American Media Doesn’t Care to Include Gayasians, But That Is Changing.

The visibility of minority groups in the US is important because it validates many diverse perspectives and offers historical and cultural context. The lack of accurate representation in the media creates negative and cliche stereotypes that are harmful to marginalized populations. The U.S. population, according to the 2010 U.S. census data, is comprised of 72.4% White, 12.6% Black or African American, 4.8% Asian, 0.9% Native American, 0.2% Native Hawaiian, and 9.1% other races. With over 20 million Asian / Asian-Americans living in the United States, the lack of  representation of Asians in media is staggeringly low. Issues like intersectionality, lack of visibility, and lack of queer representation are exposed more in films produced in Asians countries, more so than Hollywood, which is ironic. Several organizations and different forms of media are thus created by the Queer Asian Community as their involvement in a larger discussion upon representation.

The article,  How the New Queer Asian American Criticism is Shifting the Way We See Art, creates an important discussion of queer theory in Art History and applying both old and new knowledge of intersectionality between the asian race and queer identities into a book titled Queering Contemporary Asian American Art.

“As a whole, the book focuses on how the queer perspective denaturalizes any number of categories, using the idea of “queering” as an operation to explore issues beyond gender and sexual orientation.”

Source: Art net news

 

 

Bretman Rock is a 19 year old makeup artist, youtube star, influencer, etc. In an article by Advocate Magazine, David Artavia writes  “Although Rock’s family was aware of his nonconforming gender expression, that didn’t immediately translate to embracing his sexual orientation. Growing up in a religious Filipino household, Rock recalls his father once saying he “would ‘kill me’ if I ever came out gay.” Although his dad eventually came around, Rock says he can “relate to [people] who are scared of coming out due to religious beliefs or because they’re scared” (Artavia).

Bretman Rock ColourPop Collaboration 2018

SourcePopsugar

Being both queer and Asian represent two different minority groups in many western countries.  This unique situation is explained in Invisible Asian Americans article, “In many Asian Americans’ families, being a good student is synonymous to being a good child. Thus, on numerous dimensions, being gay disrupts one’s ability to fulfill these expectations, given that families generally display an aversion toward non-heteronormative sexual orientations” (Ocampo & Soodjinda 2015).

Source: Tumblr

The article, Challenges, Coping, and Benefits of Being an Asian American Lesbian or Bisexual Woman states  “some participants reported difficulties living with multiple and intersecting minority identities related to racism, heterosexism, and sexism. This domain included three themes: living as an AA sexual minority women in the context of Asian culture, invisibility, and sexual stereotypes, fantasies, and fetishization” (Sung et al).

MV5BMjA2MzA1ODM0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzI2NjY3._V1_.jpg

SourceIMDB

Films like Saving Face, a movie about a mother and daughter and the struggle between acceptance of being gay in Asian/ Asian American culture came off campy, cheesy and even a disservice to representations of queer asian women in American media.

In a review written by Kristi Mitsuda for IndieWire, Mitsuda argues the issues that are problematic in Saving Face, saying “But rather than examining intergenerational cross-cultural rifts in a real way, these stories trade on idiosyncratic quirks of ethnicity that, more often than not, serve only to further stereotype whatever racial group at hand. Instead of fleshing out the clichés and illustrating their basis in reality while also bringing to bear a deeper degree of nuance, such culture-clash endeavors take the easy way out by caricaturing while ostensibly humanizing. So it is that the festive Greek family, hysterical Indian parents, and gossipy, matchmaking “Chinese biddies” are all absorbed under the banner of “endearingly zany,” this making-cute as ideologically suspect as other representations” (Mistuda).

48314238_2202121526494237_5887904003898998784_n.jpg

Source: Facebook

 

Source: Tumblr

The queer Asian / Asian-American community exists all over the world but it is not visible in the Western media. American Queer films like Call Me By Your Name and Blue Is The Warmest Color have become more prominent representations of queer identities and sexualities in American media, but remains problematic due to lack of inclusivity with minority groups, like Asians / Asian-Americans. This leads to the visibility issue because the storyline of these films are central to straight actors playing queer roles or white characters loving characters of the same race.

 

CNN Philippines Life Cover Story - LGBTQ Actors.jpg

According to an article written by Apa Agbayani for CNN Philippines,  this poster for a fictional action film calls back to FPJ-style action and romance, where the gay characters are played by gay actors; offering possibilities for LGBTQ actors to play roles outside the usual typecasting they often experience (Agbayani).

Source:CNN Philippines

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 1.03.04 AM.png

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3410.jpgThere are several Queer Asian organizations that can support previous statements about their existence like, QSEA Community (Queer South East Asian), NQAPIA (National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance), The Gaysian Project, The Gaysian Third Space, and many more networks and organizations that scream “we are visible”.These organizations are providing a safe haven to support and encourage queer asians in finding their voice while also sharing their experiences and struggles of being a part of a “double minority” group.

SourcesThe Gaysian Project 

Gaysian Third Space

 

References:

Anthony C. Ocampo & Daniel Soodjinda (2016) Invisible Asian Americans:  the intersection of sexuality, race, and education among gay Asian Americans, RaceEthnicity and Education, 19:3,480-499, DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2015.1095169

Artavia, Davis. “Move Over, Kylie: The Beauty World Has a New Star.” Gay News, LGBT Rights, Politics, Entertainment, http://www.advocate.com/.

“Finding a Place for the Queer Actor in Philippine Cinema.” Cnn, nine.cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2017/07/14/queer-actors-cover-story.html.
Indiewire. “Small Change: Alice Wu’s ‘Saving Face.’” IndieWire, 24 May 2005, http://www.indiewire.com/2005/05/small-change-alice-wus-saving-face-78231/.
Sung, Mi Ra, et al. “Challenges, Coping, and Benefits of Being an Asian American Lesbian or Bisexual Woman.” Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, vol. 2, no. 1, 2015, pp. 52–64., doi:10.1037/sgd0000085.

“TGP.” TGP, http://www.thegaysianproject.com/.

Trouillot, Terence. “How the New Queer Asian American Criticism Is
           Shifting the Way We See Art.” Artnet News, Artnet News, 1 Sept. 2017,

 

Advertisements

The Importance of Complex Narratives of Motherhood and Pregnancy in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men and Roma

Alfonso Cuarón is a Mexican director who is largely known for films such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the best one), Gravity, and most recently Roma. Cuarón has a reputation for beautiful one shot sequences and his two time success in winning the academy award for best director, a landmark only achieved by one other Mexican director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, for Birdman and the Revenant. Yet with this landmark achievement, I would point out that the recognition that Roma has garnered sets itself apart from these achievements in directing. Here, a film directed in the actual neighborhood Cuarón grew up in features a leading cast of female characters, most notably the character of Cleo, the indigenous lower class maid to the middle class family. Played by Yalitza Aparicio in her first major acting role, the actress’ portrayal of a quiet live in maid whose close relationship with the family and her struggle with her unplanned pregnancy are honest and hard to find in modern major films. Yet, little has been said about some of the major thematic consistencies between Cuarón’s newest work and his 2006 dystopian thriller Children of Men. While the movies’ tonalities couldn’t be more different, the inner conflict of both movie’s leading female roles are two distinct yet similarly emotionally complex struggles with pregnancy in their environments. These pregnancy narratives are not the focuses of either film plot wise but they dominate much of what makes Cuarón’s movies  so emotionally honest and powerful. The fact both of these women are women of color in lower class statuses add to why I think these stories are so important to see and talk about.

