While watching the Orientalism video, Edward Said mentioned the presence of Orientalism in Hollywood. This got me thinking and I decided to do a little research on it. I was shocked to see that some really popular movies had scenes that portrayed middle eastern people as dangerous and violent.
One of the most surprising examples for me was from Back to the Future. I remembered the scene in which Libyan terrorists were shooting at Doc Brown. I think the most disturbing thing about this is that the times I have watched this movie, I never gave this scene a second thought. It never occurred to me how racist it was to choose Libyans as the terrorists coming out of nowhere to shoot at Doc and Marty.
This shows me that Orientalism is rooted in a lot of us because of the society we live in today. It makes me sad that I have unknowingly learned that middle eastern terrorists are normal. It’s making me wonder what other forms of Orientalism are occurring in pop culture today that I have been oblivious to. I’m hoping that learning about this topic will help me see racism towards middle eastern people that I have never noticed before.
One of my favorite television shows of all time is New Girl that ended a few years ago. The characters are all endearingly weird in their own way and they get themselves into so many funny situations. New Girl has become a comfort show to me as mac and cheese is some people’s comfort food. That being said, because I love it so much, I feel that it is necessary that I criticize it and it’s Othering of Hinduism, displayed in the character, Cece.
New Girl is a sitcom about a girl named Jess (Zooey Deschanel) who gets cheated on by her ex-boyfriend and is forced to find a new apartment in LA. She ends up finding a listing on Craigslist for an apartment that needs a new roommate. She ends up moving into this apartment with three men: Schmidt (far left), Nick (second to the right), and Winston (furthest to the right), and shenanigans ensue.
Cece is portrayed as Jess’s hot, wild-child best friend. Because of this, Cece doesn’t feel like she belongs in her Indian/Hindu culture. To stick with this premise, it seems that the writers rely on Orientalism to accentuate her differences and make her drawn toward Schmidt, the self-proclaimed “douche bag.” This is most apparent in season two when Cece is suddenly fixated on getting married in order not to disappoint her family and to have children. Cece also does this in opposition to Schmidt, who is her ex-boyfriend at the time because she thinks that he is not ready to be serious with her, which is what she needs if she wants to have children soon. When Schmidt comes over to her apartment in an attempt to win her back, Cece does something that the writers portray as “drastic,” which is to call her mother and ask for an arranged marriage, something that is very common in Indian/Hindu culture.
It is further clear that the purpose of the arranged marriage premise is Othering rather than for the purpose of exploration or acceptance when Schmidt assumes that Cece doesn’t want to get married to the person that she is arranged with and attempts to ruin her wedding. This results in Cece confessing that this is not what she wants. This implies not only that the writers find arranged marriages somewhat barbaric and outdated, which is a fundamental element of Orientalism.
This is just one example of how Orientalism is used in the writing and character development of this show. In order for Cece to married to Schmidt, she has to disregard her mother’s disapproval. The show begs Cece to be estranged from her culture due to the fact that it doesn’t seem appropriate in the American culture that she lives in.
Orientalism as it is used in this show is a perfect example of how media can distort public perception of a culture and how people experience it.
Orientalism is present in Disney movies like Aladdin. In these types of children movies you would not expect an underlying subject of things like Orientalism to be brought to your attention, but there are clear signs in each movie that Orientalism is in fact shown.
Orientalism can be defined in many ways, but when it comes in regards to these types of movies, it is when the East is represented in a stereotypical way.
In Aladdin‘s original opening song the lyrics caused many people to speak up because they stated that the town was going to hurt you if they didn’t like how you looked. This was seen as a huge stereotype and was later taken down because of the outrage it caused. “Orientals” are seen in this movie as aggressive, for example, Aladdin almost getting his arm cut off when he tries to steal. They also make the belly dancers in the movie have minimal clothing. The different types of clothes on characters make the subject cross a fine line of being offensive.
