In a movie almost entirely focused on the modern-day dynamic between Black and White America, there is a lone Asian. Jordan Peele’s new movie, Get Out, has achieved critical acclaim for its use of the horror movie genre to emphasize how relevant anti-black racism still is to the attention of the non-black public. So what is one Asian guy doing in this movie?
The character Yasuhiko Oyama, played by Hiroki Tanaka, participates in asking uncomfortably insensitive questions of the main character, Chris, during a party before a modern silent slave auction. In essence, he asks Chris if being African American is an advantage or a disadvantage.
Initially, his presence among the crowd of White upper-class liberals can be slightly confusing. But the auction makes it clear that this man too intends to benefit from subjugating a Black man. But why did Peele choose to include an Asian man?
To me the inclusion is an accusation, one not unfounded, that Asian Americans have benefited from participating in anti-black practices alongside Whites in an effort to gain acceptance. Perhaps it also accuses other non-black people of color. Asians are called the “model minority” and considered more easily accepted due to a perceived lack of physical danger and desirable stereotypes (like being good at math). We’re not a threat; we’re the butt of the joke, as Steve Harvey showed us all too recently. Sometimes, we are too willing to simply let others struggle because race is (supposedly) no longer our problem.
Obviously this is an issue not easily tackled by a few scenes and handful of lines. However while I recognize that the participation of non-black people of color in discrimination is legitimate, we are nowhere near being completely accepted. I have to point out that the inclusion of an Asian character, in what looks to be one of the year’s biggest hits, is actual progress in Hollywood’s current state. I am Japanese like the character, and in my extremely White, liberal New England town I was chased by my entire first grade class while they yelled “China boy, China boy.” I’m supposed to tell anyone who asks where the best sushi restaurants around are, or how to swear in Japanese. I am exotic, an outsider, despite having lived in the United States almost all my life.
I doubt that Peele’s intention was condemnation. But a warning, maybe. As Asians, we should do better. We should use the privilege we have to help those most at risk due to White supremacy. After all, in this new administration, it may be unite or find every one of us in the sunken place.
Additional Coverage: Bustle: Why the Asian Character in Get Out Matters So Much
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