Children of Men, 2006 dir. Alfonso Cuarón

To start, Children of Men is set in the apocalyptic year of 2027. In this world, much of society has become destabilized after 20 years of infertility leaves the aging population to face the inevitable death of the human race. The movie begins in the last remaining functioning city of London, where the internment and persecution of refugees dominates government messaging and propaganda while rebel factions of political dissidents attempt guerilla reform. The leading role of Clive Owen’s Theo is called on to transport a refugee woman  Kee who we learn is miraculously pregnant. She and Theo run for much of the movie in search of reaching a promised “Human Project” which is the last remaining hope for human survival and peace. Much of what strengthens the film is the more universal message against anti immigration and even follows Kee and Theo’s journey towards safety as a “modern Nativity tale”.

Roma, 2018 dir. Alfonso Cuarón

In Roma, Cuarón departs from his politically charged and symbolically driven style and instead follows Cleo and her life with a middle class family who she exists simultaneously within as a servant and an important and loved part of the family. The film is Cuarón’s most autobiographical, shooting the film in his childhood neighborhood and pulling from much of his experience growing up without his father and the relationship he had with his own nanny. The film, while not intentionally imbued with any messaging, is impossible to distance from the politics of the world is exists inc, another major theme in Cuarón’s work. Set in 1970 Mexico City, political turmoil and instability swim in the periphery of the family, closing in as they are increasingly abandoned by the male characters and move closer to collapse.

(Top) Cleo is left in the movie theater after telling her boyfriend about the pregnancy
(Bottom) Kee reveals her pregnancy to Theo

An important moment in establishing both women’s roles in their worlds is the moment their pregnancy is revealed and we as an audience are aware of the choices available to both women. Cleo’s pregnancy is announced and just as soon as she has told her boyfriend he abandons her. Inversely, Kee reveals her literal miracle of a pregnancy to Theo in a literal barn, not unlike the nativity. Here, both women’s pregnancies drive forward much of the movies personal narrative. An important theme to pay attention at this point is the fate of both women as determined by the choices available. It is little coincidence that Kee lives in a world where her pregnancy could potentially save the human race and that Cleo’s exists in Mexico City’s 1970, a deeply catholic society where abortion is a sin. Both women have no ability to decide if they are ready for motherhood and as such are confronted with their inevitable birth.

(Top) “Say goodbye”
(Bottom) “Its a girl”

Eventually Cuarón shows us the birth of both of these women and the parallels are striking. Labor for both women is induced in the midst of a political turmoil and combat. Cleo and the family grandmother Teresa go shopping for a crib as the delivery approaches. As arrive at the store, student protest groups gather in the streets and the protest soon devolves into riots as police begin beating the students. Soon a paramilitary group begins to shoot at the students and chase a couple into the store where Teresa and Cleo are shopping. The very gunman who points a gun at Cleo is the child’s father who has abandoned her. The stress and shock sends Cleo into labor and she is rushed to a hospital only to give birth to a stillborn baby. Kees birth sequence is similarly initiated in a moment of serious danger. As she and Theo are transported to the concentration camp for refugees in order to make contact with the human project, Kee begins to go into labor. Theo and Kee continue to fight through the riot like conditions of the camp and that night Kee delivers her baby in  practically destroyed room with only Theo to help. Her baby is born and the for the first time in 20 years there is a new child.

Two Pietas

Cuarón codes these scenes of the women becoming mothers with a juxtaposition of the world around them. In Children of Men Kee and Theo must leave in the morning as the concentration camp is being invaded and bombed. They run through the streets towards the ocean and pass a woman holding her dead sons body. In Roma Teresa and Cleo leave the cradle store in the midst of the rioting and pass a protestor holding a dead young man, presumably her boyfriend. These scenes of birth in the middle of moments of loss further complicate our reception of these women’s giving birth. In a world where women of color die in labor at disproportionate rates to white women, these fears and anxieties are not misplaced in this scene. (Rosenthal and Lobel)

An earthquake hits as Cleo visits the hospital to confirm her pregnancy

In Cleos story her world seems to warn her of her child’s fate and we see Cleo process these omens with the dread only she seems to feel. At the end of the movie she admits to the family in an emotional crescendo what we the viewer already knew. She did not want her baby. Her lack of options and alternatives to carrying her pregnancy to term is not one unfamiliar to women in religious communities such as Catholic Latin America. (Mercedes, Grossman, Tronosco, Billings, and Chávez) The importance of Cuaróns stories of emotionally complex approaches to pregnancy is hard to overstate. As someone who has personally had to confront the complex issue of abortion personally, Kee and Cleo’s reluctance and fear of the implications of their pregnancies resonate with me in a way few other movies have. My own experience was also colored by my privilege as a white woman with the financial means and support of my partner at the same time that it was shaped by my deeply Catholic family and upbringing. The guilt Cleo carries is something thats hard to find portrayed as honestly and as complex as it is Roma. Seeing Roma both reminded me of my experience and provided a type of closure. The reality of pregnancy and the unnecessarily complicated reality of reproductive rights, especially for poor women of color is not one that has been given its proper representation. With a world of over 7 billion people, all birthed by mothers, not every pregnancy is baby showers and gender reveal cakes. The dangers and complications of motherhood and reproductive rights are often conversations had in private and treated as a one size fits all experience, and it can’t continue.

Work Cited

Rosenthal and Lobe “Explaining Racial Disparities in Adverse Birth Outcomes: Unique Sources of Stress for Black American Women.” NeuroImage, Academic Press, 4 Feb. 2011, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953611000566 Accessed 10 Mar. 2019

Mercedes, Grossman, Tronosco, Billings, and Chávez “Women’s Perspectives on Medical Abortion in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru: A Qualitative Study.”

Black Women as the Aggressor in “The Bachelor” Franchise

The Bachelor franchise has been historically infamous for its underrepresentation of black women. What is more seldom talked about, however, though still mentioned in blogs and critiques mainly by people of color, is the portrayal of black women on the bachelor as aggressive and disagreeable. Their actions are often framed as aggressive and confrontational, even when the situation is being perpetuated by other parties or when other women have behaved in very similar ways and not received similar portrayals or reactions. This collection of images exemplifies the skewed portrayal of black women on the show often receive, independently from as well as in comparison to the way their lighter-skinned castmates are represented.

20 CAST PHOTO

Source: PopSugar

In this cast photo for The Bachelor’s twentieth season, the underrepresentation of black women as a whole is discernible. Out of all 28 women, only one is black: Jubilee Sharpe, the woman in the white dress standing to the left of that season’s Bachelor, Ben Higgins. She is automatically and fundamentally “other” in relation to the rest of the women on the show. This is frequently mirrored in the majority of Bachelor casts, especially in the past. The black women on the cast infamously leave the show early-on. If they happen to stay longer, however, the ways in which black women are treated and portrayed on the show tends to stand out when compared to the non-black contestants, both in terms of how black women are treated by the other women, as well as the “edit” given to them by production. Actions that are seen as “funny” or “bold” when performed by other white contestants are often interpreted as hostile or overly-assertive when performed by black women. Blame is continuously put on the women of color for “isolating themselves” from the majority of the cast, when in fact, though it is not always transparent on the show they are often isolated and ostracized based on the judgments made by others about their personalities.

