- The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/Asian American Women on Stage and Screen
After suffering the indignities of her ABC sitcom All American Girl, which threatened to annihilate her polymorphous perversity, Margaret Cho exasperatingly asked in her hit stand-up concert film, I'm the One that I Want, "I'm not gay, I'm not straight, I'm just slutty-where's MY parade?" In her new book The Hyper-sexuality of Race: Performing Asian/Asian American Women on Stage and Screen, Celine Parreñas-Shimizu eloquently answers this question, but not without fully complicating the political minefield of racialized sexuality. Parreñas-Shimizu enables Cho's elusive, fantasy parade through a complex, sinuous, "race-positive" analysis of Asian/Asian American women performers by exploring how racialized sexuality has come to be interpellated as excessive and "hypersexual," and why this has had such negative connotations. [End Page 376]
Above all, The Hypersexuality of Race instructively weighs in on studies of the representation of Asian/Asian American women, going far beyond critiques of U.S. Orientalism and "yellow peril" constructions in classic works of the stage and screen. In fact, Parreñas-Shimizu insists that by holding on to old school condemnations that say sexy images of Asian women are simply degrading, "moralism stealthily creeps in to discipline Asian/American women." Parreñas-Shimizu carefully questions every assumption attached to sanctioned and unsanctioned representations of Asian/Asian American women on the legitimate stage, Hollywood cinema, stag films, mainstream and "gonzo" porn, and independent experimental film and video, in order to reveal the existence of a "productive perversity" that does not end with a pat condemnation of sexist and racist images, or its opposite—a no holds barred celebration of such "bad objects," arguing that a "race-positive" sexuality means that "pleasure and fantasy from the sexualization of race must be a part of race politics."
Two forces that enable "race positive" readings of hypsersexuality—reception and performance—are essential to the book's approach. The author begins with her own awakening to her "bad subjectivity" in enjoying the subtleties behind the Orientalist Broadway musical Miss Saigon. Memorably, after her first show, Parreñas-Shimizu and her academic friends end up loudly arguing in the street with an older Filipina woman over its racist content, which confounds her assumptions about good sexual, racial, and class politics, and the strange intrusion of the pleasure of consumption. Then, after six subsequent viewings, her newly enlightened identity as fan/scholar allows an intimate reappraisal of an element that is so fundamental to our assumptions about the "way Asian women are represented," that is, the primacy of performance. For example, when a Filipina actress who portrays a prostitute in Miss Saigon asks the author whether she should rethink a "crotch grab" in her performance, it encapsulates the crucial "relationship between the materiality of Asian women's bodies and the immateriality of the Asian woman's fantasy projections (from which) emerges the representation of the Asian woman as a 'naturalized' sexual subject." Likewise, in analyzing Hollywood films that feature hypersexual Asian/Asian American women, Parreñas-Shimizu rejects the simplistic positive/negative image debate and suggests a reevaluation of the performances of Anna May Wong, Nancy Kwan, and Lucy Liu as complex negotiations of labor, fantasy, and identity politics. Rather than simply propagating negative, hypersexual images, their powerful legacies "can foretell what has not yet happened: the reclamation of sexuality as both subordination and resistance for the Asian/American women hailed by it." [End Page 377]
By far the most fascinating and erudite chapters, "Racial Threat or Racial Treat? Performing Yellowface Sex Acts on Stag Films," analyzes stag films from 1920 to 1934 in the famed collection at the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender and Reproduction. Meticulously examining every detail of her textual and contextual findings, a fascinating mystery evolves that takes into account not only the films themselves, but the way that anonymous cataloguers over the years have labeled and mislabeled the films according to...