Saturday, September 8, 2012

Things That Suck About Film History #2

It sucks that Anna May Wong couldn't get the lead in The Good Earth because her co-star, Paul Muni, would have been a white man and instead of Hollywood saying, "Well, then, we'll just get an actor of Chinese descent to play the lead male role," they cast the lovely and great and talented (and white) Luis Rainer. Now, this post isn't about all the awful racism that persisted in Hollywood for decades (if I wanted to, every one of these "Things that Suck about Film History" posts could be about racism), it's about how wonderful and beautiful and talented Anna May Wong was and why Hollywood should have done more for her.

But they didn't.

Movies with non-white leads didn't play well in the states and Anna had to take a backseat to white leads in all but a few of her movies. Hollywood may have claimed they couldn't violate anti-miscegenation laws by having her kiss a white actor (as if a state government would have actually sought legal retribution against the studios for such an act) but really, they just knew that it would freak out the locals and the box office would take a hit. And it sucks. They could have stood up to that notion and possibly discovered that enough people still wanted to see an adaptation of The Good Earth and wouldn't care about so-called race-mixing in the leads.

A lot of times in life, we discover something we feared was baseless. There would have been a vocal and racist minority raising a fuss but, for the most part, I believe it would have been a great success. Of course, an even better outcome would have been to cast all Chinese-Americans in all of the roles, but for starters at least, Wong should have gotten the part. Wong simply came around too soon for her talents to be fully explored in a society not yet ready for it. And it sucks.