Image 3-9-19 at 11.11 PM

Source: Amazon

In season 20 of The Bachelor, for example, Lauren Himle noticed that Sharpe had returned from her date with a rose from Higgins. She is soon shown expressing her concern over her compatibility with the man whose heart they were all vying for, because she did not think Sharpe was “nice enough” to get along with other “soccer moms.” Here, Sharpe was once again portrayed as disagreeable. Himle and the other white women consistently get the chance to explain their frustrations with Sharpe as seen in their confessionals, while Sharpe’s own inner thoughts during the conflict can only be inferred as she disagreeably isolates herself from the group. Himle even laments that she pitied Higgins for having to spend such a long amount of time with Sharpe. Instead of showing footage of what Sharpe might be thinking, production chose to show the other contestants talking bad about her.

 

Image 3-9-19 at 11.13 PM

Source: YouTube

In this screenshot, Sharpe is seen looking dejected and outcast at a rose ceremony, despite having already been given a rose, the show’s highest status symbol. After returning from her date with a rose, the other women in the show were so unhappy when she came back with a rose that they ostracized her and accused her harmless jokes of being offensive and off-putting. Interview after interview is shown of the women speaking badly of Sharpe and writing her off as a bad fit to date Higgins, because she does not get along well with other women, despite having never behaved unpleasantly towards them. Though she is clearly just insecure and a little bit awkward, her portrayal, especially through the eyes of the other women, is seen as “the girl who doesn’t get along with other girls” and an aggressor. There are even moments when Sharpe attempts to sit with the other girls, but they storm off, making it seen as if she is purposefully separating herself from the group. This clip includes the other women claiming that they feel “attacked” by Sharpe after an interaction in which Sharpe was confronted by a large group. This narrative of feeling “attacked” by a black woman for simply expressing her feelings is a recurring theme throughout this essay and the show itself.

Image 3-9-19 at 11.15 PM

Source: Hulu

In this still taken from the ‘Women Tell All’ episode of The Bachelor‘s twenty-third season, Onyeka Ehie is seen defending herself after being called a bully by another contestant, simply for speaking her mind, a common occurrence by many of the series’ women. Chris Harrison, the show’s host, facilitates a conversation that at one point culminates in Ehie defending herself by saying that she will always speak her mind, but she doesn’t think it’s fair to be called a bully. Some of the other girls sitting around her shake their heads and roll their eyes, and she continues to be accused of bullying. In the show’s edit of Ehie, she is frequently seen as the instigator, making jokes that include calling her fellow competitors “bitches” and making a lot of noise. While this is par-for-the-course in Bachelor Nation, exaggeratedly sensitive reactions from some non-black contestants are frequently shown continuing to paint her as one of the more aggressive contestants. Here, Ehie is used as the season’s Sapphire, a stereotype commonly used to dehumanize black women as “loud, aggressive… combative” and “never satisfied” (Coleman, Reynolds & Torbati, 2019). Despite Ehie being a woman with her own unique experiences and backstory, the producers reduced her character on the show to that of hostility, never highlighting moments that do not include her in confrontations with other women.

Image 3-9-19 at 11.23 PM

Source: YouTube

While black women are shamed and stereotyped for showing any type of aggression, there are countless examples throughout the Bachelor franchise of white women actually being praised for their aggressive behavior. The stark difference is exemplified here between the television portrayals of Season 23 contestants Demi Burnett and Courtney Curtis. There are several moments throughout the season in which Burnett is openly confrontational with the other contestants. Despite her aggressions, Burnett is still given a great backstory and character arc, receiving a lot of social media support after her Bachelor exit, as well as many fans and social media followers. Like Ehie, Curtis had a very different experience. Curtis is never portrayed outside of her feud with Burnett. She never gets a real backstory and is normally only shown in confessionals that advance the plotlines of other contestants. On the season’s “Women Tell All” episode, the only time Curtis is asked to voice her opinions is about her relationship with Burnett, which culminates in an almost violent confrontation. While both women are portrayed as aggressive, the aggression of white women and black women is framed very differently, with the white women being more likely to be heralded for their behavior by both audiences and producers. Burnett has been described as “bold” and “owning her sexuality,” while Curtis has been described as just being confrontational and aggressive. It is important to note here that “reality television shows…are very much part of the white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalistic ideology…” (Jefferson-James, 2015). Generally, it is white men who are the ones controlling what audiences see in the media, stripping black women from the opportunity to form their own narratives. This inequality is important to recognize as one of the many ways black women can be set back simply by the portrayal of their sisters on reality television, edited and manufactured by wealthier white men who are in a position of power.

Image 3-9-19 at 11.25 PM.jpg

Source: Bustle (Adams), Source: Bustle (Morton)

While not all black women get a one-dimensional portrayal on the show it is important to note that the majority of the women who are portrayed as the “loud and combative” Sapphire are typically the show’s darker-complected black contestants. As defined by Cherry Wilson of BBC.com, colorism is the “prejudice against people who have a darker skin tone… and/or the preferential treatment of those who are of the same race but lighter-skinned” (Wilson, 2018). Tayshia Adams and Katie Morton are two women from The Bachelor’s twenty-third installment whose portrayals help exemplify this assertion. These two women were portrayed very positively throughout their stint on the show. Both women were two of the season’s major frontrunners, with Adams being runner-up and Morton receiving 8th placed respectably. Even in intense arguments, they were seen remaining more composed and not being framed as being so overtly aggressive. This is a stark contrast to the portrayals of contestants Courtney Curtis and Onyeka Ehie, who are two of the season’s darker-complected black women.

Image 3-9-19 at 11.20 PM

Source: Amazon

Here Rachel Lindsay is seen being introduced to the audience as one of the women competing on Season 21 of The Bachelor. While other women’s introductions feature them picking flowers and playing with their pets, Lindsay is seen at work as an attorney commanding a room and explaining a liability case. She is constantly referenced to as being very assertive and commanding, even though she is widely regarded by fans and critics alike as one of the women who holds herself with the most dignity and class on the show. Although her portrayal was favorable enough to win her the spot as the thirteenth Bachelorette, she was still accused of being aggressive and was constantly having to defend herself. Lindsay’s castmate Vanessa Grimaldi took her aside and told her that she saw her as ‘aggressive’ and ‘a bully’, to which Lindsay responded that those accusations were hurtful and offensive as “there are so many stereotypes placed on African American women.” Rachel’s presence on the show was, as a whole, a win for the portrayal of black women, and yet she still had to defend herself simply for having a personality. This is a clear indication that the problem runs deeper. As Warner put, “if whites are going to think black women are loud and angry regardless of the mediated images on-screen, and the on-screen space most occupied by black female characters is limited primarily to reality TV, it seems futile to continue to pretend that the image and not the systemic racism inherent in our culture is the problem.”

