- “Lines of Flight”: Reterritorializing Asian American Film and Media Studies
But these impasses must always be resituated on the map, thereby opening them up to possible lines of flight.—Gilles Deleuze and Félix GuattariA Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
It seems that, just at the moment when cinema had decidedly given itself over to the digital, scholars of Asian American film and media fully came into their own in the academy. Before the 1990s, despite nearly a century of images of Asians in U.S. cinema, it could be said that only two books had [End Page 885] punctuated the study of Asian American film and media: Dorothy B. Jones’s The Portrayal of China and India on the American Screen, 1896–1955 (1955) and Eugene Franklin Wong’s On Visual Media Racism: Asians in the American Motion Pictures (1978).1 These early works drew attention to the eccentric and disfiguring representations of Asians and Asian Americans in Hollywood. Jones’s book could be said to be the first major work within Asian American film and media studies. Published in 1955, it began a conversation about the history of the representation of Asian Americans, but it would be more than twenty years before Wong’s would appear.
Between Jones’s and Wong’s founding works, the iconic 1968 Third World Strike at San Francisco State University—when Yuji Ichioka coined the term Asian American to mean a collective social and political movement—came into full swing. As Daryl Maeda has recently recounted in some detail in his book Chains of Babylon, this historical moment made an indelible mark on what would become the field of Asian American studies, in terms of the field’s focus not only on antiracism but also on anti-imperialism and its critique of class oppression and oppressive social institutions.2
Fully aware of the lacuna of research within Asian American film and media studies, and more than a decade after the publication of Wong’s book, scholars offered a one-two-three-punch in the early 1990s, commenting on movement-inspired independent Asian American filmmaking, the history of Hollywood’s racial and sexual representation of Asians, and television’s production of Asianness on the small screen in, respectively, Russell Leong’s edited collection Moving the Image: Independent Asian American Media Arts (1991), Gina Marchetti’s Romance and the “Yellow Peril”: Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction (1993), and Darrell Hamamoto’s Monitored Peril: Asian Americans and the Politics of TV Representation (1994).3 After these three books, it was not until the beginning of the next century that one single-authored and two edited noteworthy volumes were published: Hamamoto and Sandra Liu’s edited volume, Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism (2000), followed by Peter Feng’s single-authored and edited volumes, respectively, Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video and Screening Asian Americans (both 2002).4
Fast-forward to the end of that decade, when the books that are the subject of this review were published. Collectively, they offer not only methodologically complex and sophisticated approaches but also wide-ranging perspectives that diverge in important ways from the concerns of earlier scholarship. Given the lack of a “canon”—if the term has...