Sunday, February 7, 2010

Brian Locke's "Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from World War II to the Present"

Brian Locke teaches comparative race studies and cultural studies for the Union Institute & University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from WWII to the Present: The Orientalist Buddy Film, and reported the following:
My book, The Orientalist Buddy Film, focuses on a number of Hollywood movies that debuted between WWII and 9-11, approximately: Tay Garnett’s Bataan (1943), Samuel Fuller’s China Gate (1957), Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958), Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill (1959), Hall Bartlett’s All the Young Men (1960), several 1970s blaxploition films, Mike Hodges’s Flash Gordon (1980), Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon series (1987-1998), Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun (1993), Andy and Larry Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999), Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai (2003), and Paul Haggis’s Crash (2005). Most fit the well-known interracial buddy film plot in which a white buddy and a black buddy face a common enemy. According to the formula, the two hate each other initially because of racial difference, but by the end of the film they realize that they must submerge their animosity in order to defeat the mutual threat. In the process, they recognize their shared humanity. Thus, the villain of the film acts as a bonding agent for white and black.

Part of what makes the villain such an effective bonding vehicle is the figure’s status as even more racist toward black people than the white buddy. A few film scholars, most notably Robyn Wiegman in American Anatomies, argue that the interracial buddy film’s transfer of the stigma of American racism from the white buddy to the villain has two important political effects. It creates a cinematic illusion of harmony between white and black that forestalls rather than promotes actual equality of opportunity; it allows white America to disavow its long history of anti-black behavior. My book argues that after WWII, at least until 9-11, many interracial buddy films represent the common enemy as Asian. This is the Orientalist buddy film, a movie that scapegoats Asians for white America’s history of racism toward black people.

Page 99 is the last page of the chapter that focuses on the Platonic form of the Orientalist buddy film, Rising Sun, which pits two Los Angeles homicide detectives (Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes) against a yellow peril horde of Japanese businessmen who threaten American sovereignty. The page notes that the LAPD’s 1991 beating of Rodney King forces the 1993 blockbuster to create a means of cleansing the stigma of racism from Connery’s character. The scapegoat is a fellow detective, Graham (Harvey Keitel), who refers to the Japanese as “nips” and “Japs.” Like the portrait in Oscar Wilde’s tale of Dorian Gray, Graham carries the defect, in this case bigotry, so that Connery’s figure, the white male who represents mainstream America, may face the world clean.
Read more about Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from World War II to the Present at the publisher's website, and visit Brian Locke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue