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Insensitive ‘Red Dawn’ Remake Spawns Anti-Asian Tweets


Set of Red Dawn -- when antagonists were Chinese.

CREDIT: Flickr/G Jewels

Red Dawn (2012), the remake of the 1984 original of the same name, had a rough start; when MGM hit some financial difficulties it was unclear if the film would actually be released. Once FilmDistrict purchased the US distribution rights, however, and changed the antagonists from Chinese to North Korean, we had ourselves a top-grossing Hollywood film. (Not quite the top five, though.)

The original Red Dawn (1984), also set in an alternate United States, focused on an invasion by the Soviet Union and its Cuban and Nicaraguan allies. Although these were plausible antagonists at the time, the film was still considered a “Republican wet dream," playing on the audience’s paranoia and xenophobia. Unfortunately, the creators of the remake lazily decided to invoke those same fears, sparking a disturbing anti-Asian vibe in the Twitter-sphere reminiscent of the racist tweeters Jezebel so diligently unearthed.

The film's producer Tripp Vinson said the enemy could not be the Russians anymore, because “the politics of the world are different today.” The superficial change of Chinese to North Korean antagonists, however, came as a result of distributors' anxiety about the potential harm to business relationships with China, a “rising Asian superpower.” Of course this makes for a rather unlikely scenario, considering that North Korea’s geographical location and issues of famine put it very low on the list of potential threats to the American homeland.

The switch made little difference; apparently Chinese and North Koreans are indiscernible to some Twitter-users who lumped Asian minorities together in their racist outbursts.

As, an international grassroots organization, pointed out, the remake lacks reflectiveness and never bothers to humanize enemies. The film treats them similarly to the way Nazis are treated in the Indiana Jones series— “faceless and interchangeable.”  The remake is irresponsible in its depiction of Asian characters, merely pandering to American jingoism without considering the ongoing racial politics of today.

Red Dawn’s racial insensitivity is evident not only in its quick swap from Chinese to North Korean, but in depicting only one Asian-American character, Ken Choi, fighting for the liberation of American soil. You won’t see him in any promotional posters though— or any characters of color for that matter. Lack of diversity in American films isn’t new (especially for Asian-Americans), and depicting people of color as faceless villains only encourages stereotypes.

While respecting the politics of American cinema and appeasing distributors who wish to keep raking money from Chinese audiences, Red Dawn completely disregards that Yellow Peril is still penetrating our media. This heralding of xenophobia could have been avoided, and makes some, like Jeff Yang from Wall Street Journal, question: Why not just make the enemies extraterrestrials? Is American cinema so creatively limited?

Considering Red Dawn is one of fifty remakes coming out, perhaps the answer is yes.

Jamilya Ramos is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @callmejam.

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