Asian artist erased from history – Washington Square News
Despite the lingering stereotypes faced by Asian artists, Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese-born American actor, was a prominent man in Hollywood in the silent movie era.
Before, Asian artists were mainly Rod to take on leading roles, there was a silent movie star who enjoyed fame and recognition across the United States. Sessue Hayakawa, born and raised in Japan and never obtained U.S. citizenship, was a famous sex symbol after his Hollywood debut in 1914, before Rudolph Valentino’s heyday. What is most striking about Hayakawa’s case is that he shows us that in a world before the conditioning of popular media and stereotypes, an Asian American was able to rise to the top.
After a peer from my Tisch program introduced me to Hayakawa, I was immediately intrigued by him. He was often cataloged as an Asian villain or lover in most of his films throughout the silent movie era of the 1910s and early 20s. While this cast itself is problematic – it reflects the American fear of the surreptitious East which still persists today –I marvel that an Asian man is widely seen as attractive by the predominantly white population of the United States. Hayakawa’s career was rocked by a number of factors, but it’s worth mentioning how the 1930s production code restrict even the mere portrayal of interbreeding in the films further limited Hayakawa’s scope as an actor, as he couldn’t be involved in a romance with a female character who was not Asian.
His widespread praise is surprising, as Asian actors are not often portrayed as prominent men in popular media today. It was only recently with the release of “Crazy Rich Asians” that Asian men were marketed as attractive. I have heard from ethnically Asian men who feel categorically unattractive and emasculated.
In a maintenance with the Huffington Post, Asian American model Kevin Kreider said, âWhen I was in elementary school I just remember wanting to take this girl dancing, and when she told me she didn’t didn’t find Asian guys attractive, I was like, ‘oh my god. What’s wrong with being an Asian? Why don’t we look attractive and what’s wrong with me? ‘ ”
Kreider explained the micro-assaults he faced during his college days – a girl once complimented him saying, “You’re really good looking for an Asian guy.”
It seems that we have all been conditioned to believe that people of certain races and ethnicities innately possess certain attributes, namely, that Asians are weak, subordinate and foreign. These stereotypes take their toll, as they pave the way for micro-aggression and outright discrimination. What’s even more frightening is that instead of acknowledging and rejecting these harmful beliefs, people freely embrace them as facts. Kevin Kreider’s elementary school crush seems to have done the same, adopting a scholarly bias against Asian men.
That being said, it is sad to think that an Asian actor who has received such publicity is seldom remembered or celebrated – it is as if he has been erased from history. Sessue Hayakawa, however, is a case that shows Asian men can be as masculine as their white or black counterparts. We must take the time to analyze the stereotypes that influence us and reject them.
Art in Color is a column that seeks to answer the question of how artists of color – who distinguish themselves from other artists by their ethnicity and the exotic quality of their works – meet the challenges posed by the visionary well -loved of creation.
A version of this article appeared on Monday, November 26 printed edition.
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Email Ash Ryoo at [emailÂ protected]