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Takashi Fujitani. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Flaherty lecture considers Hollywood icon’s depiction of Asia, Asians

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

From his early-career westerns to his starring role in the Dirty Harry franchise to his directorial work and political activism, Clint Eastwood claims a place in pop consciousness as an embodiment of American machismo and nationalistic pride. Over the decades, the iconic actor-director has helped define and interpret American culture and American manhood in the minds of moviegoers in America and around the world. And, says Takashi Fujitani, he also reflects and shapes American attitudes about Asia and Asian peoples.

Fujitani is the Dr. David Chu Chair in Asia Pacific Studies and professor of history at the University of Toronto, and his research focuses on modern and contemporary Japanese, East Asian, Asian American and transnational histories. During an Oct. 24 lecture at Dickinson, "Cold War Clint: Asia in the World of an American Icon," he argued that by looking closely at Eastwood's life and work, we can engage in larger historical and contemporary issues of racism, war and violence and find useful insights on the United States’ Cold War and post-Cold War relationships to Asia.

Speaking in the Stern Center Great Room, Fujitani pointed to depictions of Japan, Korea, Hmong and Vietnam, as portrayed in the films Letters From Iwo Jima, Heartbreak Ridge, Gran Torino, and Firefox, respectively. He noted that the Japanese were depicted as "civilized and modern," and the Hmong were made to appear as "brutal, backward and weak," while the Vietnamese and Korean people and societies were shown as "somewhere in between."

Fujitani is the editor of the series Asia Pacific Modern (University of California Press), and he has held grants and fellowships from the John S. Guggenheim Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, Stanford Humanities Center and Social Science Research Council. His books include Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan (University of California Press, 1996), Perilous Memories: The Asia Pacific War(s) (Duke University Press, 2001), and Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans in WWII (University of California Press, 2011).

The esteemed scholar came to Dickinson to deliver the lecture as part of the Donald W. Flaherty lecture series, an annual event that brings experts in Asian studies to campus. The series is supported by a fund established in 1987 by students, colleagues and friends of Donald Flaherty, a pioneer in the development of Asian studies at Dickinson.

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Published October 24, 2016