Image 3-9-19 at 11.22 PM

Source: Vulture

During the “After the Final Rose” episode of Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette, the season’s runner-up Peter Kraus is seen looking at her dejectedly while she attempts to discuss her break up with him. In this scenario, a black woman has taken on the role of the Bachelorette, which is usually almost always a position in which the woman is painted in a mostly faultless and positive light. During this specific conversation, however, Kraus tells Lindsay he feels “attacked” by her, for simply explaining this process may not be the right environment for him. As a strong black woman with an affluent job, gestures and expressions she uses would be otherwise normally acceptable if occurring on other seasons of The Bachelorette.

Bibliography:

Coleman, M. N., Reynolds, A. A., & Torbati, A. (2019, January 28). The Relation of Black-Oriented Reality Television Consumption and Perceived Realism to the Endorsement of Stereotypes of Black Women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000223
JEFFERSON-JAMES, L. (2015). Selective Reuptake: Perpetuating Misleading Cultural Identities in the Reality Television World. In WARD J. (Ed.), Real Sister: Stereotypes, Respectability, and Black Women in Reality TV (pp. 31-52). Rutgers University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/stable/j.ctt17rw51m.6
Wilson, C. (2018, June 04). Colourism: Do light-skinned black women have it easier in showbiz? Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-44229236
Warner, K. J. (2015). They gon’ think you loud regardless: Ratchetness, reality television, and black womanhood. Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, 30(1_88), 129-153. doi:10.1215/02705346-2885475

Progressive for Us, Normal for You.

Latinx representation has been problematic in television since it first became of interest to the general media. As Molina-Guzman and Valdivia explain, it has been plagued by racialized and gendered representations of Latinx transnational identities and hybrid bodies. Historically, media centered around Latinx identities is one-dimensional and stereotypical. Narratives including Latinx characters involve scandals, drug runs, or romantic pursuits and their defining characteristics are largely negative – having a heavy accent, being hypersexual, asexual, or hypermasculine. Recently, there has been a call from Latinx audiences for “more inclusive programming” and a deviation from these characterizations in popular media (Molina-Guzman and Valdivia, 2004). As a result, we’ve seen only so-called progressive responses in the form of Latinx people as secondary characters in primarily white narratives or Latinx centered stories that are still plagued by stereotypes.

The 2017 sitcom, One Day at a Time has been deemed as highly progressive by numerous sources and viewers for its transcendence of these minimalistic efforts. One Day at a Time is a refreshing take on a sitcom as the genre usually focuses on the importance of familial relationships but only told through a white, middle-class, heterosexual lens. The acclaimed “progressiveness” in One Day at a Time is that the series addresses normal topics such as divorce, marriage, mental health and familial expectations through a Latinx lens. Although it is a very important story to tell, the topics are ones the sitcom genre is very familiar with.

For example, in the popular series Gilmore Girls, the story is centered around the theme of single-motherhood depicted through Lorelai and her daughter, Rory, who’ve managed to create a good and stable life without the help of a father-figure. However, as the series progresses, Rory’s father- Christopher, is introduced when he decides to be less absent, reconnect with his daughter and hopefully rekindle a relationship with Lorelai. In Season 3, Episode 2 (“Haunted Log”), Christopher breaks the promises he makes to Rory and Lorelai and decides to leave Stars Hollow to be with the woman he got pregnant and is now going to marry. As is typical in the role of a single-mother, Lorelai is left to help Rory cope with, and simultaneously help rebuild, the fragmented relationship she has with her father.

Source: Screenshot by Author

Following the theme, One Day at a Time, is centered around Penelope, a Cuban-American veteran who has raised her children without a dominant father figure present for fifteen years when Victor, her ex-husband, decides to return and reconnect with his children, Alex and Elena. In Season 1, Episode 13 (“Quinces”), Victor returns in time to dance with Elena at her Quinces – a traditional latinx coming of age ceremony. However, after Elena comes out to him during their practice of the father-daughter dance and she decides to wear a suit instead of a dress to the event, Victor rejects her and leaves her before the father-daughter dance. Just like in Gilmore Girls, Penelope is left to pick up the pieces and fill in as the father figure once again.

Source: Screenshot by Author

Another example of a white sitcom engaging with traditional themes, like mother-daughter relationships and marital preservation, is Reba. The early 2000’s sitcom follows Reba Hart, a recent divorcee who’s struggling to deal with her children, her ex-husband Brock, and his pregnant girlfriend Barbra Jean. In Season 1, Episode 11 (“Meet the Parents”), Reba’s parents are in town for the first time since her divorce. Throughout the entirety of this episode, Reba’s mom shares how blessed she is for having a long and happy marriage with her partner. Particularly, she shares that marriage is “the greatest achievement in life.” This comment and others lead Reba to believe that it was her fault her marriage fell apart and that her parents see her as a failure for not being able to hold down a marriage despite her other successes in her work and family. Despite their rough relationship throughout the episode, Reba and her mother reconcile after she compliments her for being so in control of her life and apologizes for making her feel less than.

Source: Screenshot by Author

In the same way, One Day at a Time showcases these same themes in Season 3, Episode 8 (“She Drives Me Crazy”). The episode revolves around Lydia, Penelope’s mother, wanting to teach her how to cook the family recipes because she finally feels Penelope is deserving of them. However, it’s later revealed that she does it because it’s her way of “fixing” her and ensuring she can “keep” a man and get remarried. Penelope is extremely hurt by the revelation that her mother feels she needs fixing and that despite being healthy, having a good relationship, and wonderful kids she still isn’t good enough for her mother. In the end, they reconcile after realizing that they need to accept one another for who they are and Lydia tells Penelope that she’s more than enough.

Source: Screenshots by Author

Reba also engages with the concepts of divorce and remarrying throughout the series. In Season 1, Episode 15 (“You May Kick the Bride”), Reba’s patience is tested as Brock and Barbra Jean prepare for their marriage in which her kids are all involved. After a long conversation with Barbra Jean over their individual relationships with Brock and a threat of postponing the wedding, Reba is coerced into giving her blessing. Also, after thoroughly persisting, Reba winds up unconventionally attending the wedding and, this time genuinely, accepting the union.

Source: Screenshot by Author

Similarly, in Season 3, Episode 11 (“A Penny and a Nicole”) and Season 3, Episode 13 (“Ghosts”) of One Day at a Time, Penelope is struck by the news that her ex-husband not only has a girlfriend but is also in the process of marrying her. After bonding with her doppleganger, Nicole, over their respective relationships with Victor, Penelope shares that she’s happy for their new relationship but struggling to understand why her ex-husband has found someone so great and she hasn’t. Penelope, too, ends up attending the wedding where, despite her own emotions,  shares her approval of the couple.

Source: Screenshot by Author

Lastly, the themes of post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health form the basis of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The story follows Kimmy Schmidt who, after being trapped in a bunker for fifteen years, struggles to navigate her way around New York City. In Season 2, Episode 10 (“Kimmy Goes To Her Happy Place”), Kimmy makes the decision to go to therapy after realizing she needs to confront her repressed emotions and learn to put herself before others. Once at therapy, Kimmy makes great progress by sharing how she diffuses her anger and unwelcome thoughts by going to her happy place where she’s a princess and also reaches a breakthrough by realizing she blames her mother for ending up in the bunker.

