Asian American Linda Low sings it out loud with glee whereas newly immigrated Asian Mei Li definitely doesn’t feel the same way. American female stereotype and Asian female stereotype are deeply embedded in the movie Flower Drum Song (1961), and through constant contrast between the two and sexualizing both characters in a different way, the movie effectively portrays the Americanization of Asian Americans.
The first element of Americanization through sexualization in the movie is the clothing. The different between the things the two female characters wear is evident. Linda Low is always shown with light clothing that reveals her shape and line whereas Mei Li always wears china collar dress and shirts except for one time when she wears a rather revealing blue dress for the “American” celebration of Wang Ta’s graduation and Madame Liang’s certification. This rather sexualized clothing is a setting to show the “American-ness” of Linda Low by implementing the stereotypical American garments that contrasts with the reserved Chinese type of clothing of Mei Li. The same type of sexualized Americanization of female can also be found in Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” music video in which Mitski wears over-sized suit whereas the white American girl in the music video is wearing barely anything.
Another way of Americanization portrayed in the movie is through making contrast between sexually openness of Linda Low and Mei Li. In alignment of American stereotype, Linda is sexually open and active – even her job is the dancer at a night club. She is not afraid of making the first move as can be seen from the scene in which she and Wang Ta goes on a date in her white expensive car bought by another man, Sammy Fong. She actively tries to seduce Wang Ta and curls her arm over his shoulder luring him to kiss her although she has been seeing Sammy for the past five years and the relationship is still ongoing. On the other hand, Mei Li is very reserved and waits until men approach her first. She falls in love with Wang Ta the moment she met him but never tries anything to seduce him. It is not until Wang Ta tells her that he loves her that she confesses her crush, stereotypically “Asian.” Once again referring back to Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl,” Mitski stays in her position and all she does is to smile and wave hi whereas the American girl walks over to the man and starts making physical interaction with him.
Linda Low seducing Wang Ta
The contrast between the manipulativeness of Asian American character and the submissiveness of Asian character also conveys Americanization through sexualization, which ties back to the big topic of female autonomy, in the movie. Throughout the movie, Linda is characterized as a rather manipulative woman who has to claim whatever she wants hers. In a big sense, she uses Wang Ta to draw jealousy from Sammy Fong so that she can marry him and in a smaller sense, she leads the relationship with Wang Ta and tries to manipulate and set things as she wants. However, Mei Li is a very submissive character. She basically agrees to everything the elders tell her and even agrees to marry a man who is much older than her and who she has never seen before and most importantly, who she does not adore. Her submissiveness is well shown in “Don’t Marry Me” in which she tells Sammy Fong who desperately wants to avoid the marriage that they have to because it is “too late” and “the invitations have been sent, all is arranged,” not because of her will.
It is also very interesting how the movie drew contrast between Linda Low and Mei Li on their emotional explicitness, which is another way Americanization through sexualization is shown in the movie. Linda Low is extremely outspoken. She smiles when she is happy and shouts when she is angry. For example, in the scene in which she receives the marriage invitation of Sammy Fong and Mei Li, she pushes Sammy away, yells at him out of rage, and throws the invitation to him to express her anger. This may seem like a perfectly normal response, but Mei Li’s extreme reticence and lack of her emotional expression makes Linda look outspoken and inexorable. Unlike Linda, Mei Li tends to swallow her emotions and doesn’t show them on her face. Even when she founds Wang Ta in Helen Chao’s place in appropriate hour, instead of showing her disappointment and anger she decides to run away from the place and from Wang Ta as well. If Linda was in the same situation, she would most likely start a fight with Wang Ta and Helen Chao, taking her character in the movie in consideration.
The movie Flower Drum Song effectively makes use of so many stereotypes to convey Americanization happening in Asian American society, centered to Asian American females. The clothing, sexually openness, manipulativeness, emotional explicitness and so many more elements in the film emphasize the sexualization of both Asian American and Asian characters which clearly shows the classic and stereotypical Americanization. Fun fact here is that although majority of the setting and characterization are based on stereotypes, they seem to quite accurately depict Americanization.