When movies like Aladdin falsely represent certain groups of people, it affects our society because kids grow up to believe the things they see on social media. This movie can teach kids incorrect information regarding people in the East, and can create a major divide in our society. Harsh words like these and false representations can be created to seem lighthearted to children because they do not know better than to listen to the happy music in the background and what the hero will do in the end.
If movies like Aladdin aren’t talked about, it will become our norm is listen to things like this and believe they are true.
The Western construct of Orientalism has always been a big part of the American film industry, although the way that the Asian culture is represented is almost never accurate. Hollywood has incorporated Orientalism in many of the adventure films, including the one and only Indiana Jones. In Steven Spielberg’s first three Indiana Jones movies, Indiana’s adventures take him all around the Middle East and India. He frequently encounters a stereotypical, fantasy version of the Asian culture, where Indiana’s character is meant to represent someone that the audience can relate to and root for against the differences he comes in contact with.
In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, there is an absurd amount of the Western/Eastern binary. At the dinner scene, the arrangement of absurd food is meant to shock the audience, making them view the Indian culture as barbarians who consume the most inedible meals. The white characters who show disgust once again represent the audience and their disgust.
These movies all have the same thing in common, Indiana Jones becoming a hero after defeating all of the villains and taking power over Asian culture.
One of the biggest things that separates Gen Z from the generations before it is that we have all grown up in a post-9/11 world. Those of us in the class of 2020 weren’t even alive before it. So how does that shape our view of the Eastern world?
Orientalism has been present in the United States for a very long time, but many people credit the attacks on the World Trade Center with heightening it. After the attacks, the media created a narrative where the Middle East was synonymous with terrorism, and that has continued through Gen Z’s entire lifetime. For some in this generation, the only images they’ve seen of the Eastern world are ones of terror cells and desolation. And now we’ve all lived through President Trump’s attempts at a “Muslim ban,” which absolutely stoked the xenophobic fire.
Despite all of this, I believe that Gen Z has the capability to change the American rhetoric around the Eastern world. Although we all don’t remember a time before 9/11 and the stereotypes and racism that followed, we are able to recognize over-generalizations and call people out when they are misinformed. We are continuing to challenge the norms in the media and entertainment industries around telling Eastern stories. Perhaps we, as a generation, will be able to break down the idea of “otherness” that comes with Orientalism and appreciate each other’s cultures without fear.
After reading up a little on the concept of orientalism, my mind went to movies that I’ve seen. More specifically Disney movies. These movies, that are made for children have underlying themes and concepts that you really don’t realize until you are older. Looking back on the movies I watched as a child its clear that I have a different understanding of them than I did as a child….
That being said, some of the Disney classics that popped into my head that have these racist stereotypes in them are Lady and the Tramp, Mulan and Aladdin.
In Lady and the Tramp the cats in the movie are depicted as evil characters of whom seem to resemble the Asian culture. It seems as they are associating their evil nature with their race. The siamese cats act very sly and are always sneaking around in the movie which is a stereotype associated with orientalism, being suspicious and sneaky.
In Mulan, the Asian culture is presented in a somewhat exotic way. It is what Western people consider the “typical” Asian culture, which has continuously been represented in Western cinema. This idea meshes all the different branches of Asian culture to seem like its the same, when in reality they are completely different places. With this in mind, this concept is what children in Western countries were taught when they were young through movies like Mulan. The movie is a combination of Chinese and Japanese culture making Mulan an unrealistic representation and generalizing the cultures in Eastern countries. The film is clearly intended to be set in China because they show the Great Wall of China amongst other details incorporating Chinese culture. But they also show her wearing kimonos, white face make up, and the Japanese national flower, the cherry blossom throughout the film.
Lastly, in the movie Aladdin, the evil villain, Jafar, who is trying to steal the magic lamp is represented as someone from the Middle East, again who is the villain. He is the evil man who is scheming against the main character. In addition, later in the movie, Jasmine is enslaved by him which adds to his evil nature. This adds to the racist depiction of his character by him objectifying a woman. In addition, Princess Jasmine is from a culture that typically covers their head and most of their body. But in the movie her outfit is nothing of the sort. This adds to the Western depiction of Eastern Culture.
