Comedian Rob Schneider’s use of yellowface in the recently released feature film, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” has struck alarm and deep disappointment within the Asian American community, including the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization, in which Schneider’s characterization displays a blatant disrespect for Asian Americans everywhere.
“In a time when the use of racial mockery should be a distant memory, it is both surprising and disappointing that filmmakers are still engaging in such demeaning portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans,” declared JACL in a letter to Universal Pictures. “What many people fail to comprehend is that caricaturing Asian Americans in the media not only perpetuates stereotypes, but thumbs its nose at the community.”
Schneider’s characterization offends the community by furthering the emasculation and degradation of Asian American males in the media, promoting the outright ridiculing of Asian Americans, and inadvertently admitting that some members of Hollywood would still rather put actors in yellowface than hire qualified Asian American actors — of which there are many — to play roles in a dignified manner.
Schneider also draws an uncomfortable parallel to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and more recently, Jonathan Pryce in the theater production of Miss Saigon, in a time when these depictions have since been acknowledged as demeaning and disrespectful. That Schneider is part-Filipino does not lend itself to his brand of comedy, and reporters from major news outlets such as MSNBC’s Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, and the Associated Press have all been quick to point out, as a writer from Newsday does, that Schneider’s character is the “most offensive Asian caricature since Mickey Rooney’s notorious yellow-face performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
More than simply offending the community, many feel that the mainstream degradation of Asian Americans in the media encourages the public to participate in degrading behavior, ranging from verbal mockery to even outright violence. Incidents of racism and violence against Asian Americans are manifest in the history of the United States, and according to the JACL, “to overlook this particular depiction as mere “comedy” would be egregiously naïve.”
The JACL is urging Universal Pictures to desist in stereotyping Asian Americans by going for the cheap laugh at the expense of an entire community, instead encouraging the media company to find creative ways to promote a more tolerant and modern approach to comedy.
The Japanese American Citizens League, the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization founded in 1929, is focused on protecting the civil rights of Americans of Japanese ancestry and is committed to protecting the rights of all segments of the Asian Pacific American community.