Thursday, 2 October, 2014

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Charlie Chan, the Enduring Detective

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Except for Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan was once arguably the world’s most famous detective. Then, in the 1960’s both Asian-American and African-American groups protested the television showing of films about Chan. Strangely, the former group found Chan a negative stereotype. The latter group had more reason to complain. Beginning with Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), blacks were often added to the casts for comic relief, and their portrayals were offensive. In that movie Stepin Fetchit played a character called “Snowshoes.” In the films made by Monogram Studios, Chan had a chauffeur named “Birmingham Brown,” played by Mantan Moreland, whose reaction to danger was chattering teeth and the line, “Feets get me out of here!”




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Description: Charlie Chan, by Marv Lachman
Release of video cassettes and showing Chan films on cable television around 1990 introduced a new generation to the Hawaiian sleuth. Then political correctness seemed to rear its head. Typical was Charlie Chan Is Dead, a 1993 anthology of contemporary Asian-American fiction, edited by Jessica Hagedorn, whose stated goal was to destroy what she considered stereotypes. It has been years since I’ve noticed a Chan movie in the TV listings. American Movie Classics, the cable channel that once showed the films, began showing commercials, which may account for its cautiousness.

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