Cinema and Media Studies Asian American Cinema
Celine Parreñas Shimizu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0080


Asian American cinema refers to an ongoing struggle for moving image representation by and about Asian Americans in the United States. The civil rights and Third World movements having established a group identity that now included previously disparate groups, the Asian American cinema movement identified a systematic social problem: the invisibility and misrepresentation of Asian Americans in mainstream industry representations, that is, their absence on screen signified a lack of power in shaping US politics and history. To address these problems, the movement established nonprofit organizations dedicated to nurturing filmmakers and growing film audiences, organizing film festivals, and creating grant programs and training workshops to give Asian American communities the tools to tell their own untold American stories. Thus, Asian American cinema involved telling racialized stories so as to make the presence of Asian Americans part of the historical record. Since the 1980s, Asian American film criticism has identified Asian Americans engaging the power of cinema since the early 20th century in terms of “finding a voice,” while positing questions about the significance of this movement to film as a genre, as well as serving as a site of culture. Today, the question of what is an Asian American cinema is still in flux as the relevance of nonprofit organizations and film festivals as the site for locating the movement shifts with the invention of new media forms. That is, Asian American new media makers accumulate millions of viewers while bypassing the established protocol of grant writing, nonprofit fiscal sponsorship, and film festival screening and distribution. These changes also expose the unfinished dilemma facing Asian American filmmakers. Does the demand to tell stories about the Asian American experience limit the voices of Asian American filmmakers? Do they have to tell stories that pander to authenticity and equate racial experience to victimization, thus limiting the range of experiences to be represented in film within the binary of positive versus negative images? Both Asian American cinema and Asian American film criticism continue to struggle as Asian American films expand both their forms and their reach. The scholarship extends beyond film and ethnic studies approaches to utilize philosophies and methods from other disciplines and traditions.


The forms employed by the earliest anthologies reflect the elements that make up Asian American cinema. They include writing by filmmakers and scholarly essays as well as interviews between filmmakers and scholars across a diverse representation of ethnicities. Leong 1991 is a collaboration between a university research center and a nonprofit media organization. Hamamoto and Liu 2000 and Feng 2002 include both filmmakers and critics; however, the writings are more substantial.

  • Feng, Peter X., ed. Screening Asian Americans. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

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    Feng asserts the importance of Asian Americans to understanding American identity and politics. Essays account for both creative and political contributions of Asian American cinema to both cinema and American history, including negotiations with racial burdens of representation, queerness, postcoloniality, and issues of “new” Asian American subjects. Significant essays include those on Japanese American cinema by Kent Ono and Glen Mimura and Peter X. Feng on Chan Is Missing (1982).

  • Hamamoto, Darrell, and Sandra Liu. Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

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    The book captures the diversity of Asian American cinema, including an introduction to the earliest essays on theories of spectatorship and performance. It includes longer essays by filmmakers as well as interviews. Cynthia Liu’s article recommends a practice of reconfiguring representation versus stereotype critique, Peter X. Feng’s “polysemy” encourages multidisciplinary and intertextual analysis, and Eve Oishi’s concept of “bad Asians” helps to define queer film practices.

  • Leong, Russell. Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central, 1991.

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    The first anthology includes short provocative works by pioneer and emergent filmmakers, activists/organizers, and scholars. Loni Ding writes a manifesto for Asian American filmmaking that offers the incisive critique that absence in the visual record means absence in history. Two particularly important essays are histories of the Asian American cinema movement by Stephen Gong and Renee Tajima.

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