Reflecting on these movies, it is clear that these ideals are heavily influencing the film industry. Film makers are using these stereotypes and inaccurate representations of different cultures to better their films. Western cinema is based off of incorrect assumptions and depictions of culture and people in general. How do we change this moving forward?
Orientalism can be seen throughout Cinema. One genre that this is especially prevalent is comedies. Writers try to get cheap laughs out of racist stereotypes. A lot of the time the jokes are mostly tongue and cheek, almost satirical in nature. The writers seem to be aware of the controversy of the content, so they try to overdue it in attempt to justify the ignorance. One extremely harsh example of this in Team America: World Police.
In the movie a fictional military team called “Team America: World Police” is tasked with stopping terrorist threats on the United States. The movie portrays the Middle Eastern terrorists and North Koreans as inhuman are cartoon-ish. They make fun of their language and imitate it crudely.
Sure, it could be argued that the movie does the same to the Americans. World Police points out the hubris of the United States and how self righteous America is. However, this satire doesn’t really do its job. It is not really satire at all. Showing foreign people we are currently at war as strange and ridiculous does not help. Movies like this only further enable racist mindsets and ignorant adolescents who are usually the ones watching this type of movie.
This type of nonsensical and proactive comedy does not engage the viewer in a conversation about race. It points fun and asks them to laugh along. It validates, and even furthers, a xenophobic mindset. One that further divides the conflicts we face today.
So I’ve been thinking about Orientalism a lot lately trying to come up with a good idea for this blog post. Then a few nights ago as I was watching a Kdrama it hit me, the Kpop and Kdrama fandom. In few places will you find as much unabashed Orientalism as you will in those fandoms. As someone who loves Kdramas I am all too familiar with it.
Now, before I write anything else I would like to say that I am not bashing on everyone who likes Kpop or Kdramas. The orientalist mindset that I take issue with is not shared by all fans of Kpop or Kdramas, however, it is an issue within these fandoms.
It all comes down to the fact that they seem to see Koreans as completely homogeneous. Logically, one can assume that Koreans are individuals and as individuals are not all going to act like characters in a tv show or a celebrity who has been coached in how to respond to an interview Koreans will not all act that way. Well, according to some Kpop/Kdrama fans you would be wrong.
The problem with seeing an ethnic group that way is that it dehumanizes the members of that group. When you treat people as though they are nothing more than their culture, when you forget the variability of individuals, and when you objectify them, you are not fully recognizing them. That is what I think the core of Orientalism is, the refusal to look at another group with nuance, to other them. Whether the resulting distortion idealizes or demonizes them it is still wrong because it works against mutual recognition.
In 2018, Wes Anderson, stop motion savant, directed the film Isle of Dogs. The film takes place in a future dystopian Japan. Due to an outbreak of “snout fever,” all of the dogs of Japan have been sent to a desolate island that is home to Wall-e like trash cubes, and toxic waste. The movie received rave reviews about its aesthetic look and witty humor. Though at the same time, the film has been criticized as being both racially insensitive and a westerner’s take on Japanese culture.
Orientalism takes on multiple forms in this movie. The first example can be seen through the voice acting. Though the film includes some phenomenal voice actors (Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Scarlett Johansson) sadly none of these actors speak a lick of Japanese. In the opening sequence, captions reveal that there will be no subtitles present in the film. This works for the majority of the movie, but there are lines of Japanese dialogue that are included and left untranslated. Though maybe unintentional, this leaves certain characters disenfranchised and often misunderstood.
The film continues to display problematic elements with its main heroine. Tracy Walker is an American exchange student who has vowed to bring justice for the abandon pups. Tracy’s character is essentially the typical “white American savior”. The rest of the Japanese characters are overshadowed by her involvement. These characters are then seen as compliant in the regime, and once again, Western views of how society should function are pushed towards the forefront.