Source: Screenshot by Author

Correspondingly, One Day at a Time, also engages with PTSD and mental health through Penelope’s character. A military veteran, mother of a gay teenager and another experimenting with drugs, and a mother who recently had a stroke, Penelope struggles with PTSD, depression, and newfound anxiety. During her group therapy, she shares that her anxiety, which she knows she gets from her mother, is getting worse. But, with Schneider’s help, she’s learned to ground herself by looking at pictures of dogs in wigs. Later on in the episode, she helps Elena out of an anxiety attack using the same methods that work for her and as a family they discuss the normalcy of mental health and the importance of caring for themselves and one another.

Source: Screenshot by Author

Although most sitcom topics are easily relatable to families of all backgrounds, they’re usually produced by, starring, and made for white people. Furthermore, usually when there are Latinx representations, they “speak to non-Latino audiences in ways that are ethnically and racially… regressive” (Molina-Guzman, 2018). Due to the lack of diversity in sitcoms and scarcity of non-stereotypical portrayals of Latinx identities, content that deviates from those standards has been deemed ‘progressive’. However, in comparing One Day at a Time to white-centered sitcoms, it’s evident that the series is not progressive as much as it is simply a non-stereotypical portrayal of Latinx identities and a show discussing normal topics and themes through a Latinx lens. Although not truly progressive, it’s still important to analyze shows like One Day at a Time because of the “practices surrounding the production of the [media], and the social context within with the [media] is produced and received” (Molina-Guzman and Valdivia, 2004). It’s also equally important to acknowledge the work the creators and actors of these shows are putting towards creating a new and non-stereotypical representation of Latinx in the media.

Guzmán, I. M., & Valdivia, A. N. (2004). Brain, Brow, and Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture. The Communication Review,7(2), 205-221. doi:10.1080/10714420490448723

Molina-Guzmán, I. (2018). Latinas and Latinos on TV colorblind comedy in the post-racial network era. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

Why White-Washing Asian Men Persists

Hollywood has been making films depicting Asian men for over a century. However, these depictions usually come at the cost of whitewashing the character. Whitewashing is the practice of casting white actors in order to please audiences. In other more overt cases yellowface is committed. Yellowface is a process that exaggerates Asian features in an effort to make comedic relief or simply replace an Asian man with a white actor. Both of these are issues that plague Hollywood and it’s problematic history of unfair representation. In this blog post we will examine why Hollywood opts for casting white men instead of asian men for these roles.

 

Chinese_Emigration_to_America
Source

Stereotypes of Asian people have existed for centuries. In “Whitewashing Yellow Futures in Ex Machina , Cloud Atlas , and Advantageous : Gender, Labor, and Technology in Sci-fi Film”, the author LeiLani Nishime writes, “Asian American scholars have traced the rise of yellowface performance as a response to waves of Chinese immigration in the mid-1800s and the global recessions of the late 1800s. White labor groups scapegoated Chinese immigrants, simultaneously securing their whiteness, citizenship, and place on the labor hierarchy.” A couple of the first stereotypes associated with Asian men that still perpetuate today’s society include being sexually unattractive, racist exaggerated ideas of Asian male features, and being incompatible with whiteness. This is materialized in old and new Hollywood’s reluctance to cast Asian men in Asian roles. The following are some examples of this practice of whitewashing and yellowface.

brokenblossoms1919.5883_092720130947.jpg
Source

Although this example is one from outside of the US, it illustrates the deep history of yellowface. This film is directed by D. W. Griffith, the same director as The Birth of A Nation. The male character is titled “The Yellow Man” and is played by Richard Barthelmess who is a white American actor of the Hollywood Silent era. This is an example of yellowface because he uses makeup, clothing, and even facial gestures to imitate exaggerated asian stereotypes. Not only is this an example of yellowface, but the characters actual name in the film is “The Yellow Man”. This stereotype of yellow skin, squinty eyes, and exotic clothing is one theme that is continuously played on by Hollywood which will be illustrated by some of the following films.

 

Charlie_Chan_Carries_On_lobby_card
Charlie Chan is a character that was developed by an author named Earl Derr Biggers. At first the character was strictly in novels, but over time he was introduced to roles in movies. The above image shows the character Charlie Chan who is played by Warner Oland. Prior to Oland’s casting, Chan was a minor role played by Asian actors; however, it wasn’t until Oland’s casting that the Charlie Chan’s character got any real success. This example spotlights two things. The first is that the initial roles given to Asian actors to play Charlie Chan were extremely minor. This is one trend that continues in modern Hollywood. A UCLA study found that despite Asians making up a more than 5% of the American population, only 3.1% of the roles are casted by Asians. This underrepresentation is only furthered by Hollywood’s tendency to replace Asian roles through yellowface and whitewashing.

Think_Fast,_Mr._Moto_trailer

Mr. Moto is a fictional character depicting a Japanese agent. In the film his character is characterized as small, delicate, and fragile. This characterization of Agent Moto is not uncommon and still proliferated in modern media. One issue surrounding Asian men from playing roles that are coded as masculine is the fact that Hollywood has emasculated the Asian man body for decades. This emasculation has led to Hollywood choosing to cast a more likable white male to play a masculine role, rather than casting the an Asian man who is largely seen in society as unattractive and traditionally “feminine”.

Starring_Mickey_Rooney

One of the most infamous portrayals of yellowface is perpetrated in a film titled Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I. Y. Yunioshi is cast by a white man named Mickey Rooney. In the opening scene that shows I. Y. Yunioshi he is seen with very yellow skin, extremely squinty eyes, and displayed for comedic relief. The joke in that scene is that his eyes are so small that he trips and falls all over the place trying to fulfill basic tasks. In the early 1960’s during the film’s release Breakfast at Tiffany’s got decent reviews without much criticism. However, attitudes soon changed later in the 1960’s. The depiction of this Asian male character push racist views on the Asian body and furthered the emasculation of the Asian man. This repeated representation of the Asian man leads to directors and companies opting for white actors rather than Asians. In other words, the roles that Asian men can play are extremely limited.

220px-The_Last_Samurai.jpg
Source

Fast forward to Early 2000’s and you have Tom Cruise turning into the Last Samurai. Despite Samurai being Japanese warriors, Hollywood reimagined a white actor to play the last “Samurai”. This whitewashing of Japanese samurai differs from the yellowface portrayals of the past; however, the causes of these casting choices are similar. Much like the Charlie Chan example, Hollywood perceives white actors as being more economically beneficial to cast compared to Asian actors. A main reason this may persist is the negative emasculating history of Asian men in cinema. Over time these stereotypes have made it so that Asian men are perceived as generally less capable at bringing in box office numbers.

dragonballevolution_hero_vf1

Another example of whitewashing is in Dragon Ball Evolution. In this film Goku, a beloved Japanese anime hero is played by a white actor; however, unlike older films that employed whitewashing casting choices, this film suffered due to the casting. According to IMBD the film has a 2.6/10 rating. At this time many young asian Americans such as Kevjumba took to the internet to call out this extremely visible of Hollywood whitewashing an Asian male lead role. In a video titled “Asians Aren’t Cool Enough” he talks about how important representation is for young Asian Americans, and points out many of the stereotypes such as Asians being coded as feminine or sexually inactive.

images
Source

The last example of whitewashing is just three years old. In a film titled “The Great Wall” the main male protagonist played by Matt Damon depicts a white hero instead of an Asian male despite the setting of the story. The title is an illusion to China’s Great Wall, and the casting choice for the film only furthers the notion that Asian men cannot perform masculine, hero-like roles in Hollywood cinema.

