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Book explores intersection of Asian & black culture in popular media

Associate Professor Crystal Anderson's first book, “Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production,” was published this summer.

Associate Professor Crystal Anderson

Bruce Lee meant many things to many people as he emerged in American pop culture in the early 1970s. The famed Chinese-American martial artist-turned-actor is best known for “Fist of Fury” and “The Chinese Connection,” cinematic productions that fuse action with subtle messaging about contemporary racial issues in both the United States and Japan.

The films themselves helped give rise to contemporary works of multiethnic pop culture, including the "Rush Hour" movie series starring Chris Rock and Jackie Chan, as well as novels and anime that blend the history, values and aspirations of many blacks and Asians.

It’s the “hidden history” of both groups that interests Associate Professor Crystal Anderson, whose first book, “Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production,” looks at the intersection of black and Asian culture in the later years of the 20th century and the early years of the current millennium.

Since the 1960s, when ethnic studies first emerged as fields of academic study, scholars have focused almost exclusively on political and sociological overlaps between groups. Anderson points to many other ways in which people of different heritages come together, notably in media and the arts.

“For groups that may have direct contact with each other, we can see evidence of cultural exchange in art, in film and in music,” Anderson said.

Published this summer by the University of Mississippi Press, the book uses Bruce Lee as a lens through which to study exchanges. Arguably, there was no figure more recognized and admired among African Americans, Asians and Asian Americans as films like “Enter the Dragon,” “The Chinese Connection” and “The Big Boss” introduced Lee as a hero and global cultural icon who resonated with their experiences.

More than just a site for non-white resistance, his films established Lee as a cross-cultural icon within a transnational context. Anderson argues that Lee’s films also set the framework for future contributions to cross-cultural productions. "The Matrix" trilogy, for example, reflects the same type of multicultural protagonists resisting a dominance symbolically represented by white men.

Many people don’t have direct contact with those of other cultures, Anderson said, which is why the study of media is critical. For a large number of individuals, it’s the only way they learn about their differences with others. “Culture is important,” she said. “Culture can do work that politics can’t do.”

Anderson, the Academic Diversity Fellow at the university, joined Elon’s Department of English in 2008 having taught at the University of Kansas and Ohio University in Athens. She coordinated the university’s American Studies interdisciplinary program from 2010-2011.

A native of Richmond, Va., Anderson earned her doctorate in American Studies from the College of William & Mary. She had majored in English at the University of Richmond before earning a master’s degree in the same field from the University of Virginia.

Her current research focuses on K-pop, the “Korean Wave” of popular music and film exemplified by artists such as Psy and his popular American radio hit, “Gangnam Style.” Anderson has started work on a project that explores the influence of R&B on contemporary K-pop music.

Eric Townsend,
7/21/2013 8:00 PM