The racial insensitivity of this film takes on a different look through the leading dog, Chief. When the audience first meets Chief, the dog has a jet black coat and a “gruff” persona. As the movie continues, he becomes softer and more compliant with his human overseers. One of the ways Anderson shows this transformation is by Chief undergoing an extensive bathing process. The audience is surprised to find that in actuality, the color of Chief’s hair is white. The symbolism from this scene is extremely problematic. Essentially Anderson associates aggression and “feral” behavior with darker tones. The white fur (which could be compared to the skin) is then perceived to be friendly and tame.
Anderson is keen to utilize Japanese and Asian aesthetics, but he fails to capture the richness of the actual culture itself. Naming a scientist Yoko-Ono and including sumo wrestling is one thing, but actually providing greater substance and detail to aspects of the culture is another. Anderson seems to provide an image of the Western perspective of Asian culture, but fails to provide a holistic view of how the culture actually functions.
Quentin Tarantino’s two part classic Kill Bill will go down as one of the greatest action films of the past 20 years and one of the critically-acclaimed director’s greatest films in terms of visual and auditory effects.
However, Kill Bill is one of the best examples of orientalism, which defines western society’s historically patronizing representation of “The East”: Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.
The first volume of Kill Bill shows the film’s protagonist, Beatrix Kiddo, travel to Japan, where she immediately goes to purchase a samurai sword from “former Kung-Fu star” Hatori Hanso. After a scene which shows Kiddo fetishize over a wall lined with beautiful samurai swords, she purchases a sword and then she is on her way to kill Bill and the others who stand in her path, the first being Japanese native O-Ren Ishii.
Kiddo then finds O-Ren and battles all 88 of her henchmen, killing each one, and then eventually killing O-Ren and her two “bodyguards.”
By the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1, over 90 people had been killed by Kiddo, a white woman; because what else is there to do in Japan other then killing people with a samurai sword?
Not once throughout the movie are we, the audience, introduced to a Japanese native not associated with death or violence. This connotes that Japanese people are violent and have no true meaning to life other than killing others to stay alive.
From my point of view, from being born in 2002 and I’m now 17 in the year 2020, the biggest movie seemed to be Crazy Rich Asians: A romantic comedy including Asian culture in America and in Singapore.
For me, and lots of American teenagers, this was our first glimpse at Asian-American culture in film. The colorful, family driven, extravagant culture left me in awe. Sure the film was maybe more Hollywood than I know, or maybe it wasn’t, but either way, I got a great idea of what some Asian cultures are like by watching it.
I hope more Asian culture appears in my life and maybe one day I’ll get to travel to see it for myself. Immersing audiences into new cultures is a great way for people to accept and learn.
When I was first reading about orientalism I had never heard about it specifically. I knew about the idea but I was still very confused about why and how it comes across. It is in a way stereotypes mixed with racism mixed with a Eurocentric attitude.
When I was thinking back to my own life and how it influenced me at young age. Orientalism has been present in the media that surrounds me since a young age. Even Disney movies pushing this view. When you see costumes or superheros who are written by Westerners especially recently with the push for more diversity. They attempt to be inclusive and sometimes succeed, but still end up falling short. Even halloween costumes that portray a belly dancer or a general asian costume with no attention to the difference in cultures.
Orientalism is all around us and affect us all even on a daily basis, and the media is a large part of that. When everything was happening with ISIS or the affect effect of 9/11. The media was inadvertently (or on purpose) trying to make Americans believe that everyone that came from that region was bad. Even with the coronavirus we have a president crossing out corona and calling it the chinese virus. Which messes with people’s heads to make them think anyone of Asian origin has it.
Orientalism runs deep in our society and everyone has either seen it in action or been subjected to it. While I was learning about it the implications and the history it has is enormous and crazy how much of an impact it has had on our society.
The Rotana Group is the Arab world’s largest entertainment company, and recently it released many of its goofiest movies into the international section of Netflix, making a presence in the Western world. The movies are unfortunately almost all in Arabic, which creates some issues for an American audience but as a Syrian-American, I can say that these movies have Orientalism at their very core.
