As an Asian American woman in a black male dominated field, Awkwafina is breaking boundaries. It should come as no surprise then that she is also tackling stereotypes of Asian women head on. In her most recent music video with comedian Margaret Cho for their song “Green Tea,” Awkwafina utilizes representations of hypersexuality to subvert heteronormative assumptions of Asian women and offer her own alternative narrative, though in many ways still failing to adequately address the full extent of her oppression.
My first introduction to Awkwafina was through her song “My Vag,” which is a parody of Mickey Avalon’s “My Dick.” Though “My Vag” presents its own problems, Awkwafina was one of the first – if not the first – Asian American women I had encountered who took ownership of her body and her sexuality in a manner that did not conform to the white male gaze. Who better to collaborate with than another Asian woman who has established her career on sexually frank humor as well, like Margaret Cho? “Green Tea” follows in the same crude vein to convey Awkwafina’s message of bodily autonomy.
By turning to Celina Parrenas Shimizu’s discussion of hypersexuality in Asian American feminist films, this provides a framework to analyze Awkwafina’s music video. Shimizu’s analysis of Machiko Saito’s Premenstrual Spotting is a fitting model to base an examination of “Green Tea” because it does not focus on sexual encounters (as with the other films) but rather on Saito’s message and the form it takes. Saito gives the sexual violence perpetrated against her by men a physical form to contextualize her trauma.
“Green Tea” acknowledges the context for both Cho’s and Awkwafina’s hypersexuality, “requir[ing] corporeal understandings of race, sexuality, gender, and representation” as Shimizu suggests. Awkwafina and Cho establish the context to dismantle systems of oppression against Asian women through their farcical representations of Asian stereotypes. Unlike Saito, they are overtly aware of the cultural circumstances and script their video to address those. Dressing in modernized versions of traditional dress (hanbok, cheongsam, etc.) and schoolgirl outfits, they use their clothing to both acknowledge a history of fetishization and reclaim their sexuality.
Awkwafina and Cho are “bad objects” due to their transgression of stereotypical mannerisms; they use explicit language to proclaim, “Yellow bitches in the driver’s seat” and define their sexuality on their own terms. The hip hop genre lends especially to this form of transgression as an industry that is perceived as heavily misogynistic. The chorus goes on, referencing figures in recent pop culture to frame their hypersexuality:
We got that bomb pussy
That Long Duk Dong pussy
Make you call your mom pussy
Get a pair of TOMS pussy
Got that Soon Yi pussy
Be all you want to be pussy
That Giving Tree pussy
You belong to me pussy
Although Awkwafina and Cho seemingly set out to create an anthem of empowerment for young Asian women, at the same time, the hypersexuality of the song falls into traps of stereotypes once again, though of the other extreme. “Green Tea” also calls to mind images of the sexually powerful Dragon Lady as Awkwafina declares that her “vag …will leave him immobilized.” Using sex to manipulate and control men is a familiar trope for Asian women in film and television. There is some level of self-awareness demonstrated in the last section of the song when Awkwafina questions Cho’s use of an Asian accent, but this is not enough to suggest that the entire song is also meant to be mocking the Dragon Lady archetype.
In their attempt to dismantle the Lotus Blossom archetype, Awkwafina and Cho fail to acknowledge the full context for the fetishization of Asian women and ultimately perpetuate some of that fetishization. “Green Tea” serves as a learning point as we attempt to dissect and subvert systems of oppression. Our actions, though perceived as empowering, can also ultimately lead to further subjugation. Perhaps this is where the portrayal of normal sex acts through the bodies of Asian women is as radical as Shimizu suggests – not as one extreme or the other, but rather, Asian women as normal, well-rounded humans.