Sessue Hayakawa

A photograph of Sessue Hayakawa [Advertisement, Moving Picture World, July 1918]
A photograph of Sessue Hayakawa [Advertisement, Moving Picture World, July 1918. Accessed September 25, 2015 on Wikipedia]

Born Kintaro Hayakawa in Chiba, Japan on June 10, 1889, Sessue Hayakawa was an Issei* actor famous in both Hollywood and non-American films. Hayakawa appeared in well over 80 films, and following his film acting career, went on to become a theatre actor, producer, and director. In 1957, Hayakawa received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai, however his prolific career began decades before he was recognized for this role.

Although in the twenty-first century East Asian men are often represented in American popular culture as effeminate, and therefore – according to Western heterosexual patriarchal standards – not sexually attractive, Hayakawa was well-known during the early twentieth century as the first male Hollywood sex symbol. Yet being venerated as a sex symbol was not without its discriminatory elements, as this was often done by typecasting Hayakawa as a villainous and sexually domineering “exotic” man. Throughout his film career, Hayakawa was cast as a man of various ethnic backgrounds, all of which were always presented to Anglo audiences as a “foreigner” who therefore commanded a taboo eroticism. Examples of his constant casting as a non-descript “foreigner” include roles such as an Arab donkey tender, an Indigenous man, a Chinese Tong warrior, and a Burmese ivory trader.

By casting Hayawaka as a sex symbol only so long as he adhered to villainous and sexually domineering roles that rarely ended with a successful interracial relationship, Hollywood continued to emphasize the white supremacist ideals that upheld anti-miscegenation statutes in the United States. Due to the continual typecasting of Hayakawa in roles that depended upon yellow peril and other racist stereotypes, he eventually created his own production company in 1918. By doing so, Hayakawa openly showed his disagreement with the racism that Hollywood production companies upheld during this era of American film.

Hayakawa’s battle to be positively represented in film – even stating that his one ambition was to be cast as a hero and not a villain – forced him to pave a path for himself in Hollywood. Despite receiving negative attention for his so-called extravagant lifestyle, Hayawaka refused to compromise how he chose to live his life in order to make Anglo-Americans comfortable in their stereotypes of East Asian men. Hayawaka is a man who deserves much praise for both his artistic and activist achievements. For this, we here at Historical Hotties tip our proverbial hats to him and other people of colour who have paved the way for future generations.

~ Monique

* Issei, literally translating as first generation in Japanese, refers to the first generation of immigrants in a Nikkei (Japanese diaspora) community. Issei were born in Japan, and then immigrated to various countries such as the United States, Canada, and Brazil.

Bibliography

Andre Soares. Alt Film Guide. “Sessue Hayakawa: Pioneering East Asian Hollywood Star.” http://www.altfg.com/film/sessue-hayakawa-portrayal-asians-hollywood/.

Laberge, Yves. “Review: Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom by Daisuke Miyao.” Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific 25 (February 2011). http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue25/laberge_review.htm.

Saltz, Rachel. “Sessue Hayakawa: East and West, When the Twain Met.” The New York Times. September 7, 2007. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9907E3DC143BF934A3575AC0A9619C8B63.

Sessue Hayakawa

The Publick Universal Friend

This image is in the public domain.
This image is in the public domain.

Think challenging social conventions surrounding sex and gender is the province of twentieth and twenty-first-century people? Allow me to introduce you to Jemima Wilkinson/the Publick Universal Friend.

In 1752 Wilkinson was born in the colony of Rhode Island, the traditional land of the Narragansett, Niantic and Wampanoag peoples* (listed alphabetically), into a family of strict Quakers (the colloquial name for the Society of Friends). In 1776, Wilkinson took ill and apparently succumbed to some mystery sickness. While Jemima Wilkinson was no more, her body remained alive, but it was become host to a new spirit sent by God. The Publick Universal Friend emerged from her sick/death bed.**

Despite occupying Wilkinson’s body, the Friend did not affiliate with any sex or gender. To enforce this, the Friend eschewed the use of gendered pronouns and wore voluminous, black, gender-neutralising clothing, garments which also suited the Friend’s vocation as a preacher. Indeed, the Friend had not entered Wilkinson’s vacated body simply to upset conventions around sex and gender. The Friend’s mission was a religious one: to preach adherence to a very strict interpretation of the Ten Commandments, apocalypticism, perfect friendship among all human beings and complete sexual abstinence. This last message challenged the traditional Protestant view that marriage and procreation were highly important, since celibacy was the precursor to sins of the flesh wrought by repression of human carnality.

It is worthwhile here to note that the Friend enjoyed a position of relative privilege when it came to self-comportment and to spreading God’s message. In essence, the Friend used Jemima’s body and her social standing among New England’s more radical Christians (i.e., colonisers) to espouse a religious message that was not indigenous to the continent’s original peoples. Indeed, the Friend effectively preached equality to audiences whose very presence in New England came at the expense of the territory’s indigenous peoples. This is not to suggest that The Friend’s message was disingenuous, nor that it was wholeheartedly welcomed.

