This is my latest Huffington Post on the movie The Interview. It was a difficult movie to watch and here is my reflection below. Feel free to comment on the original post, ‘The Interview’: No Laughing Matter.
I watch most movies on a plane or at my sister’s house when I visit her in Toronto. During my last visit, I watched The Interview and it set off my alarm bells as I viewed this movie about Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and its supreme leader Kim Jong-un.
The movie is about a Talk Show host, Dave Skylark (James Franco) who surprisingly lands an interview with Kim Jong-un. Before Dave and his producer Aaron Rappaport (Seth Rogen) arrive in North Korea for the highly anticipated interview, the CIA recruits them to assassinate Kim Jong-un.
Controversy and problems surround the exhibition of this movie, Sony Pictures’ computers were hacked on November 24, 2015 about a month before the planned December 25, 2014 release of the film and the FBI immediately blamed North Korea on the basis of weak evidence. Some sources now say the hacking could have been an inside job by disgruntled Sony workers.
We are not sure of who the hackers are or whether it was all a publicity act to get more people interested in the movie.
Large problems surround the content and the highly racist portrayal of Koreans in this movie, which add to the perpetual stereotyping of Asians and Asian Americans.
There are so many elements of racism in this movie that it does not matter where I begin. Let’s look at the way in which the speech of Asians is presented. Each language has different phonetic sounds common to that specific language. These sounds should not be funny to English speaking people simply because the sound is similar to an amusing word in the English language. A common sound made fun of by English speakers is the sound “dong”. At one point, Aaron says in reference to Dandong, China, “Did you just say China? And did you just say ‘dong’?” This is a common “joke” used by Westerners to make fun of Asian words sounds. For example, Stephen Colbert used the phrase “ching chong ding dong” as a joke on his show.
This phrase is well-known enough that Colbert could use it to make fun of another kind of insulting language. I grew up with kids making fun of Asians with this racist phrase. This phrase is often used alongside racial slurs and stereotypical imitation of Asians. This pejorative term is degrading against Asians.
In a 1917, a song co-written by Lee S. Roberts and J. Will Callahan states, “Ching, This phrase was originally used against Chinese immigrants but soon was used against all Asians. This belittling phrase “ching chong ding dong” resurfaces in part in The Interview as Aaron uses “dong” in a sentence which results in belittling Asians.
My latest book, co-authored with Joseph Cheah, Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style” examines the stereotyping of Asian women and men. This book tackles the pressing issues of hegemonic masculinity, racialized bodies, mimicry and racism. The book examines how the Korean rapper, Psy fits the stereotypical portrayal of Asian and similarly The Interview, perpetuates a diminution of North Korean men by portraying them with an accent and as a “jester”. This portrayal fits into the stereotypes of Asian males as asexual, unattractive and undesirable.
This movie played into the female stereotype of Asian women as highly sexual and clad in slinky outfits or lingerie. The main female character Sook (Diana Bang) is portrayed as a “dragon lady”, hungry for sex and seduction. She and Aaron are caught in a sexual relationship even in the midst of danger and killing.
The stereotyping and the racism that pervades much of the movie causes an unsettling feeling in my stomach. The movie producers are making fun of North Korea, which is still Korea. As a Korean American woman, this perpetual racism towards my people is hurtful and no one should make a profit off such acts of insensitivity and prejudice.
Why did Sony decide to produce such a satirical, comedy about North Korea and its leader? That will be my perpetual question as stereotyping continues within the western world against Asians. This Orientalism and the concept that the East is weak, feminine, and seeking domination need to be eliminated from western mindset. Because of the stereotypes and racism that pervade the movie, The Interview should be critiqued and understood for what it is.
Making money off cheap laughs against Asians is no laughing matter.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University. She is the author of 7 books, Embracing the Other (forthcoming); Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style” (Palgrave) co-written with Joseph Cheah; Reimagining with Christian Doctrines (Palgrave) co-edited with Jenny Daggers; Contemplations from the Heart (Wipf & Stock); Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave); The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other (Palgrave); and The Grace of Sophia (Pilgrim Press). She is a co-editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for the Palgrave Macmillan Book Series, “Asian Christianity in Diaspora”.