In conclusion, replacing roles meant for Asian men with white actors is not only historical, but also an ongoing issue within Hollywood when it comes to representation. To this day studios believe that audiences want white actors to play these role, but more importantly studios believe white actors sell tickets. This idea of white actors playing Asian characters with more success is as old as Charlie Chan, but enforced by stereotypes such as being sexually unattractive, fragile, emasculated, and traditionally feminine as detailed in this essay.
Sources:

Andrist, Lester. “ What Is Whitewashing and Why Does It Matter?” Thesociologicalcinema, 22 Feb. 2015, http://www.thesociologicalcinema.com/blog/what-is-whitewashing.

Editors, History.com. “Samurai and Bushido.” History.con, A&E Television Networks, 8 Mar. 2019, http://www.history.com/topics/japan/samurai-and-bushido.

Fang, Jenn. “Yellowface, Whitewashing, and the History of White People Playing Asian Characters.” Teen Vogue, 8 Aug. 2018, http://www.teenvogue.com/story/yellowface-whitewashing-history.

Hunt, Darnell, et al. Hollywood Diversityy Report . 2018, pp. 2–5, Hollywood Diversityy Report.

Nishime, LeiLani. “Whitewashing Yellow Futures in Ex Machina, Cloud Atlas, and Advantageous: Gender, Labor, and Technology in Sci-fi Film.” Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 20 no. 1, 2017, pp. 29-49. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jaas.2017.0003
Morgan, Thad. “Casting White People in Asian Roles Goes Back Centuries.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, http://www.history.com/news/yellowface-whitewashing-in-film-america.

 

 

 

Intersectional Representation of Gender, Queerness, and Ethnic Identity in Janelle Monáe’s Discography

Keywords: Intersectionality, Hegemonic Masculinity, Emphasized Femininity, Queerness, Performativity, Third Wave Feminism

Janelle Monáe has become a modern rockstar; she is an artist that has infiltrated the ladder of mainstream popular music and re-energized it with her own essence and unique view as a queer black woman in America. Even when she caught the attention of music icon, P Diddy himself, he said in an interview,

“I was that were different and innovative. Because if you’re a leader in this industry you want to be helping to push it forward, and she’s an artist that would help to push it forward.”

After signing to Atlantic Records, she released her first EP in 2007, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) charting in at 115 on Billboard and was even nominated for a grammy for her song Many Moons. It was absolutely apparent that she had an ability to steer the industry in the new direction. Since then, she’s had three studio albums all charting on billboard. Over 20 music videos, and nominated for eight Grammys. She is so young and has a resume that would make the late great Biggie Smalls fall out his chair. How did this girl from Kansas City become a national phenomenon over the last decade? The answer is her unique view on gender, sexual representation, and activism.

This is an analytical essay that will dissect Janelle Monáe’s artistic representation through media and song as a means to promote queerness, break systematic hetero-generic stereotypes, and hegemonic masculinities rife in Contemporary R&B and Hip-Hop genres. Monáe’s particular musical styling includes elements of Pop, Contemporary R&B, Funk, Hip-Hop, and Psychedelic Soul. The following paragraphs will discuss how Janelle Monáe’s freedom of expression transcends the boundaries of music and art through third-wave feminist applications of the “self.” Monáe’s relationship with hip-hop and rap culture is consistent with modern third-wave feminism where she expresses personal narratives reflective of the unique crossroads of experience (Pough, 2007 p. 82). Contextually, a defining characteristic of third-wave feminism, according to Snyder, seeks to build an independent critique “that addresses […] different societal contexts and the particular set of challenges [… faced]” by feminist activists (Snyder, 2008 p. 178). This representation of “self” is the basis of intersectional ties, and through these songs, Monáe strictly seeks to address various notions regarding to her own experience. Monáe suspends much of her work within the essence of afrofuturism as a means to enforce dialogue regarding queer, feminine, and ethnic constructions. According to Bennett, Afrocentrism is not a clearly defined term but, for clarity and within the subject of this essay, can be defined as “artistic and critical works that combine science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentrism, and magic realism with non-Western beliefs” (Bennett, 2016 p. 92). In the case of Monáe, the use of afrofuturism is not necessarily apparent within every text of her work, but provides context for much in which she can express her views on black American history and gender and sexuality in modernity. These discussions regarding the intersectional nature of these attributes specific to Janelle’s character are highly detailed within her music videos “Q.U.E.E.N.,” and “PYNK,” in which Monae either enacts lyrical poeticism or visual imagery to discuss these constructs.

Q.U.E.E.N. – Janelle Monáe (ft. Erykah Badu)

Q.U.E.E.N. Music Video

“Q.U.E.E.N.” begins with an obvious suspension within an alternative world to preface the critiques that will later follow within the lyrical content of the track. As well, the music video narratively indicates that Monáe is a member of a collective entitled Wonderland who promoted activism through art and music. This collective, however, is now on display in a museum, having been lost to time and a relic of an era bygone. The lyrics within this song promote social discourse regarding African American history and modern race relations, as well as hinting at social acceptance in regards to gender and sexuality.

Monáe unabashedly embraces her performative queerness through her lyric “will your God accept me in my black and white,” giving notion that this God is judgemental in regards to alternative performativity in regards to perceived heterosexual and hegemonic gender dynamics. Here, Monáe questions the validity of religion on the basis of the hate it can create. As well, Monáe’s black and white menswear suit is representational for general otherness in a music demographic dominated by performed femininity and the traditionalized feminine physique. Ulterior to traditional feminine performativity, Monáe dons her menswear in pride. As well, Monáe iterates that “I will love who I am,” promoting self acceptance against societal pressures. This ushers emotional solidarity for her listeners as she embraces her own presentation regardless of how society views her appearance.

The Hottentot Venus

“Because the booty don’t lie
No, no, the booty don’t lie
Oh no, the booty don’t lie”

“Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae

In regards to feminine presentation, the lyric the “booty don’t lie” emphatically embraces the hypersexualization of the black female body — common social assumptions indicate that black woman evoke sexuality for their curves. The inherent exoticism of the black female body as othered is seen in the representation of Sarah Baartman, The Hottentot Venus, as a specimen of allure and awe to the colonialist community. Baartman’s representation is consistent with other iconography of black womanhood, like the “Jezebel, Mammy, Welfare Queen, Sapphire”  images prevalent in Western society (Henderson, 2014 p. 494). Reclamation of stereotypes, however, can be powerful for communities, therefore Monáe has embraced this stereotype of black womanhood as a means to be proud of her intersectionality in regards to race and gender. Monáe ultimately constructs pride from negative oppressive representations.

Q.U.E.E.N. Music Video

“Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?
Say will your God accept me in my black and white?
Will he approve the way I’m made?
Or should I reprogram the programming and get down?…

…Even if it makes others uncomfortable
I wanna love who I am
Even if it makes other uncomfortable
I will love who I am”

“Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monáe

The song then dramatically shifts to Janelle expressing her views regarding race relations in America, coupled with the visual cue of her position centered within the frame within a barren background. Here, in context of the video, the dialogue in which Monae is discussing is of utmost importance. Within this dialogue, she professes to “give back [her] pyramid,” prior referencing “Queen Nefertiti,” which is a direct criticism of the white erasure of black history and black historical figures due to the effects of colonialism. As well, she entices the viewer with other imagery relating to the abolitionist movement (“leading like a young Harriet Tubman”), the Vietnam War (‘tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On”’), and social activism (“marching to the streets”). These inherent metaphors, though, are representative of how she views current race relations in America today, inferring that much progress is to be made before equality is true and racism is eliminated. “Q.U.E.E.N.” triumphantly embraces Monáe’s views on her own experience within America as a queer black artist and seeks to create activism and promote solidarity within her listeners.

PYNK – Janelle Monáe

Within Monáe’s track “PYNK,” much of the video emphasizes yonic imagery reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral paintings. This direct relation to the vagina through artistic representation politicizes imagery that would otherwise be demonitized or banned on the media platform Youtube. Although promoting sexual liberation, including sexual rhetoric such as the imagery of female sexual bodies remains privy to the objectification of the hegemonic male gaze. The possible hegemonic subjugation of proper feminist analytical discourse can be understood, but the feminine gaze from Monáe’s perspective created by the video’s imagery inferences that this is a queer and feminist piece.

Thompson and Monáe are fondly looking towards one another across multiple bodies where the buttocks is clearly framed. Both woman do not taunt these bodies, rather they share a subtle emotional experience and these bodies are representative of the emotional and sexual intimacy of the two characters. Comparing this shot to one seen in the recently popular song “Thotiana” by Blueface, hegemonic masculine identity codes the female body as a tool for male pleasure. Where both videos include the feminine figure, the way in which the definitions of these bodies are coded are vastly different. Monáe embraces womanhood and modern sexuality whereas Blueface promotes tired objectification both lyrically visually. These women in “Thotiana” dance seductively around the male artist who raps of gratication recieved by the female subject of the song. Similarly to the case of Sarah Baartman, the representation and commodification of the black female figure is historically continuous and can be damaging, systematically promoting a hypersexualized image of black femininity (Henderson, 2014 p. 951). Hip-Hop and R&B feminist rhetoric chooses to dismantle these oppressive stereotypes but also provide women with the means of owning their sexual identity. Counter to this, Pough notions that women’s agency to be provocative within these oppressive male settings should not be demeaned, rather the problematic rhetoric rife in the hip-hop music scene should be contested (Pough, 2007 p. 86). It can be further assumed that these representations of black femininity again are not monolithic, and there is a spectrum of presentation and personal agency that should be embraced. The imagery within “PYNK” is however largely supportive of the black female body especially in its means to reclaim the negative stereotypes that have become consistent in media. This music video is for queer women and women in general, and the nuances and artistic flourishes deem that the intentions are further than simple sexual gratification. The female body is accepted for the self, similarly with the sentiments of anecdotal personifications of third wave feminist practice.

“Pynk, like the inside of your… baby (we’re all just pink)
Pynk, like the walls and the doors… maybe (deep inside, we’re all just pynk)
Pynk, like your fingers in my… maybe
Pynk is the truth you can’t hide
Pynk, like your tongue going round… baby”

“PYNK” by Janelle Monáe

Lyrically, Monáe politicizes her song particularly in her verses where grammatically, the ends of the sentences are left open, leaving the listener open to personal interpretation– this interpretation is more significantly understood as sexual in nature. Again, Monáe is toying with her own view on sexual experience as well as being pro-sex. Counter to the previous example of “Thotiana,” Monáe is incredibly suggestive within her representation of sex without being derogatory to the individual she is speaking about. Monáe is sharing a sexual experience with another as expressed through her lyrics “like your fingers in my” and “your tongue going round,” which are imagery for common cunnilingus. However, when compared to a lyric from “Thotiana,” the artist clearly states “I beat the pussy up, now it’s a murder scene,” inferring male dominance over women which is the traditional expectancy in hegemonic sexual behavior. As well, the grammatical omission works on two levels — it both acknowledges the taboo nature that feminine sexuality is understood in society as well as targets traditionalist viewpoints against sexual expression.

Overall, “PYNK” proves to be the most provocative and pro-sex track of the two works discussed. It recounts and relishes in the intersectional gendered constructs specific to Monáe and promotes sexual inclusiveness in media. Other images includes a play on words, “sex cells,” and the middle finger framed poignantly within a shot. In every essence, Monáe uses this piece of art as a means to dismantle traditional notions of gender, queerness, and black female presentation.

Summary:

Monáe has proven that intersectional representation is necessary to deconstruct the negative representations of women in the media. Her unique view as a queer woman of color is apparent in her work, and her activist approach to the curation and creation of her music is artistic and socially conscious. These specific voices are necessary within media as this feminist work critiques the hegemonic powers at play and offers discourse to deconstruct the status quo. Traditional masculine approaches to gender, especially in hip hop culture, has proven damaging to black womanhood and propagates white colonialist views of the black woman. Monáe presents a dissenting opinion that offers a necessary trajectory for intersectional feminism.

Bibliography:

Bennett, M. (2016). Afrofuturism. Computer, 49(4), 92-93. doi:10.1109/mc.2016.99

Henderson, C. (2014) AKA: Sarah Baartman, The Hottentot Venus, and Black Women’s Identity, Women’s Studies, 43:7, 946-959, DOI: 10.1080/00497878.2014.938191

Pough, G. (2007). What It Do, Shorty?: Women, Hip-Hop, and a Feminist Agenda. Black Women, Gender + Families , Vol. 1, No. 2 (Fall 2007), 78-99

Snyder, R. (2008). What Is Third‐Wave Feminism? A New Directions Essay. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society,34(1), 175-196. doi:10.1086/588436

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away: The Empowerment of Female Heroes Against Hegemonic Masculinity

Disney’s reputation of stereotypical portrayals of gender in their films has not gone unnoticed, especially within their extensive princess genre. In the animated film Beauty and the Beast (1991) the female lead, Belle, is one of the first princesses to be presented in a more feminist light through her intelligence and wit. It also addresses hegemonic masculinity as seen in Gaston’s character and alternative masculinity in the Beast. In comparison, Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away (2001) portrays a female protagonist, Chihiro, that is trapped in the spirit world and befriends a boy named Haku who can transform himself into a dragon. Although some representation is based on cultural differences between the two animated films, there are similarities that can be discussed such as both female character’s reliance on a male character for their freedom. By analyzing Beauty and the Beast and how the three main character’s, Belle, Gaston, and the Beast, represent hegemonic ideals of masculinity and femininity, we can compare Spirited Away’s representation and how the Disney animated film undermines the empowerment of the female lead through the damsel in distress trope.

Belle, the main female protagonist from Beauty and the Beast, is from an era of Disney female characters lauded for being a breath of fresh air from the stereotypical depictions of women found in earlier Disney films like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. She is often celebrated as a strong, intelligent, and independent female character. She is far from being the damsel-in-distress heroine. She has hopes and dreams that extend far beyond obtaining the love of a man. Throughout the film, Belle is shown, and even called by other character, to be very independent, and ambitious, driven by her own sense of agency – attributes not typically given to many female protagonist in Disney movies from before Beauty and the Beast. In fact, the movie goes to great lengths in the beginning to market just how different Belle is suppose to be from other women.

