Hollywood Chinese: Arthur Dong’s Docu of Racial (and Racist) Imagery

Arthur Dong is the director of the new documentary, Hollywood Chinese, a critical account of the visual and thematic depiction of Chinese in American movies.

Flower Drum Song

Growing up during the 1960s in San Francisco Chinatown, Flower Drum Song was the first English-language film I ever saw in a theater. It was booked in a neighborhood movie house where I usually saw only Chinese imports from Hong Kong. This was a big event: the theater was packed with all sorts of Chinese folks and there was a communal buzz in the air. What a treat to gather together and see Chinese characters, even if they werent all played by Chinese, in a widescreen Hollywood musical.

Vietnam Era

Then came the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, ethnic pride. Flower Drum Songs kow-towing, pidgin-speaking caricatures were rejected alongside Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu. Songs like Chop Suey became an embarrassment for politicized Asian Americans. It didnt matter that Flower Drum Song was based on a book written by a Chinese American, it was, in the end, a white mans concoction. Some of my fondest memories in a movie theater became the targets of social and cultural critiques.


With Hollywood Chinese, I take a lifelong affection for film and combine it with a quest to understand the complexities of cinema. Its my journey into the world of Hollywood moviemaking, to discover how stories and images of the Chinese fit within an entertainment industry that mixes art with commerce, a universal art form that affects the way we see ourselves and each other.