an actor way ahead of his time

Here's a nice article that's been making the rounds on pioneer Asian actor Sessue Hayakawa, a legend in his own time: Cinema can't keep up with Hayakawa's strides. If you're unfamiliar with his work, back in the day, he had iconic roles in films like The Cheat, The Dragon Painter, and The Bridge on the River Kwai, which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 1958.

Imagine a Hollywood actor with the looks, talent and leading man appeal of Brad Pitt... except he's Asian. Can you imagine that? Ninety years ago, that was Sessue Hayakawa, one Hollywoood's biggest stars... until somewhere along the way it was decided that Asian actors were only fit to play foreign exchange nerds, delivery boys, and martial arts masters. What happened? What is Sessue Hayakawa's legacy today?

I remember seeing The Cheat back in college, still getting acquainted with film history studies. I was amazed that there was actually a star like Sessue Hayakawa back in the day. It really opened my eyes. While the film's frightening Yellow Peril portrayal of Asians is problematic, you can't deny that Hayakawa's performance is stunning. Even as a silent film star, he had an exciting, powerful screen presence.

To learn more about Sessue Hayakawa's life and career, check out the book Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom by Daisuke Miyao, published last year from Duke University Press. Also, one of his most acclaimed works, The Dragon Painter, restored and digitally re-mastered with a new score, was just released on DVD this week.

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