Shame Day: Porn and Racism

Let’s be honest, porn is not the highest art form to begin with. That being said, it’s 2013, people. It is the 21st century and I expect better from all of us, even those in San Fernando Valley [lovingly dubbed “Porn Valley” by those in the industry].

glenntwdNow, I’m going to assume that most of you are familiar with AMC’s The Walking Dead [I’d be surprised if you weren’t, really]. If not, what you need to know is that it features among its core cast Glenn, who is played by Korean-American Steven Yeun]. A cast member of the original comic book series, Glenn makes his entrance by saving Rick, the protagonist of the series, and goes on to be an all-around successful human being [which, in a zombie apocalypse, equates to being a badass]. So that’s what you have to know about that.

What you also have to know, if you weren’t aware, is that porn studios churn out parodies like nobody’s business. They’ve parodied everything from beloved childhood cartoons [The Flintstones: A XXX Parody] to a 1976 DC/Marvel comic books crossover event [Superman vs Spider-Man XXX: An Axel Braun Parody]; nothing is sacred. It should come as no surprise, then, when they decided to take a stab at adapting AMC’s The Walking Dead [if you watch it, you’d know why I have to write it out like that].

Porn star Danny Wylde was cast to play Glenn in the as-of-yet untitled film. In it, he will be appearing as follows:

That is, to put it simply, yellowface. In other words, [according to Urban Dictionary], “the early 20th century film industry practice of using heavy makeup on non-Asian actors to make these actors play Asian roles. Often accompanied by a performance stereotyping Asian people.”

Now I’m not going to posit that within this AMC’s The Walking Dead porn parody Wylde will be portraying Glenn by acting in a racially insensitive manner. What I am going to say, however, is that his appearance [and the steps taken to achieve it] is as racially insensitive as it gets.

The website Jezebel [as they are wont to do] called out Burning Angel, the porn studio behind the film, on the decisions I just mentioned. This prompted a response from porn star and director Joanna Angel, who said:

“Alright, I know some of you lame asses were offended by me turning someone non-Asian into someone Asian, but Danny is an important member of the BurningAngel family and I really wanted him in this movie –- and he actually has a lot of similar features as Glenn and made the most sense to play him. Around election time, I aged Danny about 60 years and turned him into Joe Biden. In Evil Head, we gave him an 80’s looking wig. I was not doing this to make fun of anyone of any race -– I did this because it was a parody. So all you over-sensitive PC people: calm down.”

To add to that, the Adult Video News [AVN] website did a piece in reaction to Jezebel’s article, which I’m going to have to break down for you in pieces. What comes next are quotes from AVN’s take on the matter followed by my explaining why as an argument it simply doesn’t hold water.

“Because to charge the makers of a PORN PARODY with racism for casting a white dude as an Asian dude has to be one of the most absurd things we’ve seen any media outlet do in a good while. Especially when the main object of the finger-wagging is BA owner and the project’s writer/director, Joanna Angel … a very overtly Jewish gal plenty conscious of ethnic bigotry.”

Implying that creating a parody [porn or otherwise] is a free pass that excludes the creators from being labelled as racist. Citing Joanna Angel’s Jewish ethnicity as being someone for whom aspersions of racism can’t be cast upon, which is further touched upon with the following:

“…did Joanna (or anyone else) rise up in arms over the 2009 release Nice Jewish Girls, which cast—you guessed it—non-Jews as the titular targets of lust, complete with ridiculous headdresses and frocks?”

Which I would also cite as being pretty racist. This argument is added to again, however, with:

“In last year’s Baristas, she had Wylde talk with an Australian accent—was that an affront to Australians? In Asphyxia Heels the World, she had him do a hillbilly twang—should the Whites of West Virginia have been outraged?”

