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  • The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene
  • Samuel Park
The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene. By Celine Parreñas Shimizu. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007; pp. xii + 340. $84.95 cloth, $23.95 paper.

In The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/ American Women on Screen and Scene, Celine Parreñas Shimizu investigates sexualized representations of Asian American women in theatre, film, and video. In her readings, Shimizu rejects the notion that such sexualized images always constitute demeaning or negative representations, critiquing such denunciations as moralistic and designed to "discipline" and circumscribe the behavior of Asian American women. In its place, she argues for a practice of "productive perversity," one that identifies with "bad" images and embraces perverse sexuality as a political critique of normative sexual behavior. Drawing on the work of other Asian American women theatre scholars, such as Josephine Lee, Dorinne Kondo, and Karen Shimakawa, Shimizu interrogates performance's role in constructing race, gender, and sex. Specifically, she examines the tension between stereotypical images and the performers who embody and sometimes work against those images. Thus, rather than simply rejecting sexualized representations, Shimizu calls for critics to examine how Asian American actors, directors, and performers contest and undermine the logic of racism and heteronor-mativity in theatre and film productions.

Shimizu begins to lay out her thesis in a chapter examining the Broadway show Miss Saigon, a musical that has often been criticized by Asian American scholars and activists as an Orientalist fantasy. Through ethnographic interviews with some of the show's female cast members, Shimizu complicates scholars' dismissal of the musical as a racist and sexist text. While resisting the temptation to overstate the performers' limited authorship, Shimizu points to the actors' redeployment of sexuality as a "technology of personal strength and self-authority" (51), arguing that the specific choices made by the actresses possess the potential for resistance against the producers' original intentions for their roles. To Shimizu, cultural productions are not absolute, and while these performers cannot be said to coauthor the production, neither are they entirely lacking in agency. In this section, the author succinctly but effectively engages with the theories of Michael Chekhov, Lee Strasberg, and Constantin Stanislavsky, foregrounding the actors' struggle for self-fashioning in a collaborative medium. Later, Shimizu proceeds to examine the performers' relationships to one another, as well as their engagement with the audience. Noting the mutual dependency between performers and audience, she highlights the former's contribution to the multiple viewing positions of the audience, as well as the audience's active participation in producing meaning. Ultimately, this nuanced argument proposes that while the powerful may indeed control popular representations, minority performers and audiences can "insert critical revisions and similarly claim power" (55).

In the next chapter, Shimizu delves into more traditional close readings of texts by examining representative films starring three well-known Asian American women performers from different eras: Anna May Wong, Nancy Kwan, and Lucy Liu. In assessing the performances of these Asian American film stars in such films as Thief of Baghdad, Shanghai Express, The World of Suzie Wong, and Flower Drum Song, Shimizu notes how hypersexuality is essentialized to their race and gender—or, in other words, ascribed as "natural" to their own raced and gendered ontology. Asian women's sexual "perversity" is thus framed in rivalry with white women's innocence and moral superiority, as evidenced by their "domestic or tameable" gender and sexuality. Furthermore, tensionbetweenste the author continues her strategy of deploying first-person accounts, complementing her readings with analyses of interviews in fan magazines and other publications. After establishing that a study of these actresses' performances must take into account their own narrative commentaries and interventions, Shimizu proceeds to delineate Wong's protests against the stereotyped roles offered her, Kwan's refusal of the burden to represent her race in "positive" terms, and Liu's prioritizing of her own personal agenda in the face of limited opportunities. Shimizu posits these performers as "subjects-in-struggle" who reveal the impossibility of representing "real" Asian American women, for no such representation is possible, in light of the heterogeneous nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 346-347
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-15
Open Access
No
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