Yves Leclerc
American Reporter Correspondent
Montreal, Quebec

SAN FRANCISCO -- As an Asian American guy who has been intimately involved with African American women throughout my life, I felt very proud watching the remake of "Cinderella" presented on ABC-TV November 2. While I am a frequent moviegoer and television viewer, I have never seen an Asian American guy having an on-screen romance with an African American woman before.

For those of you who missed the latest rendition of this famous Rodgers and Hammerstein production, the pop music star Brandi, who is African American, played Cinderella. Filipino American Paolo Montalban played Chris, the Prince. His singing of "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" to Cinderella, along with his ballroom dancing, tireless search for Cinderella, engaging conversation and humorous lines revealed redeeming qualities that any woman would want to see in a man they were sexually attracted to.

According to Neil Meron, one of the producers of this rendition, when Montalban walked into the audition with no television experience and sang that song, there was a noticeable change in room temperature. "We like to call it our Cinderella story within a Cinderella story," said Meron in TV Guide.

Like many Asian American guys, I saw this portrayal by Montalban as the first we could be proud of since martial arts superstar Bruce Lee died. In recent years, we Asian guys have been racially stereotyped as scandalous fundraisers by some lawmakers in Congress, computer geeks in major movie productions like "Rising Sun" or asexual, romantic turnoffs in television shows like "All American Girl." In years past, we were portrayed as the inscrutable Charlie Chan in Sax Rohmer movies or as weak and submissive servants in Pearl Buck novels. And we have never been portrayed with African American women in a romantic context.

This latter fact is surprising given that Asian American men and African American women have coexisted in most major American cities since Reconstruction days. But interracial romance has primarily been posed as the domain of European American men with African American women or some other women of color. How many times have we seen European American characters like those played by Kevin Costner rescue African American actresses like Whitney Houston in movies such as The Bodyguard?

By inadvertence or design, moviemakers and television producers are ignoring a large segment of this country's social and cultural life by leaving interracial romance among Asian American men and African American women out of their casting possibilities. As one African American woman reader of Today's Black Woman magazine remarked last year of her relationship with an Asian American man, "Somehow, people of color, because we're all part of an other-than-dominant culture in America, are a bit more inclined to go the extra mile to understand and embrace the culture of another. Perhaps, we know all too well what it feels like when that doesn't happen."

Hers is not a rare perception. A USA Today poll published the day after the recent showing of Cinderella indicated that 19 percent of Asian Americans polled said they dated someone who is African American. The poll also showed that 21 percent of African Americans dated someone who is Asian American. Such statistics strike a responsive chord with me as I have dated African American women in the past and present.

My connections were made during my upbringing in the nation's capital, where African Americans are the racial majority. Whether it was a penchant for going to nightclubs and dancing to James Brown or Johnny Gill records or discussing the latest social issue, I have learned repeatedly that one's inherent racial identity and culture does not necessarily have to limit personal choices when it comes to romance and other social endeavors.

After all, we are all citizens of the world. My attraction is not as much a rarity or non-existent phenomena for people of my race as one would think from watching the celluloid screen. It is well-documented that numerous Chinese American men in Mississippi and Filipino American men in Louisiana were socially tied and ultimately married to African American women. And anyone who has been to any of the islands of Hawaii could attest to similar interactions.

It remains to be seen whether the Number three finish in the Nielsen ratings for this recent production of Cinderella convince Disney moguls that a multicultural cast is popular and thus economically feasible enough to continue similar productions. But their bold move to show an almost always ignored slice of American interracial dating is commendable.

Hopefully, future television and movie productions will be just as bold. Samuel R. Cacas is a San Francisco based writer and can be reached at mailto:samwriter1@aol.com. He is compiling material for a book about Asian American men and African American women, and would like to hear of such relationships.

Copyright (C) 1997 Joe Shea, The American Reporter. All rights reserved.