MOCATalks: The Chinese Parrot: Genre Films and Charlie Chan with R. John Williams

Thu, Oct 10, 2019 @ 6:30pm - 7:30pm



Tickets are $15 and include wine, and Museum admission. Members receive complimentary tickets. Not a Member? Join today!


If the "Oriental" detective Charlie Chan seen in Twentieth-Century Fox films of the 1930s and 1940s was such a cliched stereotype, why did so many Asian Americans seem to enjoy the films? Why was Werner Oland, the swedish actor who is best known for playing the character, celebrated as a "native son" when he visited China in the 1930s? The public reception and understanding of these films has often been as complicated as the murder mysteries they portray. This presentation offers an explanation for the films' reception, as well as an attempt to explain why the genre itself seemed to need a character like Charlie Chan. What emerges is a vision of the films in which race and ethnicity themselves become things to be strategically "parroted" rather than inhabited as essential categories.


R. John Williams is a professor of English and Film and Media Studies at Yale University. His research focuses on international histories of technological innovation and the perceived difference of racial and cultural otherness. His book, The Buddha in the Machine: Art, Technology, and The Meeting of East and West (Yale University Press, 2014), examines the role of technological discourse in representations of Asian/American aesthetics in late-nineteenth and twentieth century film and literature. He is currently at work on a new book on philosophies of time.