Many aspects of Middle-Eastern culture and Arabic stereotypes are taken and exaggerated and distorted greatly. From views on women and homosexuality to camels to hookahs to terrorism to Arabian trap music; these movies paint a picture of the Arabic world that could not be farther from reality. The movies are a lot of fun to watch but the humor used is extremely shallow and can offer no new insight about the world (other than misleading Westerners that their stereotypes and presets about the Eastern world are true).
In a close reading of chapter 2, Pappachi’s Moth, in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things, I noticed an allusion Roy included when Chacko was explaining the definition of Anglophile and Estes and Rahel describe a man who lived in a house across the river, Kari Saipu. He known as “An Englishman who had ‘gone native’” (Roy 51). This man is compared to a fictional character named Kurtz, apart of novel by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
When I researched this book as well as the character Kurtz, it was extremely interesting to see that in the novel, Conrad apparently depicts the living styles of Africans as uncivilized, and Kurtz as one who desires to be almost a divine ruler over the native people.
Saipu is also described as a man “who spoke Malayalam and wore mundus. Ayemenem’s own Kurtz. Ayemenem his private Hear of Darkness” (Roy 51). This allusion to orientalism in another piece of literature (Kurtz versus Them) helped me as a reader draw the connection between Conrad’s character Kurtz, Kari Saipu in The God of Small Things and the significance of orientalism all at once.
“Ayemenem’s own Kurtz. Ayemenem his private Hear of Darkness”
In today’s society film entertainment is prevalent in many age groups. Speaking from experience, when I was younger, I was obsessed with Disney movies. Now as I am older, the presence of Orientalism in Disney classics is quite surprising. As defined, “the representation of Asia, especially the Middle East, in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude”. Personally, major companies such as Disney should not be adding stereotypical fiction characters and shaping how children view other races. For example, beloved films such as “Pocahontas”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, and “Aladdin” all portray Orientalism.
These films have aspects of ideal western beauty, sexualized Romanian “gypsy”, and portrays of the middle east. For children, these aspects of the films probably don’t come to mind. Though they are highly present, they are working and twisting the minds of innocent children. Although movies can be seen as cultural products, there should be an extend in which certain themes are presented.
Overall movies will continue to depict Orientalism, though companies like Disney do not have negative intentions, the way characters are represented can help fix the problem. As people who understand how certain characters are portrayed, do discuss it with someone who doesn’t would also be a great thing to do.
In recent years, we’ve seen less and less of the blatantly offensive caricatures of Asians and Asian-Americans in the media. The entertainment industry has recently been staying away from exaggerated stereotypes and has instead been striving to provide more accurate representation for Asians. We can, however, still see orientalism in more subtle indignities, specifically the ethnic food aisle of the supermarket.
Why is it that French and Italian food is never referred to as ethnic, but Indian and Chinese food almost always is? The pasta, sauces, and cheeses typically associated with Italian cusine can usually be found anywhere in the supermarket, so why is it that products like soy sauce and soba noodles are always found in the ethnic aisle?
Does the ethnic aisle really make grocery shopping more convenient or does it segregate select ethnic groups from the rest of the supermarket and reinforce their position as “the other”? It seems as though the foods of different ethnic groups become part of the general supermarket once they are integrated into American cuisine. But is it a good thing to integrate Chinese, Japanese, and Indian food into American cuisine or does it take away the culural significance from the dishes? I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question and would love to hear from other students who indentify with ethnic groups assigned to the ethnic aisle.
I found it interesting to research orientalism because it isn’t the same as how most people define racism. When thinking of racism, most people associate hate with it. But orientalism is sort of the opposite of that. Orientalism is more of badly placed and odd admiration. It depicts Arab and Asian culture as exotic, yet still pegs them as the “other”.
