PBS Documentaries

Our local PBS station has been airing several shows this month about Asian American Pacific month. I'm sad that I somehow missed two very interesting sounding programs:

American Masters: Hollywood Chinese

From the first Chinese-American film produced in 1916 to Ang Lee’s triumphant Brokeback Mountain nine decades later, “Hollywood Chinese” brings together a fascinating group of actors, writers, directors — and iconic film images — to examine how Chinese people have contributed to and been portrayed in an industry that was often ignorant about and dismissive of race.

The Slanted Screen

From silent film star Sessue Hayakawa to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, this program explores the portrayals of Asian men in American cinema, chronicling the experiences of actors who have had to struggle against ethnic stereotyping and limiting roles. Through a parade of 50 film clips spanning a century, the film presents a critical examination of Hollywood's image-making machine.

I'm really disappointed I missed those shows. Luckily I just discovered that the Slanted Screen is on Netflix!

However I did manage to catch the 6 hour documentary Becoming American: The Chinese Experience. It was a WONDERFUL experience watching it. I missed the first hour sadly, but quickly became enthralled with the other 5 hours. The program starts with the history of Chinese Americans in the US beginning with the Gold Rush immigration. It then moves forward into history with segments on the railroad, the Chinese exclusion act, Angel Island, the Chinese reaction to the Japanese internment, the views of Chinese Americans during the Communist China movement, the Vincent Chin incident, all the way to present day Chinese Americans. Bill Moyers interviewed many Chinese Americans who talked about either their family's struggle to become Americans or their own life story as Asian Americans. It was very moving to hear about how Chinese immigrants struggled in the country and how later generations had to find out their own identity. It was difficult to be both Asian and American. I could really relate with the later generations and their portrayal of having to be a "model minority."

I HIGHLY recommend watching this series. Unfortunately it seems to be out of print to buy new and to buy a used DVD set costs at least $100. So if you can find it at your local library, grab it while it's hot. I really think they should show this documentary in high schools and colleges. Many of these events, I would venture that 75% of the American people have never even heard about. These are stories that need to be told.

Here is a clip from the program:


  1. I caught Hollywood Chinese. It was a really interesting program (I LOVED the fact that they had the director of The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift on there... that's a good movie ^_^), but they really glossed over the whole racism issue and how studios would not hire Chinese people to star in a picture. So that was kind of weird.

  2. These look like interesting documentaries, especially the ones about the film industry. Both my parents were actors in the 60s, and my mother tells me it was quite a struggle for my father who had dreams of making it big in the States.


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