Representations of Afro-Asian Connections in the 1970s
September 25, 2014 ♦ Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)
In 2013, Suey Park organized a Twitter conversation around the hashtag #BlackPowerYellowPeril to “discuss ways in which the Asian American community could work with the African American community to further similar anti-racist, anti-sexist goals.” The ensuing dialogue on Twitter and on other social media outlets focused on “Asian Privilege” and “Asian Anti-Black Racism.” While these are salient aspects of Afro-Asian interaction in the United States, they do not reflect the comprehensive and often contradictory dynamics between African Americans and various Asian and Asian American groups within and outside the United States. This paper uses Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon as a lens through which to explore representations of Afro-Asian connections in 1970s film. Produced at the height of the black exploitation film era, the film creates some of the most iconic images of Afro-Asian cultural exchange. Casting Jim Kelly alongside Bruce Lee as potential allies against forces characterized as white and colonial gestures towards the potential for solidarity between African Americans and Asians. Jim Kelly’s character also alludes to the black radical tradition, where black intellectuals and activists frequently rely on the experiences of Asian and Asian Americans to contemplate the future of African Americans. By using both the United States and Hong Kong as backdrops, the film introduces the importance of the transnational in the consideration of Afro-Asian cultural exchange during this time. At the same time, the film reinforces stereotypes of black masculinity and black radical politics, painting both in very limited ways. Even with these more problematic aspects of representation, the film nevertheless demonstrates a foundation for contemporary discussions Afro-Asian connections.