I had a chance to watch A Good Day to be Black and Sexy (2008) earlier today; let me definitely say “Thank you Netflix!” If it wasn’t for you, I would never have the fortune to find completely random stuff like this that I would come to enjoy. I’ll admit, before I watched the film, I was expecting something along the likes of Soul Plane, a ‘unique’ (if not utterly ridiculous) film, exemplifying (and exploiting) the over-the-top hip-hop archetypes of material worship and what some would call misogyny. In stark contrast, Black and Sexy is a delicate film depicting six related vignettes to show an interesting cross section of indiviuals and relationships in different states of stress as they go about defining moments. I particularly enjoyed Tonight (Part II), and American Boyfriend, both of which I thought showed rarely depicted yet universally understood relationship interactions. The latter, which I’ll speak on here, deals with the only interracial couple throughout the film, with Jesse (Alphonso Johnson) being the illicit black boyfriend of Jasmine (Emily Liu), who is a second generation Chinese-American.
Contrary to many films dealing with an asian character in a supporting role, especially one in an “African-American romance” film, I felt that Jesse and Jasmine’s interactions, particularly the interracial quirks of a black-asian couple, surprisingly authentic. It’s beauty lies in the subtleties of the acting, and both performers play it well off each other (if not with each other). While the scene in the first half is ridden with mildly race-related undertones, it is done under the pretext of flirtatious banter and is certainly not an unnatural concept.
The interesting bit comes in the second half when her first-generation parents come home, and Jesse is hidden in Jasmine’s room. After failing to sneak Jesse out, she ends up going downstairs for dinner, leaving Jesse upstairs in her room to call a friend to discuss what he perceived as the ridiculousness of the situation. Meanwhile, Jasmine downstairs is confronted by her parents about her affair, and while she attempts to dodge most questions, finally concedes when asked “is he Chinese or American?” If it wasn’t understood already, Jasmine’s mother asks if he is a blue-eyed blond, making it clear that by “American”, Jasmine’s parents are clearly referring to “white”. Almost as if it was a cop-out, she says “American”, which is technically, if not semantically, true. While progressive minded second generation asians may cringe at the exploration of this theme, it is likely an experience that every asian raised in North America can relate to. “It” being the ever-present, either subtly or overly, racist undertones against those of African descent, ironic given the near universal recognition of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods among sports-watching native asians.
So how did this come to be? It’s hard to say, given that at the turn of the last century, there was just as much dislike of those of European ancestry. Perhaps it had to do with the various military incidents of Okinawa, the tales of the Rodney King riots in LA, the transported stereotypes from their native lands as multi-culturalism takes root, or, perhaps more interestingly, transmuted stereotypes from American culture finding interpretation among Asia. Regardless, racism of various forms directed at blacks are a reality among many first and zero generation asian immigrants. Now, I’d like to make a clear distinction between racism of first and second (and beyond) generations. The vast majority of second generation asians know full well the history of race relations in America, and are more prone to play racist among decidedly American stereotypes, though, I’d have to say, at a less overt level than that among white or black Americans (when is the last time you saw a group of asian people yelling racist slurs at a passerby? Probably a lot longer, though the reasons are debatable).
In any case, the struggle that Jesse and Jasmine are facing will be distinctly familiar to those of either decent, and I remember actually watching American Boyfriend in great suspense as I wondered how this conflict would flare up. As Jasmine is becoming more at ease with her “American boyfriend” story, Jesse becomes increasingly agitated as the minutes wear by. He finally snaps, he starts dribbling his basketball in an overt rejection of his covert status, and Jasmine becomes increasingly flustered attempting to divert the discussion somewhere else. Finally, he marches downstairs in an overt disruptive show, stomps around the dinner table and makes a point to kiss Jasmine right in front of her shocked mother, before storming out with a grin.
I really enjoyed this scene for what it depicted, a smack in the face at traditional-minded racist views of an oppressor. Yes, part of me wasn’t entirely happy with Jesse’s rejection of the subtleties of asian-black race relations, but I’ll admit, he was right to. Much to the direector’s credit, the depiction of the stress in Jasmine and her family felt authentic, and the righteous exit of Jesse was well justified. It did make me wonder though, about why race relations between blacks and asians are so tense and undefined in an allegedly “post-racial” society.
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t other sources of tension and mutual struggles for legitimacy in a society that is still very white-centric, but I need to ask: what factors contribute to the particular asian-black interaction? In particular, what is different that characterizes asian-black interaction versus asian-white or black-white race relations in America?