Asian Girlz music video Director Michael Steinberg is getting very little response to his visual interpretation of the song. As the director, he is responsible for the scenes, editing, camera angles, etc. He is responsible in one way or another for everything except the lyrics of the song. So, any response to actress Levy Tran, for instance, should also have been a question or a critique to Steinberg.
Worse, while Levy Tran has made an apology, and the band has made some insufficient apologies for their racist and sexist lyrics, in the Twitter conversations below, director Steinberg comes off as completely unwilling to reconsider his video scripting and his objectifying camera angles.
It would be better for the director to answer criticism with a bit of self-reflection. How much being called out does it take before an ‘artist’ will really think it through instead of coming up with lame reasons to pass on their own responsibility for using their "art" platform for racist or sexist ideas?
Steinberg is absolutely responsible for the concept of the music video. His Tweet back in February shares this concept:
As far back as… uh… January, he was preparing for the project:
This is how Steinberg has decided to deal with audience criticism. He merely asserts that his work is ‘Art’ without intention to be racist or sexist. Please Note *underlining added for emphasis, you know, because I am EDITING and taking CREATIVE CONTROL over how to explain my INTENT and TELL a story:
By writing the above responses, Steinberg denies that his own work could also be exploitative. The director is defensive and asserts his work is great. Rather than reflect, he turns responsibility back on the audience to define for him 'the line.' At best, he asks 'should we take it down' but his exchanges with audience members refuse to acknowledge his role as as director and the impact his work has had on the audience.
I'm not sure that Michael Steinberg's writing can demonstrate the nuanced understanding of race that would be required for him to claim that he is producing 'Art' about racial stereotypes. His own writing is full of intentionally used cliches, particularly evident in his publicly accessible writing sample for a TV Pilot titled ICE that he describes as a "procedural about Immigration and Customs Enforcement."
Note how non-white characters are introduced by name, followed immediately by race, then a character motive description (sometimes playing into stereotype). Meanwhile, characters he intends to be white are not given any racial description at all. It is pretty clear that as a writer, he writes from the perspective of, and for white audiences. Why is it hard to understand that his 'Art' could be received differently by non-white or racially-conscious audiences? Probably because Steinberg lacks sufficient self-reflection about his role as an ‘Artist’ and that his writing, creative control and direction of pieces portray people of color.
The song and its music video are totally unclear and ineffective if their intent is to mock Orientalizing fetishism or racist attitudes. In filming the music video, a couple of smarter choices might go further to establish its cred as a critique. One example, Steinberg’s decision to shoot the striptease scene from this angle puts Levy Tran on display as an object of The Male Gaze. Perhaps simply shooting from a level angle could make a difference by shifting emphasis from objectification of her body and toward her performance. This is a fundamental concept in cinematography that even I, with no background in film, can grasp and am aware of.
Steinberg didn't want to respond to our critique or explain his creative decisions as director of the music video:
If Steinberg’s intent was to poke fun at guys who fetishize, he fails big. A director/artist is supposed to think about audience. Even commentators who are sympathetic to the claim that the video was intended to make fun of racists point out it’s utter failure. For example, GangnamBoy writes, “I’m sure most of the intended audience will be too stupid to even understand the "message." They’ll just stare at the hot girl. The problem is that they just aren’t clever enough to make a satire. Whatever message they’re trying to say is just going to be lost in internet comment wars.”
Furthermore, a good critique doesn't need to be EXPLAINED in an interview or post or Tweet. An ‘artist’ shouldn’t need to inform the audience at large that "no no I totally meant to make fun of racists... I just failed, but this is ‘Art’ with a capital A so I am absolved of your critique." These excuses really don’t work if your project just regurgitates racist words/ideas.
To wrap this up, I love that rather than promote Steinberg’s video, some groups have started to make alternate play lists, such as Feed The People Playlist: APIAFemale-Identified Musicians by Sean Miura.
Read our other posts in this series on Asian Girlz Apologies:
Part 1 critiques the problematic racism and sexism in Day Above Ground's lyrics and apology
Part 3 addresses the online and media community and the slut-shaming of Levy Tran
I enjoyed a chat about the Asian Girlz MV with my good friend Taylor Bradley, parts of which I’d like to share here in the hope that others will join our conversation (in the comments section below). We discussed what we though the band and director might have ‘expected’ and we touch on an ongoing debate about cultural appropriation in the music industry. We end by addressing the ‘Art’ of the Asian Girlz music video.
