The Hypersexuality of Race

Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene

The Hypersexuality of Race

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 64 b&w photos Published: July 2007

Asian American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Media Studies > Film

In The Hypersexuality of Race, Celine Parreñas Shimizu urges a shift in thinking about sexualized depictions of Asian/American women in film, video, and theatrical productions. Shimizu advocates moving beyond denunciations of sexualized representations of Asian/American women as necessarily demeaning or negative. Arguing for a more nuanced approach to the mysterious mix of pleasure, pain, and power in performances of sexuality, she advances a theory of “productive perversity,” a theory which allows Asian/American women—and by extension other women of color—to lay claim to their own sexuality and desires as actors, producers, critics, and spectators.

Shimizu combines theoretical and textual analysis and interviews with artists involved in various productions. She complicates understandings of the controversial portrayals of Asian female sexuality in the popular Broadway musical Miss Saigon by drawing on ethnographic research and interviews with some of the actresses in it. She looks at how three Hollywood Asian/American femme fatales—Anna May Wong, Nancy Kwan, and Lucy Liu—negotiate representations of their sexuality; analyzes 1920s and 1930s stag films in which white women perform as sexualized Asian characters; and considers Asian/American women’s performances in films ranging from the stag pornography of the 1940s to the Internet and video porn of the 1990s. She also reflects on two documentaries depicting Southeast Asian prostitutes and sex tourism, The Good Woman of Bangkok and 101 Asian Debutantes. In her examination of films and videos made by Asian/American feminists, Shimizu describes how female characters in their works reject normative definitions of race, gender, and sexuality, thereby expanding our definitions of racialized sexualities in representation.


The Hypersexuality of Race demonstrates that though pleasure might mimic complicity, its radical unruliness is far from simple. Equipped with a filmmaker’s sensitivity to the tangled and unstable desires of authors, directors, actors, and filmic personae . . . Shimizu provocatively addresses the provocations of Asian/American sex kittens, porn stars, and femme fatales who flaunt their brazen sexuality/or who have sex on screen.” — Michelle Har Kim, Women's Studies

The Hypersexuality of Race is a highly adventurous, interdisciplinary project that closely examines the racialized and sexualized representations of Asian and Asian American women in different genres of performance. . . . Shimizu engages complex problems in highly original and exciting ways, leaving many of the issues open for future contestation and critical inquiry. Such openness to alternative possibilities and new insights attests to her own artistic and political creativity, both on display in this refreshing and at times startling work.” — Fei Shi, New England Theatre Journal

The Hypersexuality of Race is an elegantly written, intellectually invigorating, and necessary addition to gender studies, Asian American studies, and moving images studies. Equally, as porn studies continues to gain serious academic interest, intelligent studies of race and sex like Parreñas-Shimizu’s volume will become indispensable.” — Jun Okada, Journal of Asian American Studies

“[I]t is a controversial [book]; scholars will want to weigh in on it. Recommended. Graduate students through professionals.” — B. M. McNeal, Choice

“An intriguing examination of the Asian femme fatale in cinema. . . . Guiding readers on a well-documented foray into the world of erotic cinema, Shimizu argues that these representations are expressions of a desire for better, more realistic representations of race and gender.” — Teresa Coates, Curve

“I found the book to be both bracing and disturbing, its central and overriding ambivalence about the representation of women’s sexuality a mirror of my own soul in many ways...” — Adrienne L. McLean, Cinema Journal

“Instead of simply criticizing [sexualized depictions of Asian-American women] as degrading and insulting, Shimizu champions a more complex analysis of Asian-American women’s representations that draws from queer theory and foregrounds the notion of ‘productive perversity’ through close readings, theoretical foreplay, and unexpected interviews. . . . [A]mbitious. . . .” — Kimberly Chun, Bitch

“The book is a rigorous and intriguing attempt to reframe and recapture the self-determination of Asian American women in film representations . . . . Parreñas-Shimizu should be commended for her bold attempt to relocate the debate on Asian American women in film.” — Valerie Soe, Afterimage

“Where The Hypersexuality of Race succeeds most is in its attempts to complicate and compound the depictions of Asian/American women on screen with the experiences of Asian/American viewers. . . . The Hypersexuality of Race is a welcome addition to Asian/American and media studies, enabling future scholars to build on the author's germinal research and analysis.” — Catherine Clepper, Jump Cut

The Hypersexuality of Race promises to be an influential and perhaps notorious book. Refusing to shy away from the complexity of sexuality and its contradictory meanings, Celine Parreñas Shimizu does not distinguish between positive (or politically correct) and negative sex acts but rather situates Asian (American) women’s expressions of sexuality in relation to racial formation, class consciousness, and other discourses of identity. She emphasizes context and contingency.” — Peter X Feng, author of Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video

“I find The Hypersexuality of Race nothing short of brilliant, a rigorous and galvanizing scholarly endeavor that promises to make an immediate impact on the fields of Asian American studies, feminist theory, theater and performance studies, and film and cultural studies.” — Daphne A. Brooks, author of Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850–1910


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Celine Parreñas Shimizu is Associate Professor of Asian American, Film, and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a filmmaker whose movies include The Fact of Asian Women (2002), which won four national festival awards; Super Flip (1997); and Her Uprooting Plants Her (1995).

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. The Hypersexuality of Asian/American Women: Toward a Politically Productive Perversity on Screen and Scene 1

2. The Bind of Representation: Performing and Consuming Hypersexuality in Miss Saigon 30

3. The Sexual Bonds of Racial Stardom: Asian American Femme Fatales in Hollywood 58

4. Racial Threat or Racial Treat? Performing Yellowface Sex Acts in Stag Films, 1920–34 102

5. Queens of Anal, Double, Trip, and the Gangbang: Producing Asian/American Feminism in Pornography, 1940s–1990s 140

6. Sex Tourists with Movie Cameras and Prostitutes without Movie Cameras: Politicizing the Bottom in Southeast Asian Sex Tourist Movies 185

7. The Political Power of Hypersexuality in Asian American Feminist Films 226

8. New Horizons in Race-Positive Sexuality 267

Notes 275

Bibliography 301

Index 325
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Co-Winner, 2007 Association of Asian American Studies Best Book in Cultural Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4033-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4012-6
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