It may rarely occur to most moviegoers that Asian men tend to appear in a limited spectrum of roles, when they appear at all. And that's the problem. For those who do think about such things, "The Slanted Screen" contains little new information. But to the presumed majority, this slick, intelligent documentary may be a revelation.
Jeff Adachi's film presents a litany of outrages: white actors in yellowface; Asian American actors locked into kung-fu or nerd roles; the sexlessness of Asian men on screen. Adachi supports his thesis with jaw-droppingly racist clips such as Mickey Rooney's turn as the buck-toothed Japanese neighbor in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and the bane of so many Asian American teenage boys' existences, Gedde Watanabe's ultra-geek Long Duk Dong in "Sixteen Candles."
The struggle against stereotype is traced from the silent-film career of surprising sex symbol Sessue Hayakawa to the present, in testimonials from accomplished actors such as James Shigeta, the late Mako and young performers like the very funny Bobby Lee (of MADtv). Interviewees tell damning stories of current Hollywood attitudes, including a neutered ending for the Jet Li hit "Romeo Must Die" and radical script revisions on TV's "The O.C."
Objective data and more sound bites from others besides male Asian Americans might have helped make the case. It's ironic to talk about needing more participants who are not Asian American men, but this well-researched film's influence can only increase as it reaches beyond that circle -- to those who never thought there was a problem.