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Japanese Americans, internment, civil rights, Asian Americans, minorities


Invited paper for the Suffolk University Law Review's symposium on "Portrayal of the Outsider in Cinema."


This article examines the conflicting film narratives about the internment from 1942 through 2007. It argues that while later film narratives, especially documentaries, counter early government film narratives justifying the internment, these counter-narratives have their own damaging hegemony. Whereas earlier commercial films tell the internment story through the eyes of sympathetic whites, using a conventional civil rights template … Japanese and other Asian American documentary filmmakers construct their Japanese characters as model minorities — hyper-citizens, super patriots. Further, the internment experience remains largely a male story. With the exception of Emiko Omori’s documentary film memoir, Rabbit in the Moon (2004), the stories and voices of Japanese American women, who with their children comprised the bulk of internees, are marginalized…. Thus I argue that the shadow of the internment experience affects Asian American documentarians’ telling of the internment story. These filmmakers engage in a degree of self-censorship, crafting their stories to show Japanese Americans as a model minority to counter persistent perceptions of Asian American as foreigners—marginal citizens’ whose loyalty is forever suspect.


Civil Rights and Discrimination