Predictably, the notion of a “woman” preaching and directing the religious lives of others ruffled the feathers of many contemporaries. However, the Publick Universal Friend did not become persona non grata; the Friend remained in the embrace of Wilkinson’s family (despite regarding them no more as relations than any other human beings) and quickly developed a considerable following. Many attended The Friend’s public sermons and sought out the Friend for religious direction. Pamphlets that contained print-versions of the Friend’s sermons were also very popular, though, it should be noted, these pamphlets also highlighted the Friend’s unconventional genderlessness. The Friend, rich in followers, ultimately founded a religious settlement in the state of New York (originally home to the Abenaki, Cayuga, Erie, Laurentian, Mohawk, Mohican, Mohegan, Munsee Delaware, Oneida, Onondaga, Poospatuck/Unkechaug and Seneca peoples*).

The Publick Universal Friend openly flouted—indeed, transcended—late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century conceptions of gender. For this, and for preaching ceaselessly the message of perfect friendship among all human beings, the Publick Universal Friend definitely qualifies as a historical hottie.

~ Spirit

*According to native-languages.org

**There is controversy around Wilkinson’s illness and death (spiritual and physically), but this piece adheres to the Friend’s version of events.

Bibliography

Bronski, Michael. A Queer History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2011.

Wisbey Jr., Herbert A. Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965.

The Publick Universal Friend

(Gaspar) Yanga

A statute of (Gaspar) Yanga, erected in the modern day town of Yanga, Veracruz, México [public domain].
A statute of (Gaspar) Yanga, erected in the modern day town of Yanga, Veracruz, México [public domain].
Although today known as El Primer Libertador de America (the first liberator of the Americas), (Gaspar) Yanga is an often-overlooked freedom fighter in the histories of enslavement* in the Americas. Captured and sold into enslavement in what at the time was referred to as New Spain, today known as México, Yanga became known to the Spanish settlers as Gaspar Yanga.

According to the folkloric history of Yanga’s life, he was born in West Africa to a royal family. He was captured, enslaved, forced to endure the Middle Passage journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and eventually made to work as an enslaved worker in the sugarcane labour camps* of Veracruz, New Spain (modern day Veracruz, México). In the year 1570, Yanga led a revolt with other enslaved African peoples, leading to his escape and the settling of a maroon mountain colony.

Yanga and his community lived free of European enslavement for near forty years, disrupting the trade routes established along el Camino Real between Veracruz and la Ciudad de México throughout this time. Eventually, the threat that a community of free Africans posed to not only the individual communities of Spanish settlers but the entire system of chattel slavery in the area became too strong, in the eyes of the Spanish-controlled government of New Spain. The Spanish, as an attempt to maintain “order” in the area, established the town of Córdoba near Yanga’s self-governing maroon colony.

In 1609, a Spanish militia was sent to destroy Yanga’s community. Instead, they were defeated. Following the defeat of the Spanish militia, yet another group of Spaniards was sent to defeat Yanga – who instead offered to make peace so long as the Spanish meet his eleven demands. The most important of these demands were that recognition of free status be granted to all of the residents in Yanga’s community prior to 1608; that Yanga’s community was a legal, self-governing settlement; and that no Spaniards were welcome in the community. Following years of negotiations, San Lorenzo de Los Negros was established as a town in 1618 that would pay tribute to the Spanish Crown. Eventually, San Lorenzo de Los Negros was renamed Yanga, after the African freedom fighter (Gaspar) Yanga. The town of Yanga still stands today, with a statute erected in his honour.

Yanga’s fate, along with the fates of his community members, following 1618 is unknown. But his importance as an African who was enslaved in New Spain (México) and fought (and won!) his freedom is critical to the intertwined colonial histories of the Americas, Africa, and Europe. Yanga demonstrates the importance of the African diaspora in the shaping of modern day México. He shatters the mythology that it is only Indigenous and European influences that inform México’s rich cultural and revolutionary political traditions.

~ Monique

* Monique does not use the terms “slavery,” “slave,” or “plantation.” Instead, she uses the terms “enslavement,” “enslaved,” and “labour camp” in order to serve as a reminder of the continuous acts that constituted the centuries-long enslavement of African peoples in the Americas. By eschewing more passive words such as “slavery” for “enslavement,” the active, continual choice to enslave people is forcibly brought to the surface of historical discourse surrounding these attempts at dehumanization and injustice. For further reading on the importance of linguistic choices when writing history, see Michael Todd Landis’s freely accessible article “These Are Words Scholars Should No Longer Use to Describe Slavery and the Civil War,” found here: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/160266.

Bibliography

Black Past. “Yanga, Gaspar (c. 1545- ?).” http://www.blackpast.org/gah/yanga-gaspar-c-1545.

Landers, Jane G. “Cimarrón and Citizen: African Ethnicity, Corporate Identity, and the Evolution of Free Black Towns in the Spanish Circum-Caribbean,” in Jane Lander and Barry Robinson, eds., Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Rowell, Charles Henry. “‘El Primer Libertador de las Americas’/The First Liberator of the Americas: The Editor’s Notes.” Callaloo 31.1 (Winter 2008): 1-11, 181-  192.

(Gaspar) Yanga