KU’s Randi Hacker Talks Representation of Asians in Cinema

The Lawrence Arts Center is proud to partner with the KU Center for East Asian Studies on the upcoming film series, The Changing Face of East Asia in Hollywood: A Film Festival on Perspective, Representation and Discrimination. The Confucius Institute of the University of Kansas and the KU Department of Film and Media Studies have generously come on board to support this community event.

The series includes six FREE film screenings ranging from family favorites such as The Karate Kid to classics such as The Manchurian Candidate. We recently last down with the originator of the event, KUCEAS’s Outreach Director, Randi Hacker, to find out more about this compelling selection of films and why Lawrence audiences won’t want to miss this one of a kind event.

Click here for a full schedule of films and activities.

What was your inspiration for this upcoming film festival?

Randi: I am a great film buff and always found it interesting that Asians were usually portrayed by white actors during the Golden Age of Hollywood: Katharine Hepburn, an aristocrat from Connecticut in Dragon Seed or Luise Rainer, a French actress and Paul Muni, a Jewish boy from the Bronx in The Good Earth, Sidney Toler, a Kansas native, as Charlie Chan, for example. Many times, Asians were portrayed quite in a stereotypically negative way, for example, Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Holly Golightly’s Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Over the years, Asians have been cast more and more often as Asians in roles for Asians but, more importantly, in roles that can be played by any ethnic group. I was interested in charting the evolution of this change in Hollywood over the last century. This festival was 12  years in the making.


What should audiences not want to miss?

Randi: None! For different reasons: Shanghai Express because it is one of the few films in which an Asian is cast as an Asian; The Conqueror because it is a paragon of miscasting; The Manchurian Candidate because it’s one of the finest, if not the finest, film about the Cold War ever made; Enter the Dragon because it’s Bruce Lee; The Karate Kid for nostalgic reasons and to introduce a whole new generation to “Wax on, wax off!” and Better Luck Tomorrow for a no-nonsense look at adolescent Asians in contemporary America.


What might filmgoers be surprised by?

Randi: The ways both blatant and subtle that attitudes towards Asians have shifted and continue to shift in the media. Our pre-screening lecturer, Patrick Terry, a PhD candidate in film here at KU, will discuss the history and intent of these movies and others that we were not able to fit into the weekend.


What do you hope people take away from this series?

Randi: A heightened awareness of the way Asians have been presented in film which we hope will extend itself into a heightened awareness of the ways other ethnic groups are portrayed in films.


What is your favorite film in the series and why?

Randi: The Manchurian Candidate because the dialogue is so trippy and surreal, because Angela Lansbury is so twistedly evil and because the ending is so totally unexpected – at least it was for me! It’s a great book too.

KUCEAS Film Series