Rush Hour acknowledges that within racial stereotyping, there is an established power hierarchy and while it attempts to subvert the hierarchy, it subsequently fails because it provides stereotypical misconceptions. (I’m not sure if this sentence is getting too long) In most buddy-cop films, there is always a character in control and a character who is simply the follower. In her article, “‘I’m Blackanese’: Buddy-Cop Films, Rush Hour, and Asian American and African American Cross-racial Identification,” Leilani Nishime observes that the white male character embodies an “ideological chaperone” who ensures that his sidekick, usually a black male, behaves and complies to white standards (Nishime 49). In Rush Hour, because both characters are minorities, it is perceived that they are equals and have the possibility of bonding over inequalities caused by the racial hierarchy. The two minorities are also not portrayed as villains but as the heroes. From the moment Lee lands in the United States, Carter presumes that he does not speak any English: “Mr. Rice-a-Roni don’t even speak American” (Rush Hour). This scene can also be identified as a parody of stereotypes since Lee understands and speaks English but he may not understand the colloquialisms that Carter employs in which he usually slurs his words. Carter’s immediate assumption of Lee’s lack of knowledge of the English language contends that there is a hierarchical relationship among minorities because Carter tries to reify his own belief that as an Asian man, Lee cannot speak proper English. A sequence of preferences may emerge, so that some ethnic minorities have a greater social acceptability than others. Nishime points to the bond that develops between Lee and Carter from their exclusion from the FBI investigation. An FBI agent claims that they do not require any assistance from a low-status detective or a “Chung King cop” (Rush Hour). Sheng-mei Ma, in his “Yellow Kung Fu and Black Jokes” article, argues that this pairing is purely for box office profit. Although minorities are starring in more mainstream films, a racial hierarchy is still evident due to race-based comedy influencing a self-validation of racial characteristics rather than a subversion of stereotypes.
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Race appears to have distinct boundaries in that certain cultural forms predominate over others and the films obscure these boundaries through cultural exchange. Rush Hour eliminates the white male character and attempts to bring a convergence of cultures to create a cross-racial identity. During the film, Lee begins singing the song “War,” and Carter instantly interrupts to teach Lee to emit a “soul.” A frustrated Carter exclaims “No one understands the words coming out of your mouth!” (Rush Hour). Lee, in response, performs elaborate martial arts moves, which Carter tries to imitate. Nishime argues that the cultural exchange is through the body, which bypasses language so the connection becomes equal. This exchange of cultures transcends the distinguished stereotypes of the abilities of “African Americans [to] dance and sing and Asians [to] do kung fu” (Nishime 53). The scene begins as an attempt to construct a particular cultural identity but develops into the likelihood of cross-racial identification. However, Carter justifies Lee’s mediocre singing to an absence of “soul,” which implies that that it is innate for Lee to sing poorly because it is not within his racial stereotype to sing well. Rush Hour 2, similarly, includes a scene where a Chinese man sings karaoke to a Michael Jackson song but Carter complains that he is “ruining a classic” and jumps on stage to do his own rendition, complete with dance moves (Rush Hour 2). Lee and Carter can share their culture, but each cannot perfect the other’s skill; therefore, the films establish the existence of racially defined differences. This blurs the distinction between what is culturally learned and what is biological.
Racial spheres remain because races want to exhibit a cultural individuality and an effort to equalize races erupts in conflict. In a bar populated with blacks, Lee attempts to assimilate into the environment by saying “What’s up, my nigga?” which Carter previously used as a greeting (Rush Hour). Chaos erupts which proves that racial scrutiny can apply when minorities use racial epithets towards other minorities. A parallel situation occurs at the Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. There, Carter tries to talk his way out of a problem with the Chinese gang members by jokingly saying that he is “Blackanese” and that they are “all the same” (Rush Hour). This comment of how everyone is “all the same” may evolve into acceptance of racial differences and provide the questioning of racial tolerance; however, these attempts all lead to violence. For the audience, these scenes are simply comical and have the ability to drive the plot forward since Tucker’s over-the-top acting leads the pair to another fight scene where Chan is able to demonstrate his complexly choreographed martial arts moves. This suggests that there is no chance of racial bonding if every attempt leads to misunderstandings. Ji Hoon Park, in his sociology study, “Naturalizing Racial Differences Through Comedy: Asian, Black, and White Views on Racial Stereotypes in Rush Hour 2,” supports this argument by noting that the race of the person telling the joke determines whether or not the joke is deemed as racist. Within the context of comedy, racial humor can potentially be racist because white characters have a historical stigma of being an oppressor and many may feel his intentions were to be patronizing.
