Today someone posted a picture on facebook of an Anglo-Burmese actress by the name of Win Min Than who made a movie in the 1950s called The Purple Plain.
A British production starring American actor Gregory Peck, The Purple Plain takes place in Burma near the end of World War II. Peck is a pilot who is depressed because his wife was killed in the German bombing of London. He crashes his plane in Japanese-occupied Burma and struggles to survive. There he meets a “native” woman, Win Min Than, and she helps him regain his emotional stability.
This was apparently the only movie that Win Min Than ever made. Her husband was Bo Setkya, one of the “Thirty Comrades” whom the Japanese trained to form the core of the Burma Independence Army that accompanied the Japanese forces in their invasion of Burma. I’m not sure what happened in their lives, but according to Wikipedia it looks like Ne Win’s rise to power in 1962 caused trouble for both of them.
When I first saw that Win Min Than was “hapa” (the Hawaiian term for “mixed-race” or “mixed-blood” – I prefer it over those terms as they make me think of eugenics. . .) it reminded me of the fact that in several Asian societies some of the first female movie stars were hapa.
My understanding of this has been that the movies were viewed as too “Western” and that “good girls” should therefore not participate in that profession. As people who occupied a middle space, both culturally and biologically, between the local society and the West, hapa actresses were somehow more acceptable to viewers.
I’m assuming that this would be the case, for instance, with the late great Indonesian “queen of horror,” Suzanna Martha Frederika van Osch (known popularly as “Suzanna”).
Win Min Than, however, acted in a foreign film, and therefore her hapa-ness probably played a different role there – it made her less Asian and therefore more acceptable to Western audiences.
Then you have actresses like Laura Gemser, an Indonesian-Dutch hapa actress who grew up in Holland and played roles in which she represented the exotic/erotic Other of Western (male) fantasies.
What all this adds up to meaning is that hapa actresses from Southeast Asia have occupied a very complex space “in between” lots of different worlds, perceptions, biases, etc.
I’m sure that there must be more actresses and actors that we can add to the list, and examining their careers and lives would make for a fascinating comparative study.