Fox Movie Channel Bans Charlie Chan Movies

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - The Fox Movie Channel abruptly cancelled its planned Charlie Chan film festival last week after complaints from an Asian American group that the character was "one of the most offensive Asian caricatures of America's cinematic past."

The Fox Movie Channel announced on June 27 on its website that it was canceling its several-months-long "Charlie Chan's Mystery Tour" because the "films may contain situations or depictions that are sensitive to some viewers."

The note to viewers said, "Fox Movie Channel realizes that these historic films were produced at a time where racial sensitivities were not as they are today. As a result of the public response to the airing of these films, Fox Movie Channel will remove them from the schedule." The detective series featured the Asian character Charlie Chan in more than 40 movies beginning in the silent era of the 1920s and continuing into the late 1940s.

The pressure to cancel the movie broadcasts came from Asian groups, including the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), which called Chan "a hoary stereotype that has dogged Asian Americans for decades."

In a letter to the Fox Movie Channel, Eddie Wong, executive director of NAATA, wrote that growing up in 1950s Los Angeles,...Charlie Chan's shuffling, subservient manner and exaggerated accent and fortune-cookie chatter did not resemble my parents, friends or any Chinese person I knew.

"By running the Chan movies, the Fox Movie Channel (is) reviving hurtful stereotypes instead of helping our society move toward harmony," Wong added.

The decision is not sitting well with Charlie Chan fans.

Tim Lucas, editor and co-publisher of the monthly magazine Video Watchdog, said: "Fox [Movie Channel] caved in" and decided to cancel the Chan films in an attempt to rewrite history.

"There is nothing objectionable about the character of Chan himself ... It boils down to over-sensitivity," Lucas said in an interview with

Lucas dismissed Wong's contention that the Chan character had engaged in "fortune-cookie chatter" in the films.

"Actually, what Charlie Chan does much of the time is quote the teaching of Confucius, which is philosophy and not on the level of fortune-cookie aphorisms at all," Lucas explained.

"It seems to me Eddie Wong is insulting his own people more so than Charlie Chan," he added.

The fictional character Charlie Chan is based on the historical figure of Honolulu Police Department Detective Chang Apana. Apana worked on the Honolulu police force for 34 years in the early 20th century and was known for his "remarkable achievements" and "daring feats" as a detective, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

Novelist Earl Derr Biggers modeled the fictional Charlie Chan after Apana's legendary feats.

The Chan series featured various actors portraying the detective. Swedish actor Warner Oland, who according to Lucas, credits his Asian appearance to Mongolian ancestry, popularized the role of Chan. The movies also featured actor Keye Luke as Charlie Chan's "number one son," who attempted to help his dad solve cases but mostly served as comic relief in the films.

'Multicultural society'

Fox Movie Channel justified its original decision to broadcast the films in its website statement.

" ... Fox Movie Channel scheduled these films in a showcase intended to illustrate the positive aspects of these movies, such as the complex storylines/characters and Charlie Chan's great intellect. Additionally, numerous subscribers to Fox Movie Channel, as well as film historians, have long requested that Fox Movie Channel broadcast these films," the website stated.

"In the hope that [the cancellation] will evoke discussion about the progress made in our modern, multicultural society, we invite you to please click CONTACT US to send us your thoughts on the matter," the website statement concluded.

Lucas contacted the Fox Movie Channel to protest its decision to cancel the Chan movie festival.

"If the Charlie Chan films continue to be branded unfit entertainment, where does that leave a film like D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms (with Richard Barthelmess as a Chinese man), or Luise Rainer's Oscar-winning performance in The Good Earth, or Spielberg's Indiana Jones films, which actually demonize its Eastern and German characters in the manner of a '40s pulp magazine?" Lucas wrote in a letter to Fox Movie Channel.

"Or is it acceptable to portray an Asian as the Devil incarnate as long as a real Asian or Asian-American is playing the role?" he asked.

'Politically correct world'

Charlie Chan fan websites are full of angry fans expressing disgust with Fox Movie Channel and condemning the "politically correct world" that made the ban possible.

This is not the first time television channels have faced the decision about whether to air potentially offensive stereotypes of racial or ethnic groups. The television program Amos n' Andy has been absent from television for decades, and certain cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry have been pulled or edited by the Cartoon Network because of concern over the portrayals of Japanese characters, Native Americans and other minorities.

The cartoon character Speedy Gonzales was nearly taken off the Cartoon Network in 2001 because the rodent was deemed an offensive stereotype to Hispanics. However, a coalition of Hispanic groups led by the League of Latin American Citizens successfully fought to have Speedy return to the airwaves, under the slogan "Viva Speedy."

See Related Story:
Cartoon Censorship Blamed on 'Politically Correct White Mentality'
(Sept. 27, 2002)

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