Hollywood has always served as a seething melting pot. From the racist spectacular Birth of a Nation (1915) to Al Jolson’s blackface in The Jazz Singer (1927) to Hattie McDaniel’s groundbreaking Oscar for Gone with the Wind (1939), popular cinema challenged viewers to ponder the complexities of race long before it became a fit topic for textbooks, newspapers and political debate.
This discourse was not limited to the relationship between blacks and whites. The broad group of ethnicities known as Asian-Americans also saw themselves controversially represented on screen well before they entered other cultural conversations. Wily, nefarious Chinamen became reliable stock figures in the early days of film, ever