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Great Walls of China: Professor’s pet project uses film to restore Asian American sexuality

Making pornography is not the typical route academics take to extend their theories into the real world. But Darrel Hamamoto, professor of Asian American Studies at UC Davis, is not a typical academic. He has traversed the gap between the ivory tower and the world of pornography to espouse his ideas about Asian American stereotypes in the media.

“It’s been an issue for at least 30 years,” said Hamamoto of his frustration with demeaning – or nonexistent – images of Asian American males, usually portrayed as desexualized nerds in popular culture. “[The media companies] can afford?to dismiss Asian Americans. I became fed up with that and had to devise strategies to overcome that.”

In March, Hamamoto used his own funds to produce and shoot a 50-minute pornographic film called Skin on Skin. The film stars a Cambodian-American veteran porn actress and a first-time Korean-American actor, a rare combination in the heterosexual U.S. pornography industry where Asian American females are often paired with men of every race except Asian Americans.

In a scholarly essay published in 1998 titled “The Joy Fuck Club,” Hamamoto laid out his reasoning for making porn, saying that “a yellow porno practice can help recuperate [an Asian American] sexuality that has been distorted?[by] an oppressive system of white racial supremacy.”

Hamamoto said he was partly inspired by the students in one of his “Theoretical Perspectives in Asian Studies” classes, who admitted that their sexual imagination was made up of mostly “non-yellow” people.

“They’re so white over-identified that they can’t conceive of an alternative to it,” said Hamamoto. “To save [Asian American sexuality] will require a huge intervention on my part. And if I have to make a skin flick, I will do it. That’s why I made a porno – to blow their minds.”

In addition to the porn film, Hamamoto made a “clean mix for people to get in a little deeper” – an 11-minute short film called Yellowcaust that takes clips from Skin and juxtaposes text on screen that recounts U.S. atrocities toward Asians. The background sound of wailing women adds further discordance to the “political” message that Hamamoto wants to convey.

“If you get off on [Yellowcaust], you’re really sick,” said Anita Poon, student affairs officer for the Asian American studies department, who saw the film at a festival in San Diego. “It’s hard to be turned on by all the sounds and what you’re reading.”

Hamamoto offered an optional showing of Yellowcaust in his Asian American studies 110 class over the summer, after the class voted to see it.

“It’s very extreme but it gets the job done,” said senior Justin Lim, who was in the class. “I admire him. It’s important to be proactive and that’s what he’s doing. I think the Asian American community needs that. People are willing to see change.”

News about Hamamoto’s pornography project and his outspoken ideas engender strong reactions, even from those who have not seen the films.

“The best way to infiltrate the industry is to learn the tools of the industry,” said communications senior Michael Lee. “Asian males are seen as desexualized. In [the film] Romeo Must Die, Jet Li doesn’t kiss the girl, he just kicks butt. I think [using porn]?might not be the best avenue?but I hope he does well and people listen to what he is saying.”

Junior Eric Chen did not feel Hamamoto’s ideas applied to all Asian American males.

“I think it’s really unfair for the rest of the Asian population [because it] makes us fit into the stereotype even more,” he said, noting that not all Asian American males need yellow porn to rehabilitate their sexuality. “If someone is going to go out and break the stereotypes, it’s on their own.”

Elizabeth Langland, dean of the College of Letters and Science at UCD, said Hamamoto has not used the university name to aid his venture and that no university funds were used or students involved in the making of the pornography.

“I recognize that faculty have the right to explore ideas in all their implications,” she said. “He’s followed policies and I’m fascinated to see what impact he might have, because the images [currently portrayed in U.S. media] are very [harmful] and not representative of Asian Americans.”

“Pornography, by its very nature, is highly accessible and subversive enough to challenge the dominant media culture,” reads a description on a website for Masters of the Pillow. The film explores the issues around the making of Skin and interviews Asian American cultural artists about the “absence of a sexual identity for the Asian American male in popular media.”

The Asian American Association, a student group at UCD, hopes to bring Masters to its film festival in the spring.

For a film that cost about $7,000 to make, Hamamoto plans to reap significant returns from the multibillion-dollar porn market. He intends to produce a series of “yellow porn” and use the proceeds to fund other long-time social goals, including the founding of YEN TV, or, the Yellow Entertainment Network to air Asian American-focused shows.

Despite working outside the classroom in his latest challenge to Hollywood and its distortion of Asian American male sexuality, Hamamoto says he is acting on the tenets of his academic field.

“Asian American studies is founded on the principle that it’s not enough to describe and rehearse the features of Asian American and Asian oppression, but you have to change it,” said Hamamoto. “That’s why I made the porn movie – I’m going to change it.”
 

 

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