The Slanted Screen – Film on Film Week

The Slanted Screen is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Slanted Screen (2006) – Not rated

“Filmmaker Jeff Adachi salutes groundbreaking entertainers while turning a critical lens on the ways in which American cinema has depicted Asian men. Segments focus on the careers of playwright Frank Chin, comedian Bobby Lee and others.”

(referring to Bruce Lee) “but if he wants to work here, he has to put on a mask, drive a white man’s car and wash it.”

The Slanted Screen covers Asian men in Hollywood cinema from Sessue Hayakawa (1915) to Daniel Dae Kim in Lost..

The Slanted Screen suffers from its scant running time of sixty-one minutes. In this flitting hour, they cover the rare success stories of Sessue Hayakawa and Bruce Lee, as well as the lack of good roles for Asians, namely romantic ones. They also cover the near constant portrayal of important Asians in film by white actors in what amounts to yellow-face.

The selection of talking heads in this documentary is mixed. The actors involved are good (Tzi Ma, Mako, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Shigeta, Will Yun Lee, Jason Scott Lee) but some of the others seem out of place (writer Frank Chin, comic Bobby Lee). Obviously a number of big name Asian actors are MIA (Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, George Takei, James Hong, John Cho) as are some Asian directors (Ang Lee, John Woo, Tsui Hark). On the other hand, with the exception of George Takei, John Cho and James Hong, the others became famous in Asia and then were ‘imported’ to the US.

Unfortunately one of the conclusions that the documentary comes to is that the lack of good Asian roles can be overcome by the writing of good Asian roles. Yet the documentary itself points out that earlier ‘good’ roles written for Asians were played by white men (Mr. Wong, Fu Manchu, although Charlie Chan is never mentioned) and later ones were simply stripped of their ethnicity and refilmed as white roles.

I don’t like to comment on film endings but this one has a voice-over (non-Asian lol!) that reaches a different conclusion from what they just showed. The Slanted Screen is interesting because there clearly is discrimination involved and what is needed is for Asian roles to sell well so they will be duplicated. Unfortunately the story could have been told much better.

The Slanted Screen is good but it will leave you wanting more.