2019-03-09 (13)2019-03-09 (12)

Source: Screenshots by Author

In the opening of the movie, the very first song shows the relationship Belle has with the rest of the town. Throughout the song many citizens of the town go out of their way to describe Belle as “strange” or “peculiar” due to her interest in books and her independent nature. They criticize these aspects of her, deeming that it’s both “a puzzle to the rest of us” and “pity and a sin”. For the rest of the song, they, including Belle herself, “other” her and her actions, clearly separating her from their society’s values as Belle is “very different from the rest of us”.

However, despite all of that, the movie very quickly works to undermine Belle’s difference in numerous ways. Two of those ways are presented in the characters Gaston and Adam, the Beast.

2019-03-09 (14)

Source: Screenshot by Author

Gaston displays typical traits of hegemonic masculinity; he’s seen as an attractive, physically fit, straight, white, controlling male. This is evident in every scene he’s in – even when he’s not the main focus; the trio of women swooning after him during the song “Belle”, everyone speaking their admiration of him in “Gaston”, and the scene where Gaston rallies the town together to kill the beast are all examples of Gaston flexing his dominant masculine attributes. Numerous times throughout the film, Gaston tries to force Belle to be his wife. Despite her constant rejection, he continually pursues a marriage with Belle – even showing up dressed up ready to get married that very second, expecting her to give in to his demands. Joseph Allen accurately sets up why this is such a problem, saying “Gaston seems to feel as though Belle’s assertion of her independence comes at the expense of his…which, for Gaston, means that he has lost the ability to decide for her — a threat to the foundation of his patriarchal identity” (2017). This means that Gaston’s repeated actions become normalized in the terms of masculinity. This is seen as something that’s simply a part of the masculine identity, which can then be read as normal behavior for society to replicate (hook 1994; Wormer, Juby 2015).

Despite Disney’s attempts to speak against this – seen in the way Gaston is clearly demarcated as the villain of the story, thus painting his form of hegemonic masculinity as something negative and unappealing – Belle still falls prey to a much subtler form of masculinity that still emulates this behavior. While Gaston represents a terror of toxic hegemonic masculinity, the Beast subscribes to a more alternative form of masculinity.

2019-03-09 (11)

Source: Screenshot by Author

The Beast, or Adam, doesn’t fit into your typical masculine category. He’s not seen as attractive and he is often seen emoting in ways that are typically marked as feminine, and yet he still given something called the patriarchal dividend. According to Connell, men considered not able to achieve hegemonic masculinity are still at an advantage in society. (2001). They still receive the benefits of masculinity from what they do achieve – which is given precedence over women, a group seen as subordinate (Connell 2001). The Beast is no exception to this. He still exhibits typical hegemonic masculine traits despite not quit reaching hegemonic status; he’s clearly of upper-class standing, he hold a position of authority over everyone in his household, to which he provides and protects, and most importantly, is male in either form – human or beast.

2019-03-09 (10)

Source: Screenshot by Author

Much like Gaston, the Beast tries to stamp out Belle’s agency by taking away choice from her. We see this in early scenes like the one where the Beast attempts to sit down to have dinner with Belle, only for her to refuse to attend. In retaliation he bellows out that “If she won’t eat with me, then she doesn’t eat at all”, limiting Belle in her options.

Chi

Animation World Network

Beauty and the Beast makes a noticeable effort to stray away from typical stereotypes such as emphasized femininity which describes many of the original Disney princesses, but still struggles in how it ultimately undermines Belle’s agency. In Hayao Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away, the main protagonist is a young female heroine, Chihiro, that becomes trapped in the spirit world and must not forget who she is in order to escape. Much like Beauty and the Beast, Chihiro relies on the character Haku, a young boy that has the ability to transform into a dragon, in order to gain her freedom. In comparing Belle and Chihiro, there are noticeable differences in the way Miyazaki portrays his female protagonists and how he represents gender overall.

ChihiroAreaJugones

Chihiro’s appearance is vastly different from the appearance of Disney’s animated characters. Influenced by Japanese culture, the features of Chihiro are less exaggerated and feminized than that of Belle’s. At the beginning of the movie, Chihiro and her parents are traveling to a new home. Her father decides to take a short cut and they come across an entrance to a dark tunnel. Chihiro’s demeanor at this point in the film is timid and afraid as her parents are curious as to what is through the dark tunnel. She clutches her parents tightly as they walk through together only to end up in what appears to be an abandoned theme park. They travel further in until they end up in a deserted town. Chihiro is ultimately left alone in what is labeled the spirit world when her parents are transformed into pigs. Throughout the rest of the film, Chihiro’s attitude changes as she gathers courage to help other spirits and confront the evil witch, Yubaba. Unlike Disney’s portrayal of Belle’s reliance on the Beast to save her in the end, Miyazaki portrays his female characters as “courageous, compassionate, independent, and located in worlds that are hybrid and imperfect” (Trafí-Prats 2016). Throughout the film Chihiro follows the instructions that Haku provides her in order to survive but in the end, it is she who ultimately helps Haku when he is attacked.

HakuSource: IMDB

Also influenced by Japanese culture, Miyazaki’s representation of masculinity in Haku’s character is less hegemonic and more related to the alternative form of masculinity. When Chihiro is alone in the spirit world, Haku appears suddenly and tells Chihiro how to survive. He is short and strict with his warnings, but as the film progresses he eases up on his sternness and coldness towards Chihiro. The typical representation of men in Japanese culture are tough, strong, and encouraged to have dominance over women and children (Sugihara and Katsurada 1999). These traits are apparent in Haku’s character as he interacts with other characters throughout the film. Haku’s appearance is far from the blonde, tall, and built traits presented when the Beast transforms back into his human form in Beauty and the Beast. Even Gaston’s traits are similar to the Beast, displaying a message of how Western society invisions the hegemonic male.

both

Pinterest

Though both Disney and Studio Ghibli comes from different cultures, as discussed above, both cultures seem to hold masculinity up to the same ideals. Men are usually the ones in authority and usually in charge of women and children. They’re the decision makers. What they say is expected to be followed for the best of most everyone – that was Haku’s intention when helping Chihiro, as with the Beast with Belle. However, what’s different is the result for both their female characters. While one used this as a device to ultimately build up and empower the main female protagonist – Chihiro – and give her agency outside of another male, the other failed to so. Instead, Disney fell back into its usual pattern of limited female representation. This is something troubling when taking into account the way media has the power to influence society. By letting these types of microaggressions slide, it runs the risk of becoming normalized in society.

 

 

References:

  1. Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed). Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  2. hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw culture: Resisting representations. New York, NY: Routledge.
  3. J Allen. (2017, March 22). Toxic Masculinity in “Beauty and the Beast”. Retrieve from: https://womenandhollywood.com/toxic-masculinity-in-beauty-and-the-beast-8fbe0ae37367/
  4. Sugihara, Y., & Katsurada, E. (1999). Masculinity and Femininity in Japanese Culture: A Pilot Study. Sex Roles,40, 1-12.
  5. Trafí-Prats, L. (2016). Girls’ Aesthetics of Existence in/with Hayao Miyazaki’s Film. 17(5).
  6. Van Wormer, Katherine & Juby, Cindy. (2015). Cultural representations in Walt Disney films: Implications for social work education. Journal of Social Work, 16. doi:10.1177/1468017315583173.