John Apple Jack – Sexually Progressive and Racially Ignorant

John Apple Jack (2013) directed by Monkia Mitchell is a type of romantic comedy that features two gay men. Boy meets boy, boy forgets about boy, boy pines for boy. Fast forward twenty years later when boy finally sees what’s been in front of him this entire time but now the other boy needs major convincing. This is the simple formula for the cliché romantic comedies; however, this time it involves a homosexual relationship. John (Chris McNally) is a wealthy, promiscuous, white man who runs his family restaurant. He has lived an extremely extravagant life with top of the line foods, drinks, cars, and men. However, after hearing of his sister’s engagement to his childhood crush, Jack (Kent S. Leung), John decides to confess to his family that he is attracted to men, although they were already aware. John hopes that Jack will see this confession as an act of commitment to him. His father shortly after hearing the news cuts John off from family money and leaves him with no place to stay.

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Jack is a cook at John’s restaurant and is ready to create his own restaurant and family. Growing up he had always hoped that John would acknowledge him, fall in love and live happily ever after; however, after many years of being ignored, tension heated between the two. During one of their arguments, Jack throws an apple at John’s head to quiet him. Nevertheless, when John becomes homeless, it does not take him very long to find his way to Jack’s place. They spend the night together and realize that they are soul mates. This did not last very long, and Jack realized that John was not a 100 percent committed and he decided to marry his sister after all. John refused to let this happen and interrupted the wedding by throwing an apple at Jack’s head. Jack and John end up together and open their own restaurant entitled ‘John Apple Jack’.

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For obvious reasons, the movie does an excellent job of portraying a relationship between two men. However, like most movies it also has its downfalls. When John admitted to being attracted to men, most of his family did not even flinch. It was a nonissue. As well, Jack’s mother considered it a nonissue and just wanted her son to be happy. Although this does happen for many people and is the hope for the future, it does not demonstrate the hardships that many gay men/women go through. Gay oppression still exists and John Apple Jack tends to ignore this.

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The demonstration of Jack’s family was also extremely progressive. Many films produce the stereotypical Asian family by creating a patriarchal structure where the father makes all the decisions while the mother remains silent. There is typically a one-way communication where the adults speak to the children, and the children do not speak back. In addition, shame and guilt are used to control and train children. They emphasize loyalty and honour to the family and avoidance of shame and embarrassment to the family. The mothers typically use less nurturance and more verbal and physical punishment than White mothers who meet emotional needs of children. However, in John Apple Jack, this is not displayed. Jack does not have a father figure in his life because he was actually a product of in vitro (a progressive reproductive technology). The mother shows caring attributes throughout the entire movie and makes it known to her son that homosexuality is not shameful or embarrassing to her and should not be to him. It is actually John’s White mother who has an issue with his sexuality, but in the end accepts it.

Before John commits to Jack he has a variety of sexual encounters with other men. John hires a stereotypical Asian ESL boy toy. Although this role created many comical moments, it is offensive. This role is viewed as feminine, passive and submissive towards John (a White male). Therefore highlighting racial power dynamics. It mimics the colonized and colonizer relationship. Although Asian men are typically depicted as asexual within Western film, when they are viewed as sexual, they are “presented as wanting to be sexually subordinated and violated by a more dominant, stereotypical white male” (Kendall and Funk 2003: 106). As a result, gay Asian men are not seen as physically attractive but more appealing because of their submissiveness. In addition, Jack was also hired by John, which can be viewed as problematic.

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In addition, cultural appropriation was a major theme within the film. John gives Jack the idea of Westernized Asian cuisine for his new restaurant. John is using traditional food of a marginalized culture (Asian) because it is viewed as profitable. This is harmful “because it is an extension of centuries of racism, genocide, and oppression” (Zinelibrary 2011: 5). It “treats all aspects of marginalized cultures (also known as targets of oppression) as free for the taking” (Zinelibrary 2011: 5). This is extremely problematic, and John Apple Jack reinforced this way of thinking.

