryor did during the making of Silver Streak when he was uncomfortable with how the white writers scripted a sequence in which characters are fooled by Gene Wilder's lousy disguise as a black man. Pryor's angry protest resulted in a more believably written reaction to Wilder's disguise--the gag was changed to a black shoe shiner who sees his disguise and doesn't buy it at all--and the revision helped make the bathroom sequence the funniest part of Silver Streak.)
In "Hollywood and Asians: Why Protests Alone Won't Change Anything," the You Offend Me blogger suggests that instead of protesting like the JACL, what frustrated Asian Americans ought to do is concentrate their energy on supporting Asian American filmmakers and seeing their movies (easier said than done--the Asian American community is so fragmented and divided, and there are so many different sub-communities, from Chinese American to Filipino American, that it's impossible to get all these sub-communities to flock to these films). Many Asian American bloggers agree with You Offend Me's post, while a lone dissenter, my occasional boss TMM, has been fuming about it.
I don't have much to say on this subject other than the You Offend Me guy is mostly right, and the Angry Black Woman and Byron Wong have best articulated my thoughts on the subject.
First, the Angry Black Woman's thoughts:
But until Asian Americans as a whole are willing to put down our money to support the work of our Asian American filmmakers—nothing will change.And now, Byron's thoughts:
It’s a good point. But something about it bugs me.
Because it assumes something that I’m not sure is true, and feeds into a bigger problem. What Phillip suggests is that if Asian Americans just go and view more Asian American films, this will show Hollywood there’s a significant demand for positive portrayals. The same reasoning, IMO, underlies African Americans’ patronization of black films (and African American Interest books, and so on) — we’ve taken to heart the racist rationalization that if we don’t make it ourselves, and go see it ourselves, we can’t expect the mainstream to follow suit.
Except… African Americans have been making it ourselves, since the Sixties. We’ve been going to see those films, too, enough to create several blockbusters, catapult several African American filmmakers to auteur status, and launch a few subcultural film/theater movements.
But has all this success — all this proof that we will support our own — really changed anything in Hollywood?...
We’ve got to support the positive portrayals that are already out there. And that includes work by other PoC, because all this stuff feeds into each other. We’ll get more successful black actors in Hollywood once we prove that Latinos/as will go and see them. We’ll get more Asian actors when we can prove they appeal to black audiences. We’ll see fewer pretendians when audiences start going to see real Indians. And so on.
I agree that things won’t change until we start paying, and I agree with his statement that a lot that comes from independent Asian American media “sucks.” ... The Debut was horrible. Yellow was beyond horrible. I couldn’t even finish One Hundred Percent, despite the fact that Tamlyn was in it. I’ve financially supported all of these...Good God, Yellow blew. That moment in The Limey when the otherwise understated Terence Stamp snaps and snarls, "Tell him I'm fucking comiiiiing!," with a deranged look on his face? Great shouty acting. The perpetually cranky and one-note lead actor in Yellow? The worst shouty acting I've ever seen.
I’ve said this from day one... the problem is the writing. If we improve the writing, if we work to improve our depth of vision by studying and developing writing, everything else will fall into place.
I prefer not to march outside movie studios, multiplexes or--and this was really dumb--the Disney Store (huh?). Protests and letterwriting campaigns accomplish very little. In response to the JACL's furor, Paramount removed the Asian-bashing sight gag from the Goods commercials. So what? The scene is still in the movie. Yay, JACL.
A few months ago, I finished writing a two-week arc of my webcomic The Palace that's about the subject of grassroots protests against movies that are whitewashed remakes or are racially offensive, but I haven't illustrated the arc yet. In my script, the main character says to a classmate who's protesting against an Avatar: The Last Airbender-like martial arts flick, "Aren't there more important things to protest?... The way to fight Hollywood is not to keep organizing protests... but to go make your own fucking movies."
Personally, I think the best way to rob these racially offensive movies of their power is to publicly ridicule them and rip them and their creators to shreds through humor (hence the Hill Street Blues catchphrase that's part of the title of this post--I want to see more Asian American comedians be verbally aggressive towards our enemies and emulate the attitude in Sgt. Jablonski's morning battle cry). We need to do the same things that one of my comedy idols, Paul Mooney, did to Driving Miss Daisy and horror flicks that keep killing off white women or having them sleep with monsters and vampires in both his stand-up act and his 1993 album Race, one of my favorite examples of activism through comedy. To me, there's nothing more powerful than the comedic smackdown Mooney gave to mainstream Hollywood during Race.
Mooney's ridicule of Driving Miss Daisy ("I'll take a bagel and beat the shit out of Miss Daisy") and much less funny but equally dead-on comments about the inane 1989 Best Picture Oscar winner from black celebrities like Spike Lee did more to tarnish the reputation of that movie than any protest would have done. As Lee said to New York magazine about Do the Right Thing's impact in comparison to the Jessica Tandy/Morgan Freeman movie's impact, "No one's talking about Driving Miss Daisy now." When AFI announced its list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time, Driving Miss Daisy didn't make it. Do the Right Thing landed spot #96.
I'd love to see an Asian American comedian or actor ruin the box office grosses of an upcoming racist movie by snarking about that film while being interviewed by a talk show host or magazine writer. I wish that was the reason why The Goods tanked at the box office and quickly disappeared from theaters.
Bottom line? Let's take a cue from Byron and concentrate on improving our writing skills so that there can be more movies from us that people will remember far more than the Live Hard, Sell Hards and Driving Miss Daisys of the industry.