Return of the Dragon Lady

I can honestly say that when I have a bad day, I watch a standup special and eat unhealthy foods instead of killing eight women. So much care and consideration is put into the words of law enforcement when describing a white terrorist while Black children are pepper-sprayed for “not complying”. Are we going to pretend that the Trump administration was the first example of Asian-Americans being targeted for hate crimes? The Japanese internment camps ring a bell for me in addition to the way that Hollywood has depicted Asian women. It’s time to talk about how microaggressions from racist stereotypes lead to hate crimes

caused by mostly white men.

The way that the recent hate crime in Georgia was portrayed in the media has shown that white people would rather be called “sex addicts” than just racist. As a Black woman I am often wary of being fetishized by white men, but the overwhelming amount of “weebs” in the anime fanbase is disturbing. I only recently started watching Attack on Titan, but there is one movie that lives rent free in my mind and that’s Naked Weapon. This cinematic nightmare is centered around 40 preteens being kidnapped and forced to become “sexy assassins.” The movie debuted in 2002 but the fetishization of Asian women started long before that with films like Daughter of the Dragon and Madame Butterfly which painted the Asian diaspora as sexually immoral, or shy and submissive. The endless gaslighting of “cancel culture” purposefully downplays the impact of caricatures of people of color.

The best way to explain this display of “otherness” in America is by revisiting Zora Neale Hurston’s American Museum of Unnatural History. Her vivid analysis of stereotypes in literature was published in the April 1950 edition of Negro Digest - What White Publisher’s Won’t Print. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, representation matters and Hurston’s views on representation in literature says it all. She wrote that, “Literature and other arts are supposed to hold up the mirror to nature. With only the fractional ‘exceptional’ and the ‘quaint’ portrayed, true picture of [sic] Negro life in America cannot be. A great principle of national art has been violated.” Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood and was always casted as a typical Asian character. During her time on the silver screen, interracial kissing was just unspeakable but it just shows how bigoted America was, and still is. Some examples of the “Dragon Lady” caricature can be found in more recent films like Kill Bill and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. I didn’t see it at first but I began to see recurring themes of caricatures in Quentin Tarantino movies as I got older. It went a lot further than just the sheriff casually referring to the Black piano player as “colored” in Kill Bill; the backstory of O'Ren Ishii and her psychotic bodyguard was what did it for me. The “Dragon Lady” is cold and calculated with her underhanded schemes and is often sexualized which she uses to further her agenda. O-Ren Ishii avenged the murder of her parents by pretending to be an underaged concubine because her parents’ murderer was a pedophile! She then became the “boss of all bosses” in the Tokyo crime underworld and beheaded the racist chauvinist who questioned her leadership. Then we have her bodyguard who wears a school girl uniform while also being young for a killer! The third installment to The Mummy franchise was giving me serious Madame Butterfly vibes from the sacrifice of the mother and her daughter getting with the westerner in the end. Zi Yuan was going to be the Dragon Emperors’ wife but she fell in love with his general instead. She was cunning in her magic to thwart the Dragon Emperor’s schemes but it wasn’t enough to save her lover. Zi Yuan and her daughter Lin both had the power of immortality but she sacrificed both of their abilities to save the world! The “Butterfly” stereotype translates to being more subservient and docile. Zi Yuan was the “Dragon Lady” and her daughter who became a damsel in distress at one point in the movie assumed the “Butterfly” role.

As much as I would love to say that the creepy weebs in the anime fan club are harmless, and the weird dude that’s persistent with asking a girl out despite her clear disinterest will “grow out of it", spoiler alert - they won’t. This past terrorist attack and the rise of hate crimes against people of Asian descent should be a wake-up call for how harmful caricatures can be for the people they’re meant to ridicule. We’re not offended by everything, we’re tired of racist microaggressions that perpetuate the denigration of our “otherness”.


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