Western culture has forever stereotyped Asian men as somehow not masculine. Over and over again, we are fed clichés that Asian males are sexless and nerdy types who are underrepresented in sports because they're athletically inferior. As VICELAND host Eddie Huang put it: "We count good, we bow well, we are technologically proficient, we're naturally subordinate, our male anatomy is the size of a thumb drive, and we could never in a thousand millenniums be a threat to steal your girl."
In New Zealand, a new documentary Asian Men Talk About Sex is out to challenge those bullshit stereotypes. The short film, which is part of this year's Loading Docs initiative, shows that there's another side to Asian men, says director Chye-Ling Huang. They're sexy, but they've always been sidelined; in reality, Asian men deserve the spotlight just like anyone else.
The documentary is Huang's first foray into filmmaking—until now, she's been known for her writing and acting work in the local theatre scene—and the new direction came about after feeling dissatisfied with the status quo for such a long time. "Directing and writing is a way to create the kind of work that I want to see," she tells VICE. We sat down with her to find out more.
VICE: The documentary is called Asian Men Talk About Sex , which isn't something we usually see in mainstream media. Why do you think that is?
Chye-Ling Huang: From a media perspective, I think it's such a chicken and egg situation at the moment where it's like there aren't enough people in those positions of power that are Asian men or Asian creators of content. And if you do get those chances, how likely is it that you want to rock the boat? We don't have the same number of people represented in the media because we've never been given those chances. So how are you going to get to that level? There are no bankable Asian actors for ATC (Auckland Theatre Company) shows, for example, or in other forms of media because we're not giving them those opportunities to grow and to learn and to train.
There's heaps to unpack, obviously. Did you want to explore stereotypes in the film or is it more about shining a light on the untold experiences of Asian men?
I didn't really know, to be honest. For me, I love talking about and unpacking the dynamics of race and how that has a direct impact on my life and my humanity. It's so cerebral when you start talking about all this kind of stuff, but then when it comes down to your daily experiences, that's when it becomes really interesting. When it's like, this is actually how it emotionally affects me as a human, or in my interactions in life or a job or whatever.
What's beautiful about it is that sex is such a universal experience and that the joys and the awkwardness and the discoveries and the heartbreaks of sex are so human. Hearing the conversation without knowing that everyone's an Asian dude in the room, you could mistake it for anyone talking about sex. But then there are definitely layers to that, which are very uniquely Asian, that come directly from the traumas and expectations and stereotypes that are layered upon this really beautiful human experience of sex, which sucks.
How much of a role do you think race plays when it comes to sex and dating?
I think race plays a really big factor when it comes to sex and dating. The whole reason I got really interested in this was two things: I'm all about representation of Asians in media and I'm really fucking sick of seeing people in my life, who are Asian men that I love so much, being represented as bumbling idiots on the screen. The other thing is, personally from a female perspective—obviously I'm not an Asian man, but I have dated Asian men—a couple of years ago I started deconstructing my own racial and sexual prejudice and realised that it is a thing. So it's kind of that double-edged sword where you start reflecting on yourself and you're like "wow, Asian women are so sexualised and then you start looking out and you go wow, Asian men are so desexualised".
Did you always have it in mind to keep the focus solely on men in the documentary?
I think it's two different stories when it comes to the Asian experience of sex. Asian women are the most sexualised race, whereas Asian men are the lowest on the food chain when it comes to being sexualised or being chosen as sexual or romantic partners. So yeah, it's two really different conversations. Also, there's a three-minute deadline for Loading Docs, which is very daunting. I'd love to make another one with Asian women. I think the stories would be completely different. You've got so many different layers of misogyny and sexism that are all wrapped up in that as well. It's such a huge conversation and it deserves its own thing.
Was there a question you set out to answer when you began making the documentary?
Not really. I think for me, what I really wanted to achieve was truthful representation of Asian men on screen. Also, I really hoped that what we would find would be something really casually mind-blowing in the fact that the sheer truth of these men's stories would speak volumes to the opposite end of the spectrum of representation. I think I just really wanted people to see Asian men as they really are.
Everyone has sex. Everyone has a sex drive—most people; some people are asexual. It's a human thing and we shouldn't be ashamed of it. That's the whole point of this documentary. We shouldn't be ashamed of talking about sex. As well as debunking myths around Asian males, I think that as New Zealanders as a culture, we're so prudish when it comes to talking about sex.
Were there any common themes that emerged from the conversations you filmed?
One common theme that I never asked a direct question about was porn. Every single person talked about porn. Generally the way people learned about sex was like, sex education in school and porn. The sex education was a day or two, which taught them nothing, and then porn taught them everything about attitudes, how-tos, and dynamics between men and women. Just horrendous shit that they then had to unlearn. That was definitely a really common theme for most of the guys.
What sort of things do you think need to change for us to move forward?
I think the funding bodies that fund film and television and theatre in New Zealand are definitely upping their games in recent years. There's things like the Diversity Project Fund and there's different kinds of quotas with the Film Commission that are quite focused towards Māori, Pacific, Asian, and non-white stories. I think that's a huge step in the right direction. I think there can always be more that's done. It's all about media: personal attitudes aren't going to change unless media is reflecting it. It's a chicken and egg situation again. It needs to become "hot" before people want to do it, want to make it, and want to see it. But then it's like, no one's going to think it's hot unless it's being made, so we need more development programmes to develop Asian and non-white practitioners in film and television: writers, directors, producers, everything.
The tide is turning for sure. The more America changes, the more we get excited about it and want to do it too. Which isn't a bad thing. It's annoying, but it's not a bad thing. But that's what needs to happen, I suppose. It's so basic: we already know that Asian men have been here since 1842, and we know that Asian immigrants are coming over all the time. Regardless of how long someone's been here, they should be treated the same. We know that. It's a basic human decency. But when you see an Asian man walk across the street, or you see an Asian man pull out of a park in a bad way, your gut reaction or your internalised racism is always going to be the first thing that comes out. Unless people are having these conversations and actually going deep with it and seeing positive examples to shove all that shit to the side, it's not going to change.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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