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lady_wakasa [userpic]

The R-Word

May 9th, 2005 (04:22 pm)

Well, over the past few days I was involved in a discussion about racism in the late 1920s. This started when I posted a picture of the US cover of the Piccadilly DVD to a film website I frequent:

From Amazon.com

Someone jumped on this as racist and disrespectful of Anna May Wong because

They would have never shown a picture of Marlene Dietrich topless, but because Wong is Chinese they can get away with it.
It is because of racist treatment in Hollywood that Wong's career went nowhere.

Second sentence mostly true (Wong had a solid career, but racism kept her from reaching the heights that she should have); first sentence definitely false. This (and some other comments made at the same time) shows a number of things: a lack of knowledge of art trends in Europe between the wars, an incorrect assumption that Anna May Wong disapproved and would never have posed nude, and confusion between Wong's Hollywood and European careers. This person was a musician earlier in his career, and considers himself a film expert now (and, to be fair, he does seem to know a bit about certain types of films). But he's waaay out of his depth here.

This person, since he was on a roll, decided to bolster his points by attacking the movie itself. He went on to say:

No one should come looking for any kind of ethnic accuracy in a movie, PICCADILLY, that has Charles Laughton playing a Chinese man.

Although he says he screened the movie for his film society, I guess he missed Laughton's scene, where he plays the club patron who finds the dirty dish that starts the movie's chain of events, NOT a Chinese man.

After a good night's sleep, I searched around a bit and asked on another board, and came up with a good eight examples, all Caucasian, of women who were represented as topless / near topless in movies posters. My favorite was - you guessed it: the aforementioned Marlene Dietrich:

From www.widescreenmuseum.com

He didn't have the guts to say, "Okay, I was wrong, but I learned something new with this"; in fact, he didn't have the guts to say anything. Instead he went on to attack someone else for using a Winnie the Pooh phrase ("oh, bother") in answer to his rant.

I don't really care so much about him - he's decided he knows what he (doesn't) know - but I wanted to make sure that the other people reading didn't get a distorted picture. There was plenty of racism that Anna May Wong had to face - and it's definitely true that her career wasn't anywhere near what it could have been because of it. And there's plenty of racism now. That's why throwing around terms from some knee-jerk reaction is so dangerous - when you come across true racism, people aren't going to listen.