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The Risks of Flat Characters

by Madelyn Cory

In an interview with bell hooks, Wayne Wang agrees that without enough space to develop a character, as hooks says, "you run the risk of reproducing a flat or stereotypical image." This is especially the case with the side character of Violet, or should we say, "the hottest chili pepper this side of the Rio Grande."

 

Violet enters the bar attached to the hip of male counterpart Auggie. She is sexualized through her revealing wardrobe of tight leather pants and low cut shirt. Auggie’s dominant position gives him free range to spin her and feel her shapely body. He calls her “Miss Violet Sanchez de Jalapeño.”

 

In hooks’ interview with Wang it’s clear he was aware of Violet appearing as an offensive stereotype, but as stated above, he took the risk. What are the risks of including a stereotypical two-minute performance?

 

On one hand, Violet’s performance can be interpreted as racially and sexually offensive. She is presented as a caricature of her culture and gender. Her big hoop earrings, bright red lipstick, tight leather pants, and thick accent mimic her culture, as well as Auggie declaring her as a hot chili pepper. She is further sexualized as a woman. She is physically attached to Auggie while he is given power and authority over her body – demonstrated by his aggressive touch.

 

However, when critically analyzing the narrative, Violet’s performance can potentially comment on Wang’s motif of difference. The theme driving the narrative is being open-minded to individuals’ backgrounds. The film focuses on a small convenient store owned by Auggie. Throughout the film, people from all races and backgrounds interact and connect despite their perceived difference. Violet’s stereotypical performance could be read as blatant commentary about the sexualization of the female body. The obvious racial remarks bring her differences as a Latina to the forefront of the scene making it impossible not to notice that all the characters stem from different stereotypes but nonetheless bond with one another.

 

This motif of difference is common within Wang’s oeuvre and perhaps the reason he took the risk of portraying a two-dimensional character. Despite Violet’s subversive interpretation, the risk of reproducing offensive stereotypes is still possible – especially within a mainstream context. 

 

The Female Caricatures of Wayne Wang and Spike Lee: Smoke

by Michelle Robinson

This clip from director Wayne Wang’s Smoke(along with clips from Wang’s A Thousand Years of Good prayer and director Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Inside Man) will be used to explore how the two directors, who have created both Hollywood and independent films, negotiate and employ stereotypes in their films, particularly in their representations of women. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012)

Comparing Violet to Sloan from "Bamboozled"

by Katie Trott

Miss Violet Sanchez de Jalapeno in Wayne Wang’s Smoke is a female character completely different than Bamboozled’s Sloan, see “Spike Lee’s Stereotype of Sloan.” Violet plays a much more minor role in the film, as well as a much more obvious stereotype. Violet is literally present in this 2:30 minute scene and in no other part of the film. Her revealing clothes, big gold hoop earring, over-the-top PDA and thick accent make her dramatically stand apart from the rest of the characters in the scene who appear low-key and reserved.

Therefore, like Spike Lee, Wayne Wang is characterizing these women in a very stereotypical way. And both Violet and Sloane were clearly put in each film with an intentional purpose, though their purposes may differ. While Spike Lee’s Sloane is more of a stereotype of women in general and their inability to get to the top with their own hard work, Violet is more of a stereotype of the Latina woman. While there are many different characters in Smoke from a variety of ethnicities, Violet appears to have the smallest roles, and one of almost comic relief.

 

The lack of camera movement and editing in this scene further suggest that Violet’s character is of little importance. The camera focuses very little on Violet specifically, and does not provide any sort of emphasis on her as a character, but more so on her constant “hanging” on Auggie. Therefore, by using a non-moving camera and no editing Wang provides Violet with no voice and little significance. It appears that Wang’s directorial decision was to utilize Violet simply as a stereotype and nothing more. In order to move away from this “non-character” Wang would have had to increase the camera movement, editing or dialogue in order to place some focus on Violet.

Furthermore, because Violet is in a mere two minutes of the film and is shown hanging all over Auggie, she becomes sexualized and morphed into a sexual object rather than an actual women or character in Smoke. Violet says little to nothing in the entire scene, but is constantly touching, kissing, hugging or jumping on Auggie. Wang portrays Violet not as a relevant character but more of an accessory Auggie is hauling around the bar. Therefore, like Lee’s portrayal of women, we see Wang portray Violet as sort of a non-character.

Violet, more so than Sloan is representative of a caricature because of the humorous role she presents. As opposed to Sloan, who plays a much more sober and serious role, and does not appear to provide any comic relief. Therefore, we see that both directors portray women in a way that is stereotypical of both females as well as their ethnicities, whether to merely use them as comic relief or belittle their character in general. 

Miss Violet Sanchez de Jalapeno

In this sequence from director Wayne Wang's film Smoke (a collaboration with well-known author Paul Auster), Augie (Harvey Keitel) and Violet (Mel Gorham) run into Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) at a bar.

from Smoke (1995)
Creator: Wayne Wang
Distributor: Miramax Home Entertainment
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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