Saturday, January 05, 2008

Literary Losers, Abusers, and Wimps

Ever since watching The Color Purple, some old thoughts came up. I was at the LA Times Book Fair years back when Purple author Alice Walker was signing. I waited in line quietly to have her sign my books. Ms. Walker was conversing across the way with a black man behind me. All was going well, then the black man asked Ms. Walker, "When are you going to write something good about the brothers?" Tension wafted in the air. I'd heard about how African American men took issue with the book and the movie, particularly at how they were being negatively portrayed. Alice Walker responded by saying, "That was an ignorant statement." She referred to stories that she'd written extoling black men that he had obviously never read. She made comments about how their community shouldn't bring each other down. "It might be too late," she said. Regardless, there was an uneasy feeling left behind. In the new version of Purple, the men are better drawn, fully conceived--ur, with Quincy Jones as a producer this better be so.

This brings me to the point of this post: The men of color versus the women of color who write about them. I was heavily involved with the Asian Acting community when news about the movie making of Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club" was happening. Cool, work for Asian actors! I read the book and loved it! There was, of course, grumblings from Asian men on how we were portrayed in the novel and eventually the movie. We're losers, abusers, and wimps. I am sure that this was not just because of the Joy Luck Club, but from years of dealing with these stereotypes. It hurt more when Asian guys were often passed up for white guys in these stories.

There was one respected actor (don't even dare ask me who he is, I ain't telling) who cursed writers like Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston for writing what they were writing. He pointed out that both women married white men. I could swear he spit when he made that last point.

What I said then is what I say now: we can't tell writers (or artists of any kind) what to write and what to say. If it's offensive, let's use it as a point of discussion and cause for change. In both my novels, Asian men like Bong Bong Luwad, Logan Ito, Jory Lalaban, Emerson Lalaban, and Michael Zhang have problems (as complex characters should), but I tried to make them compelling, interesting, and physically attractive characters. And don't go telling me that my Asian characters aren't real men becuase most of them are gay. Go there and I'll kick your ass.

If people are upset at how Asian men are seen in novels, you are not reading Chang Rae Lee, Ha Jin, Mas Masumoto, Brian Ascolon Roley, to name a few. If you don't like the way Asian men are protrayed in movies, start seeing movies from Asia. I found Wong Kar-Wai films especially moving (In the Mood for Love is a personal fave).

As for Asians dating whites...I don't care. I have more important things to think about like finding ways of illuminating the human condition. There are over six billion people on earth. Well over three billion are Asians. Why are we making such a ruckus over a few million (if that!) who may be marrying non-Asians?

One thing I love about turning 40 is I feel more empowered to say what's on my mind. (For those of you who thought I already had a mouth, you ain't seen nothing yet.)


Cheryl said...

Yeah, I think the answer to any negative representation is always more representations. With a bigger pool to look at, it stops being one poor little book's job to represent an entire community.

David Wong Louie's "The Barbarians Are Coming" is a nice portrait of a contemporary Asian American man.

thelastnoel said...

Oops, I forgot to mention David Wong Louie as a writer to read. Don't tell him.

Peter Varvel said...

My own two pennies' worth is that just as many Asian men would probably date/marry white women IF they were given as much opportunity and chance to do so.

And I can't help feeling suspicious that those who grumble the loudest are probably among the most guilty of being "losers, abusers, and wimps."

thelastnoel said...

Good point, Peter. I attended a workshop on race and gender many years ago. The group that are least likely to marry their own is

Peter Varvel said...

LOVING the new photo!
So pensive . . .

LAWSTUDE said...

Nice rant to start a new year. Your blog is always a pleasure to read. Keep it up. Happy New Year!!!

Liz said...

My response to brothers who are The Color Purple haters is, "Well, write a different book then." Or when I'm feeling really cynical, I tell them that when they stop listening to certain rappers, I'll toss my copy.

I like the fire 40 is bringing!

circuitmouse said...

David Wong Louie is an excellent read.

Writers will often reveal more of their own rejudices and phobias in their writing than they would care to admit (or look at). Sometimes, they even use the pen to get past all that and dream of a better world.

thelastnoel said...

Lawstude, I never thought of myself as ranter, till now.

Liz, Yeah, we need to keeping writing and showind different point of views. This includes you! Where's your novel? You're late.

Circuitmouse, what's great about writing is you can say anything...and call it fiction.