Volume 1, Issue 2, 1998
Radicalism at the Century's End and the Dawn of the New Millenium
“Top Dog,” “Black Threat,” and “Japanese Cats”
The Impact of the White-Black Binary on Asian-American Identity
This essay is a reading of two Hollywood films: The Defiant Ones (1958, directed by Stanley Kramer, starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier) and Rising Sun (1993, directed by Philip Kauffman starring Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery, based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name). The essay argues that these films work to contain black demand for social and political equality not through exclusionary measures, but rather through deliberate acknowledgment of blackness as integral to US identity. My reading shows how a homosocial bond between white and black stands in for US national identity, and how this identity is unified by foregrounding the threat of an apocalyptic outcome. I use the concept of brinkmanship to illustrate the political effects of this particular narrative form. Then I move to Rising Sun, a film that employs a racial triangle of white, black and Asian men to manage black demand for social change. I argue that the narrative logic and the cultural politics of the film require any figure that is both Asian and masculine to be coded as a foreign enemy.