‘Breakfast’ is Out to Lunch

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Where San Francisco and San Jose have failed in recent years, Sacramento saw the light. Sacramento Vice Mayor Steve Cohn cancelled an outdoor screening of the 1961 romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany’s on August 23 after protests condemned the film for the racist yellowface portrayal by Mickey Rooney.

Rooney played a tenant, Mr. Yunioshi, agitated at neighbor Holly Golightly, portrayed by Audrey Hepburn. The film, based on Truman Capote’s novella, played on Asian stereotypes—Yunioshi sported thick, horned rim spectacles, buckteeth and babbled in a faux Asian accent.

“The intent was never to create controversy, to make political statements or to be on the avant garde of the movie world, let alone to offend significant members of our community,” said Cohn in an email. “Obviously, we missed the mark with our choice of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the end, we felt it was better to go with a movie that hopefully everyone can enjoy.”

Cohn pledged to have a committee develop criteria to select “old-fashioned family fun” films. Asian American Media Watch prodded Cohn to include an “enlightened APA” to help with this process and selection of future films. “Tiffany’s is considered one of the most racist anti-Asian American films in U.S. film history,” said Dr.

Christina Fa of Asian American Media Watch. “To screen Tiffany’s in a city-sponsored event for entertainment would be tantamount to the City condoning racism.” Breakfast is among his list of the top 25 racist films, according to AsianWeek arts and entertainment columnist Phil Chung. …The cancellation is the most recent instance of a successful Bay Area protest of an anti-Asian film. Residents tried stopping a 2005

San Jose outdoor screening of the same movie. Last year, protesters ripped the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation for the outdoor screening of Sixteen Candles—the 1984 comedy with Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong, a role mocking foreign students, Asian names, accents and male sexuality.
The Sacramento protest was sparked initially by Nancy Ciraulo and led by her and Fa with Council of APIs Together for Advocacy and Leadership’s (CAPITAL) Jerry Chong, and major support came from Sacramento State University professor Tim Fong. Supporting them were Karen Tomine, Sacramento State Professor Gregory Mark, Organization of Chinese Americans – Greater Sacramento Area’s President Joyce Eng, President Jeanie Lee of Chinese American Council of Sacramento, Florin JACL, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Dale Minami, Dr. Ravi Chandra, Media Action Network for Asian Americans, filmmaker Curtis Choy, Carole Chong, author and Professor Shawn Wong and the API Youth Violence Prevention Center of the University of Hawai‘i.

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For more on the impact of Russia-Georgia relations on Asian Americans: asianweek.com. Reach Samson Wong at (415) 321-5886 or swong@asianweek.com.

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COLD WAR REDUX: Had Russia not invaded neighboring Georgia three weeks ago, would Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama have anointed as his running mate someone other than Joe Biden, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Or, is Republican White House nominee John McCain’s own foreign policy experience sufficient, given his handling of resuming U.S.-Vietnam relations? How each nominee handles foreign policy impacts Asian Pacific Americans…. CHAO IN BEIJING: Something was amiss at the Olympic Closing Ceremonies last weekend when President Bush’s Labor Secretary Elaine Chao led the official U.S. delegation. Born and raised in Taiwan, Chao was standing in for Secretary of State Condi Rice, who was busy orchestrating world pressure to force Russia out of Georgia. Despite Russia’s invasion, the Olympic Games stayed on message – celebrating China’s arrival as a superpower while hosting world leaders, including Bush and Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, at the opening ceremony. In contrast, U.S. led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow games over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and then the USSR retaliated by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles games… CHINA’S INTEREST OVER GEORGIA: Opinion makers have cited the Georgian invasion as Russia reasserting itself like in the days of the Cold War. What would be the U.S. reaction to how China positions itself if a Cold War resumes between U.S. and Russia? Asian Americans could be the “canary in the coal mine” depending on the temperature of U.S.-China relations, especially in light of China’s reaction to Russia’s new found assertiveness…. WORST OF TIMES: It’s important to see how Democratic and Republican tickets view Asia on the economic front. In the 1980s, Vincent Chin’s slaying was an outgrowth of economic woes and U.S. auto competition with Japan. After 1996, paranoia over foreign Asian money seeping into the Clinton re-election campaign derailed the chances of former UC Berkeley chancellor Chang-Lin Tien from becoming the first APA cabinet member and delayed the selection of Democratic Representative Norman Mineta as the first APA cabinet member … GOP California Treasurer Matt Fong could have unseated an incumbent U.S. Senator in the 1998 election, but accusations of foreign Asian campaign donations hurt him and raised questions about the loyalty of the Air Force Academy graduate ….China-U.S. relations could impact APA issues like the unsettled, post-911 immigration reform questions. The tenor of foreign relations could squeeze opportunities for family reunification or foreign student visas or slow down the influx of immigrants with skills in engineering, high technology or other national security-sensitive fields.

About the Author

Veteran columnist has appeared in up to 450,000 households weekly in the SF Independent, Examiner (2000-04) and AsianWeek since 1996. As Editor-in-Chief (2003-07), AsianWeek and Samson received wide recognition from the California Legislature, New American Media, League of Women Voters, GLAAD, Organization of Chinese Americans, SPUR and APA civic groups. Thru the SF Citizens Advisory Committee on Elections, SF Elections Task Force and Chinese American Voters Education Committee, Wong helped boost APA influence from 25,000 in the 1980s to over 50,000 voters by the early 1990s.