Stereotypes are embedded into the scenes and dialogue of the films and are a crucial component to maintaining racial social order with minorities. Lee portrays the racial typecast of an Asian man who is viewed as a prude and excels in kung fu. Carter, in contrast, has the tendency of finding and causing trouble, which makes this “odd couple” more entertaining (Ma 243). Carter depicts the usual over sexualized black male. In Rush Hour 2, Lee takes him to a massage parlor and while Lee chooses one girl, Carter chooses five. Carter repeatedly encourages the negative stereotypes associated with blacks with his “loud-mouthed fashion” of approaching a problem (Park 163). He tells a Chinese woman who sells chicken that he likes his chicken “dead and deep fried,” insinuating that black men inherently like fried chicken (Rush Hour 2). This technique of a self-mocking of one’s stereotypes can be used to comment on racial inequalities for the comedy promotes it as humorous and counters feelings of uneasiness. Yet, the racial portrayals ultimately do not denounce the common representations of Asians and blacks in the media. Blatant stereotypes are then deemed acceptable because comedy creates a sense of “harmlessness [in] interpersonal jokes” (Park 160). The racial stereotypes are not always inverted. Both Carter and Lee use racial remarks toward each other, such as when Carter says that Lee belongs in the Ming Dynasty and Lee says that he will “bitchslap [Carter] back to Africa” (Rush Hour 2). Yet, neither appears offended and are friends who enjoy each other’s company. This crossing of color lines with racial jokes leads to an interpretation of race-based humor being part of the norm. Park’s conclusion is that racial stereotypes are problematic because “realism in the media encourages viewers to incorporate on-screen attitudes and beliefs into the real world” (Park 172). Thus, there is no possible changing of the racial hierarchy for minorities continue to inhabit negative stereotypes and by conforming, they themselves propel the stereotypes.
The last stereotype mentioned is the “rich white man”. In Rush Hour, a white male literally attempts to seize Chinese culture for Juntao, who turns out to be the British ambassador, endeavors to steal Chinese artifacts. In Rush Hour 2, Carter voices his theory of investigation which is to follow the “rich white man” because behind any operation, “there’s a rich white man waiting for his cut” (Rush Hour 2). The white man Carter refers to is Steven Reign, a billionaire hotel owner. Although, he occupies a small role in the film but his role has some significance because he has an “overseeing position” of money laundering (Park 164). Likewise, in Rush Hour, the FBI, “an almost completely white operation,” takes full responsibility of the kidnapping case, producing no change to the status quo of white domination and white privilege (Nishime 51). Park’s discussion of mainstream racial images closely parallels Nishime’s argument: Chan and Tucker play characters that are “symbolically castrated men” and subsequently, do not challenge white masculinity (Park 163). Chan’s character being emasculated can be seen as a deliberate decision to reinforce the whites’ position at the top of the hierarchy and causing Lee to be an almost nonthreatening crime fighter. The white characters are further confirmed as clear-minded individuals who are able to accomplish anything, even illegal activities.
Although, racial portrayals frequently promote validity of differences, they can also be construed as instruments of disrupting racial myths. Carter’s black informant owns a Chinese restaurant in Crenshaw, a predominately black neighborhood, dresses in traditional Chinese garments and is skilled in kung fu. This reflects the beginning of the emergence between “yellow kung fu and black jokes” (Ma 240). In his study of the history between the partnership between Asians and blacks, Ma utilizes the movie The Last Dragon, for the black character “bows, meditates, and wears the stereotypical Chinese dress” while the Asian Americans “take on a black dialect and body rhythm” (240). Rather than rendering “yellow yellower and black blacker,” the exchange creates a possibility of racial hybridity. This differentiation from the audience’s preconceived notions of a “normal” black man both challenge the viewers’ beliefs and portray the blending of two different cultures. In Rush Hour 2, however, Carter laughs at his informant and calls him an embarrassment for being a black man in Crenshaw who owns a Chinese restaurant. In this way, Carter is “othering” his informant, signifying that any type of mannerism that deviates from the norm is considered wrong. This is an instance when racial boundaries were transcended, but it dictates that each race has an “appropriate” culture it should claim.
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Many people can claim to be colorblind or antiracist, but race continues to serve as an important marker with which people understand their social environment. The Rush Hour films provide for an opportunity to look beyond the dominant ideologies of whites, Asians, and blacks. Nonetheless, Rush Hour is not completely successful in discounting racial characteristics. By propelling stereotypes, the films influence the audience to not only find the films humorous but also search for the “true” components of racial stereotypes rather than challenging the exaggerated depictions. By employing comedy, the films’ radical qualities of possibly transcending racial boundaries are unrealized, for once racial differences are conceived as existent and unchangeable, it creates a justification for maintaining the long-standing racial hierarchy.
Culture can be exchanged but the boundaries of a nation cannot be easily permeated by an “outsider”. These markings of a nation also include language. [I plan on explaining how having an accent marks you as someone different and then helps to establish specific character classifications. I will also discuss intersections of nationality and race.]
Gender identity originates from the experiences of our lives and these experiences differ not only based on gender but also by factors such as race and class. These identities are formed under the narrow structures of stereotypes, which are created as a system of social control. [I plan on analyzing Latina characters from the Rush Hour films. In Rush Hour, Carter makes a comment about his Latina partner staying at the office and working behind the desk because it is safer than chasing down criminals. In Rush Hour 2, an undercover Puerto Rican Secret Service agent is sexualized and she continuously uses her sexual appeal to evoke cooperation from Lee and Carter. My conclusion will be that it is not possible to separate gendered experiences from racial existence and that one can be discriminated by both race and gender.]
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