Talking about prejudice
Written and directed by Tony Ayres
Produced by Helen Bowden
Screens on ABC-TV, February 19, 9pm
Review by Pip Hinman
This half-hour doco on racial stereotyping and discrimination within the gay community raises some important issues.
China Dolls is based on a series of interviews with gay Asian-Australians (including photographer and performer William Yang and actor Anthony Wong) who speak out about their experiences of being doubly oppressed — as Asians and as gay men.
While the film talks openly about problems within the gay scene (a reflection of wider society), breaking with the traditional taboo on such subject matter, unfortunately it does not venture much beyond this.
So, for instance, while we are acquainted with such terms as "rice queens" (Caucasians who like Asians) or "potato queens" (Asians who like Caucasians), and film maker Tony Ayres tells what it's like to be a "banana" (yellow on the outside and white on the inside), there is no attempt to explain why desire and racial and sexual stereotyping are connected. (In fact, I found that the accompanying notes say more than the film.)
Woven through China Dolls is Ayres' own story, from his denial of his Asian background and sexuality, to his growing awareness of the politics of race and acceptance of his Chinese and sexual identity.
In the end, all the interviewees became reconciled, one way or another, with their predicament. For one, it was a matter of becoming "more mature"; for another, it meant working out at the gym three times a week; another said it was a matter of coming to terms with the fact that he too was attracted to Caucasian, macho-looking gays.
Of course, there is no reason why the gay community should be immune to problems such as racism and sexism, which are endemic in broader society. But is talking about prejudice the answer to combating it? China Dolls seems to say so. Perhaps this is why, while promising, this documentary fell well short of the mark.