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John Apple Jack was an important movie in acknowledging different kinds of relationships such as between two gay men. However, it demonstrates the problematic factor that the LGBT community tends to ignore race.

Before going to the Reelout festival my understanding of queer films was very minimal. Throughout my four years at Queen’s University I have come to realize that the culture is extremely White, heterosexual, middle to upper class focused. The fact that these festivals still exist and they are not displayed in popular culture depicts homosexuality as different and the minority. It would be amazing to get to a point where these films are not viewed as progressive because it is about a gay relationship but viewed as standard, like heterosexual relationships.

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Mitchell, Monika. (Director). (2013). John Apple Jack [Film].

Kendall, Christopher N. and Rus Ervin Funk. 2003. “Gay Male Pornography’s ‘Actors’: When ‘Fantasy’ Isn’t.” In Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress. New York: The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.

“Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation.” 2011. Zinelibrary. Retrieved February 26, 2014 (http://zinelibrary.info/files/culturalappropriationread.pdf).

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5 thoughts on “John Apple Jack – Sexually Progressive and Racially Ignorant

  1. Your analysis of the cultural influences that may affect Jack’s upbringing and his family’s willingness to accept him really proves the assumed invisibility of white culture and the assumptions we tend to make about Asian culture. Sometimes by paying too much mind to one’s race, we reinforce the expectations that we’d be better off moving away from. For example, instead of viewing the progressive attitude of Jack’s family as inaccurate, why can’t we celebrate it for being progressive? Is that not what we are working towards? In the other example about dominant and subordinate roles in the relationship, I do agree it would be interesting to see a reversal of those roles as the media notoriously hypersexualizes foreign skin colours and assigns them subordinate roles without question. It’s a shame this is the case even in queer film, which I would expect to work harder for anti-racist projects.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your review and analysis of this film! I feel you caught a lot of details lots of people would otherwise overlook!

    It’s really interesting to hear that John hired an Asian boy-toy, who has been portrayed in a way that fits the stereotypical Asian–which can be a bit offensive in itself. In doing so, it appears that the producers of the film have reinforced some bad connotations associated with Asian’s; making the hired boy toy submissive, passive, etc.

    In regards to the stereotypical Asian family and the progressiveness of Jack’s family, I don’t feel that Jack’s storyline was “extremely progressive”. In fact, as an Asian myself, I feel that a lot of films actually create a very extremist portrayal of a “typical Asian family” and it often isn’t true (especially in this time and age). Also, since the setting of the film is set somewhere in a Westernized society (?), it doesn’t seem too extraordinary that Jack’s mother isn’t your stereotypical tough-love type of Asian mother. But this is my own opinion; I’m sure this idea doesn’t hold true for everyone.

  3. Yes, I absolutely agree with both of your perspectives! I meant that it is progressive for the media to portray an Asian family differently than the stereotypical representation! However, the family structure itself is not progressive but like mentioned above is more standard, especially if living in a Western society!

  4. I also watched this film and quite enjoyed it. I liked how you analyzed the cultural influences that affect Jack and his love life. Furthermore, it is quite evident that the entirety of stereotypes of Asian parents was completely ignored throughout the film. It was interesting to read that in your analysis as I did not even take that into consideration while watching the film. It seems that society is always under the impression of white gay men when in actual that is definitely not the case. There are many cases in which people seem to be thrown a bit off when they see people of different coloured skin/different cultures portraying homosexual characteristics; however, it should not be something that comes out of the blue.

  5. Reading this post it is true this sounds like the classic modern society drama where love is both sided yet neither knows until later in life. But of course with the complications of their sexual orientation and difference in race it adds a creative twist. Though i still do not know what to think about the submissiveness of Asian men in relationships i do believe that the film makers could have switched it around to eliminate the racial bias of having the white male as the dominant figure. after reading this i will definitely make time to watch this movie.

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