Representation Equals Possibilities: The Imagined Digital Future and Cinematic Representations of Chinese Americans


In the context of globalization and transnationalism, diasporic “Chineseness” is a sense of identity full of fluidity and diversity. For a long time, because of “otherness” and “Orientalism”, Asian immigrants always felt “being lost”, having to struggle about cultural confusions such as who they were and where they came from. In digital space, they were always misunderstood and misrepresented as the “other” during the early Hollywood time. But currently, with Awkwafina becoming the first Asian ever won the Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture on Golden Globes Awards, and Parasite becoming the first foreign-language film to win the Best Picture on Academy Awards, cinematic representations of Asian identities seem to win worldwide notice. The door is open for multiple voices. A new phase of Asian representation studies needs to be established beyond the transnational/national construction and nationalist/transnationalist dichotomy.

Focusing on digital and cinematic representations of Chinese Americans from the perspectives of media and cultural studies, this research uses qualitative studies as the main methodology, combined by geo-cultural studies, in-depth interviews, discourse analysis and participant observation. As the minority group, how to strike a balance between American and Chinese culture, and creatively transform the unique identities into positiveness, are the main themes for today’s Chinese Americans.

This study includes in-depth interviews with rising Chinese American filmmakers, including Awkwafina, Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), and Bing Liu (Minding the Gap). Living in the “in-between world”, these filmmakers are trying their best to cross cultural borders, voicing for themselves and their communities with courage and confidence through the power of storytelling. They are willing to retrospect their cultural roots, create more possibilities for Chinese immigrants, and embrace both Chinese and American cultures.

However, some limitations are inevitable, such as the homogenized representations of regional culture, and symbolized cultural imaginations of the “far East”. To make breakthroughs and promote the communications between Eastern and Western cultures is also of significant importance for the future digital representations of Chinese diaspora.

Through exploring cinematic representations of Chinese Americans and broadening the meaning of Chinese cinema, this research aims to offer some timely observations and contextualization of the intriguing and crucial moment of Chinese immigrants, as well as the changing cultural identity of “Chineseness”. Considering cinema’s roots in ethonography, the conceptual framework is developed through perspectives of cultural studies and immigrant studies, including representations of otherness, new immigration wave, generation gap, as well as fluid and heterogenous cultural identities of Chinese diaspora.

Representation equals possibilities. This research is only a beginning, and I will conduct further studies related to Chinese immigrants, with particular concentrations on artistic representations of cultural identities. Chinese American cinema is like the other side of the wind. Although there is still a long way to go to fully integrate into the “mainstream wind”, at least they exist, and they have the power. To move on with courage and inclusiveness, to participate in conversations, that is the main power of storytelling and transcultural artistic representations.