[Chelle B. Mille] want to contribute a reaction for my blog?
[Chelle B. Mille] calling for your solidarity~
[Taylor Bradley] god thats painful
[Taylor Bradley] lyrics music the fucking faces
[Taylor Bradley] *their
[Taylor Bradley] i wonder what the reception they were expecting
[Chelle B. Mille] yeah... the part of the video that they shot IN China Town or KTown was confusing... I wonder, did they just tell people they were shooting a video, or were those folks fans, had they heard the song?
[Chelle B. Mille] As for Levy Tran, just because one individual who is a woman and Asian consents to the song with participation... doesn't mean it is a good idea or is gonna fly... but maybe it made them think there would be a positive reception to the song?
[Taylor Bradley] im not sure how bad appropriation is. I mean GDragon wears his hat sideways....
[Chelle B. Mille] are you thinking about the blackface image where he mimics other celebrities that wear a hoodie in solidarity for Trayvon Martin... but in blackface?
[Taylor Bradley] no. just wearing his hat sideways
[Chelle B. Mille] I don't think that in and of itself upsets anybody... its when someone then tries to put on a 'performance' of another culture... like separating an unknowing performance from its history or context. If an American woman performs as aegyo... what does that performance mean?
[Chelle B. Mille] likewise when Hyuna sings about having dark ‘chocolate’ skin in a kpop MV ‘ghetto’ in her Ice Cream MV... the appropriation of cultural history, music, fashion, etc. do come across problematically in my opinion. It ties into racialized consumption or use of anothers culture while also taking over control of its interpretation.
[Taylor Bradley] i dont know. i feel the problem is only when you appropriate the bad symbols.
[Chelle B. Mille] hmm
[Taylor Bradley] like if kanye wanted to wear a kimono that would be fine
[Taylor Bradley] but if he wore a [Japanese] imperial officers uniform
[Taylor Bradley] that wouldnt be fine
[Chelle B. Mille] what examples show good/bad appropriation? or is there a distinction to draw between appreciation vs. appropriation?
[Taylor Bradley] second question: i dont think so
[Chelle B. Mille] I think it matters what he does in the kimono, too. And the original use of the kimono. That is why the "headdress Indian" costume is offensive to some... the headdress is a sacred religious artifact being disrespected at a kegger party.
[Taylor Bradley] yeah that makes senses
[Taylor Bradley] be careful with bad symbols, and be respectful with good ones
[Taylor Bradley] maybe thats the rule
[Chelle B. Mille] but I can't figure out a method to distinguish clearly and instructively how to evaluate appropriation. seems the logical first step is to be knowledgeable about the culture... but then we still have to be careful about not perceiving a right to appropriate based on being 'in the field' as so so so many anthropologists have done in the past.
[Taylor Bradley] i like my morality simple
[Taylor Bradley] rule one: dont be a dick
[Chelle B. Mille] yeah... it ought to be common sense like the guideline you mention, but wow, we are capable of such stupidity
[Taylor Bradley] rule two: follow rule one
[Chelle B. Mille] lol
[Taylor Bradley] i think that if you are showing respect to another person culture your fine
[Taylor Bradley] its usually not hard to tell
[Taylor Bradley] with the days above ground guys though
[Taylor Bradley] they werent trying to be disrespectful, just fucking clueless
[Chelle B. Mille] hmmm... I think they were trying to 'push boundaries'
second line about butt fucking... they weren't being respectful for sure... they wanted shock value... they wanted to use sex to sell records... they just vomited up every cliche they could think of
[Taylor Bradley] haha
[Taylor Bradley] but their response seemed so naive
[Taylor Bradley] youre right they may be savvier than im giving them credit for
[Chelle B. Mille] hahaha... I may assume everyone is devious until proven dumb
Michael Steinberg's Tweets from https://twitter.com/cine_fix
Michael Steinberg's writing sample was posted to his website at http://michaelsteinbergfilms.com/writing