The 2000 film Romeo Must Die is a martial arts drama loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the film, African American singer Aaliyah plays the Juliet-inspired character, while Chinese actor Jet Li plays the Romeo-inspired character. On its face, the ending of this film might seem uneventful, but the truth is that the original ending of the film featured a passionate kiss between Li and Aaliyah. When the filmmakers tested out this original ending before the film’s release, some audiences did not respond well, and the studio decided to change the kiss to a tight hug.
Put yourself in the position of a movie studio executive – would you have changed the original ending based on the negative feedback from some early test audiences? Why or why not?
Do you think there would have been the same reaction if the genders had been reversed – with an African American man playing the role of Romeo, and an Asian woman playing the Juliet? What does this tell us about the intersections between gender and race in our society?
There is a long history of Asian males being emasculating in mainstream American media. Even though Asian men are often depicted as strong martial arts fighters, they are rarely shown exhibiting the kind of sexual prowess of actions stars from other ethnicities. The decision by the studio to change the ending can be seen as folding to the prejudiced feelings of some viewers, instead of taking a stance that would preserve the integrity of the film and expand the portrayal of Asian men in media beyond their stereotypical history.