Which somehow seeks to equate putting on an accent as being on par with changing one’s features and skin tone to mimic that of another race, a practice that has been deeply steeped in racism and extreme xenophobia for decades. In talking about other casting options, writer Peter Warren said:

“Just for the sake of argument, let’s say Joanna HAD put [Asian porn star] Keni Styles in the role—mightn’t that in fact have been [sic] interepreted as far more racist, since Steven Yeun is Korean and Keni Styles is Thai? The implication there, naturally, would be that all Asians are interchangeable … not too PC last we checked.”

The argument being that casting a Thai man as a Korean man is just as racist as taking a White actor and yellowing his skin and taping his eyes. It’s by no means accurate, but not at all a fair point of comparison. Finally, his last main point [and one that contains easily some of the most explicit content on this blog so far]:

“But beyond all of that, there’s an even grander, more gaping hole in Jezebel’s indictment: The fact that if they’d done the briefest Google search, they’d have come up with so many exponentially more demeaning depictions of Asians in porn, it would make this look downright noble. Just have a glimpse at some of the titles that have graced adult retail shelves in the past few months: Shrimp Fried Pussy(Wicked Pictures), Fortune Cookie Pussy (Justin Slayer International), Dim Sum Pussy (Vouyer Media), Yellow Fever (Exquisite Multimedia), Sum Yung Ho (O Gee Studios), Sushi Sluts (Legend Video), Thai Teens: We Masturbate for You (DreamGirls). The list goes on.”

So what I’m supposed to take from this is that because Joanna Angel didn’t go full-blown balls-to-the-wall racist, she should be allowed to get away with this? Because she’s not employing the many horrific racial stereotypes so prevalent in porn she should be let off the hook? That’s like saying you should let your kid punch another one in the face, because thank God he’s not mugging people in the streets like all of those other youths.

Thankfully somewhere within the darkness of this situation there cries out a voice of reason, and one that surprisingly belongs to porn star Danny Wylde himself. On his own personal blog he wrote a post entitled “Where I Try To Explain Why I Look Like An Asshole,” where he clearly thinks about the implications of the film and his starring in it:

“Is my portrayal of Glenn racist? I honestly don’t know. If it were blackface, I feel like I could definitively say, ‘Yes.’ But on the heels of Halle Barry going in whiteface and Hugo Weaving portraying an Asian character for the movie, Cloud Atlas, it seems as if there is at least a public scale of acceptability for such things.

There was no cultural commentary associated with The Walking Dead XXX parody, and perhaps little cultural sensitivity. However, it is out there now and I have to live with whatever it means to other people.”

The day after that post he wrote another one, simply titled “An Apology,” which I strongly encourage you to read [this particular page of the blog doesn’t hold anything that would be considered Not Safe For Work]. In it he ponders his place in an industry that perpetuates these racial stereotypes, and how even they are held under scrutiny of the public eye due to this digital age we live in. Near the end of his post he writes the following two paragraphs [censorship added by yours truly]:

“I don’t want to stop criticism of porn or any other medium. Please do tell us (or me) when we’re f-cking up. But also then start to take us a little bit more seriously every once in a while. Especially when we make great efforts to change.

So this is my lesson and my apology. I obviously can’t just do whatever I want in a porno and say, ‘Hey, it’s just a stupid porno.’ People are paying attention. Thank you for paying attention. I hope I don’t disappoint you again.”

So with that, I must give due credit to Danny Wylde and his humility and understanding in the situation he ended up being in. He gets that people can be hurt, and thankfully doesn’t espouse the viewpoints of AVN, who deserve a huge heaping serving of shame this week [and every other week until they change].

Regardless of the setting, racism and racial stereotypes should never get a “free pass.” I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, “better doesn’t equal good”; some porn may not drop to the level of portraying nymphomaniacal geishas, but that doesn’t mean yellowface should ever be okay. Shame on you, porn industry. For better or for worse people are watching, and they have the right to hold you accountable for whatever it is that you’ve created, just like the rest of us.

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6 responses to “Shame Day: Porn and Racism

  1. They should be held accountable for every awful thing they’ve created. Like, porn, maybe.

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