Why are our cinema crushes so white?

June 3, 2021

I fall in love quite easily. When I see someone whom I find beautiful, a glimpse becomes a stare, a stare turns into an attraction, the attraction becomes a fascination, the fascination is then an infatuation, which then becomes a passion, often turning into an obsession.

I’ve had many lovers in my life, and by that I mean that I have fallen in love with many movie characters who I’ve encountered over the years. Especially as a young girl, I was easily obsessed with cool boys from various movies. I was very much in love with the hot Peter Pan character in the 2003 feature film ‘Peter Pan’, and Peter Pan was later swapped for other hot knights/vampires/high school hotties or gangsters over which I drooled in front of a screen. This form of obsession never really changed. I swapped Peter Pan and King Arthur for Marlon Brando and Marcello Mastroinanni , and many of the real people I’ve fallen in love with are often more or less a spin-off version of my movie lovers.

My movie crushes have always been white, black, mixed-race, but never of Asian descent. It could be my personal preference, it could simply not be my thing, but most probably, it is not a coincidence. There has always been a ridiculously large absence of sexy Asian men in Western media. It’s not as if there aren’t any Asian actors playing roles in American or European cinema: we know Bruce Lee, we love Jackie Chan, and someone we don’t love but isn’t absent is the racist character of Mr. Chang in the Hangover.. Just to name a few. Hollywood has caricatured the east Asian man as the model-minority, the kung fu fighter, the yellow peril incarnate, always as the perpetual foreigner, and, more importantly: never as a potential love interest.

It is often said that what we consider as hot and sexy is in the eye of the beholder, but what if the beholder has always only seen male beauty as white, white, occasionally black but still primarily white?

Thankfully, when it comes to rightful representation, we have more than Western cinema. The first time I fell in love with an east-asian man on the movie screen was when I saw Takeshi Kaneshiro playing He Qiwu in Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 Chung King Express. Chungking Express is part of a canon of Wong Kar Wai movies about romances with grand potential that actually never happen. It is a story about spontaneous encounters between gorgeous-looking characters, who each fantasize about a life filled with passionate love. The movie makes you fall in love with the characters as each cast member is more beautiful than the other, but it also makes you fall in love with love, with grand gestures and silent romance.

To talk about East-Asian caricatures, Western misrepresentation but also about the wonders of Wong Kar Wai, I am pleased to announce that today we are joined by Dutch journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker Pete Wu. Pete Wu’s debut book the Banana Generation which came out in 2019 is a collection of stories and experiences of so-called ‘banana’s,’: people who are white from the inside and yellow from the outside. With the banana generation, Pete has created the first testament of Dutch people with Chinese heritage, formulating the modern day obstacles of this community in regards of generational clashes, discrimination towards East-Asians, media mis-respresentation and dating as a Chinese man. It is the man who made me understand why the world had mismanufactured me to fall in love with an east Asian man, especially on the big screen. Pete, welcome!

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