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"Working The Good Earth: Chinese American Extras in Hollywood during the Great Depression" by Dr. William Gow

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, January 30, 2019. 12:30 PM - 02:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Barnum, Room 116
Critical Orientations to Race and Ethnicity 2018
Meeting Description: 

Dr. Wiliam Gow (Stanford, American Studies) will present his research on film and Chinese America, followed by a discussion. In 1936, MGM Studios reportedly hired more than a thousand Chinese American background extras for their cinematic adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth. While scholars have long argued that the film and novel helped shift dominant ideas of China and Chinese people in the United States, little scholarship has examined the experiences of the film’s Chinese American background performers. Drawing on oral history interviews alongside archival newspaper and trade magazine accounts, this talk foregrounds the economic, social, and emotional impact of extra work on the local Chinese American community during the Great Depression. Among the oral history collections highlighted in this talk will be those from the Chinatown Remembered project, which Dr. Gow founded and directed while at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.

Dr. Gow is a community historian, educator, and documentarian, as well as lecturer in American Studies at Stanford. Before entering his doctoral program at UC Berkeley, William served for eight years as a community historian and board member with the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, a volunteer-run nonprofit historical society in Los Angeles Chinatown.