yellow apparel: when the coolie becomes cool

Several friends sent me this link to yellow apparel: when the coolie becomes cool, a student documentary project by Anmol Chaddha, Naomi Iwasaki, Sonya Zehra Mehta, Muang Saechao and Sheng Wang examining the cultural commodification/ appropriation of Asian items in the context of social position and historical experiences of Asian Americans. Think Madonna's "Nothing Really Matters" video and Gwen Stefani's whole Harajuku obsession.

This film was actually put together way back in 2001, but was only recently digitized and uploaded to YouTube. It was originally created for a class project, shot on Hi-8, and was never really intended to be shown elsewhere, but ended up screening at a handful of film festivals. Here's the synopsis:
In examining the recent trendiness of Asian cultural elements, such as bindis, Buddhist beads, and Chinese character tattoos, 'yellow apparel: when the coolie becomes cool' (2000) asks whether this commodification of Asian culture signals the acceptance of Asian Americans into the cultural fabric of America.

Produced by a group of undergraduates at UC-Berkeley, the video forces the viewer to consider the contradictions between the current fashionability of Asian symbols and the history of oppression suffered by Asian Americans. For example, what does it mean that many white folks like to dress up as Asians while, at the same time, scientist Wen Ho Lee is systematically mistreated because of his Asian appearance?

Combining commentary and spoken word poetry, 'yellow apparel' presents the material with humor, pride, and passion.

The documentary also draws connections between these issues as they concern Asian Americans and the ways in which Black culture is appropriated while Black communities are marginalized throughout society. While explaining the appropriation of an exotic Asia as an attempt to fill the void created by a bureaucratized suburban lifestyle in America, 'yellow apparel' does not attempt to provide a clear-cut solution but rather a critical and informed examination of the commodification of Asian culture.
Watch yellow apparel on YouTube in three parts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

I've never seen this before. I'd never heard of it. It's kind of rough, and drags in a lot of spots. But it's a pretty interesting look at a lot of different issues that have never really gone away, and are still really relevant today. In fact, there have been quite a few incidents and flare-ups (as well as victories) that have happened in the last seven years that easily could've been included in this documentary. (The Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt debacle immediately comes to mind.) Take a look, and learn a thing or two.

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