In my various classes, we have had multiple units on racism towards African Americans. It has been covered in history classes, English classes, and even biology classes. But my classes have never talked about racism toward any other group of people. It does make sense to focus on racism towards African Americans because of the terrible history of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the U.S. But I think that we need to expand the conversation about racism toward any group. Racism towards Muslims increased after 9/11, but I have never had any discussions about that. And now with COVID-19, there is an increasing amount of racism towards Asians, yet there haven’t been any discussions about it. I can see how people could dismiss orientalism as being nice or being fond of a different culture. Because people usually associate racism with hate, and orientalism is sort of the opposite, many people might write it off. Despite this, orientalism is still racist, just in a different way.
Before reading GOST and doing my own research about orientalism, I didn’t know much about it. After doing research, I realize that orientalism is more common than I though, but I just didn’t notice it before.
I have now seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians 3 times. What can I say — it’s a great movie. Awkwafina is hilarious, Constance Wu is brilliant, and Henry Golding is attractive. But something I hadn’t taken into account until recently is that maybe it’s a little too simplistic. I’m not here to bash the movie because at the end of the day, it was a HUGE win for Asian Americans. But it was exactly that: a win for Asian Americans. What never crossed my mind, though, was how it portrayed Singaporeans. Once again, I still believe this was a landmark film in increasing representation in Hollywood. As director Jon Chu said a while back, it’s a movement. While the movie has enjoyed massive success and shed light on a non-white cast, some people still think it could’ve gone even further.
Take this quotation from a profound article on Vox, “While it’s definitely significant that Hollywood is finally producing an all-Asian film, the anticipation for this film demonstrates that representation can mean different things to different groups of people, and that there is a divergence between the needs and priorities of Asian Americans and Asians in Asia.” I couldn’t agree more. Here, as a Singaporean of Chinese descent, author Kirsten Han touches on how she felt the film was flawed in more ways than one. What she wrote next made me come to another realization. In western films, we really only see Asia depicted in 1 of 2 ways: as “rising Asia” with modern architecture, servants, and next-level wealth, or as an extremely impoverished place with a lack of social mobility. When I think about the films I’ve seen with an Asian cast in the past year, it totally fits the description. In one of my personal favorites, Parasite, we see this deeply-entrenched divide between the rich and the poor. In Raise The Red Lantern, we see extreme generational wealth and tradition. While I loved both of these films and I actually think they did a great job with representation, it makes me wonder. Is Orientalism at play here? Is this really an accurate depiction, or are these over simplistic?
In other western movies, what we see of Asian countries is very little. And what we do see motivates these 2 narrow stereotypes. We see overwhelming markets with foods that seem foreign to us, tech-savvy people, expensive homes, and action movie backdrops. We see a place with more than 4.4 billion people through one, white-washed lens. I think it’s interesting because something perceived so incredibly progressive in the U.S was actually perceived as not diverse enough to people from Singapore.
Orientalism is defined as a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. This is a very backwards view as it makes our way of life better. There is no way to judge whose lifestyle is “better.” It is purely subjective. There is no way of determining whose is better and it is selfish to think that there is. We need to broaden our horizons on culture and be willing to accept everybody’s backgrounds and ways of life. This is what makes America great.
The United States of America is a country comprised of immigrants. Despite this fact, Americans have a history of discrimating certain ethnic or racial groups.
Under various presidents, there has been immense discrimination against minorities, such as Mexican and Latino groups. This is especially evident under the Trump administration, where he has often mentioned the idea of “building a wall” between Mexico and America.
However, the recent coronavirus outbreak seems to have shifted the hatred towards oriental groups. Some folks have blamed China on creating a biological weapon, while others have used newspaper headlines to their advantage to spread hate.
While xenophobia is strongly routed in American history, disease outbreaks especially aid feelings of hatred towards ethnic groups. In fact, the coronavirus is not the only case. In 2014, the Ebola crisis led to racism directed to the those of African American descent.
As a result, I feel that there is a craving amongst Americans to target and be hateful towards certain groups. They seem to find any reason to discriminate minorities and this needs to change.