Jeff Adachi’s documentary addresses the depiction of Asian and Asian-American men in Hollywood films from the silent era through today. With very few exceptions (Sessue Hayakawa in the silent era, James Shigeta in the late 1950s and Bruce Lee in the early 1970s), the film industry’s depiction has been one of shameful stereotyping. Asian men are too often seen as epicene, foolish or intellectually devious. Cross-racial portraits by white men in yellowface make-up only exacerbated the problem, even when the depiction was supposedly positive (the Charlie Chan mysteries).
Adachi recruits a number of Asian-American actors and filmmakers to talk about the problems of correcting this still-problematic solution. Input from the likes of directors Eric Byler and Gene Cajayon and actors Jason Scott Lee, Dustin Nguyen and Mako offer sincere and often sharp commentary on knocking down obstacles for employment and positive roles.
Sadly, Adachi’s research is rather weak and key players are inexplicably missing. Groundbreaking achievements by the actors Sojin, Keye Luke, Sammee Tong, the Asian-Pacific stars of “Hawaii Five-O” and Haing S. Ngor (the only Asian-American Oscar-winning actor) are not mentioned, nor is there any word about cinematographer James Wong Howe. Jack Soo, George Takei and Johnny Yune are seen in clips, but are not identified by name. And Pat Morita is cited for his small role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” but not for his better-known work in “Happy Days” or “The Karate Kid” movies.
At 61 minutes, the film feels too compressed for its subject matter, and a late segment on the rise of Asian-American indie cinema seems like a hasty afterthought. “The Slanted Screen” is really too sloppy to make any genuine impact.