Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Phelps, Nicole


Films are a reflection of their time, and portrayals of the Vietnamese in film are reflective of the attitudes of American culture and society toward Vietnamese people. Films are particularly important because for many viewers, all they know about Vietnam and the Vietnamese is what they have seen on screen. This is why it is so important to examine the racist portrayals of the Vietnamese that have been presented, where they come from, and how and why they have changed. The significance of this study is that it combines historical studies of issues such as immigration, race relations, and cultural history with literary narratives of these films to explore the reasons why the Vietnamese have been portrayed initially so negatively and why that portrayal is only recently beginning to become more positive. I use six major Hollywood films and three recurring images to explore the ways that the portrayal of the Vietnamese has changed over time. Through a study of the images of the dehumanized enemy, the Vietnamese woman as prostitute, and Vietnamese civilians as backward peasants, the changing nature of racism in the films becomes evident. Blatant racism is found in the films of the 1960s and 1970s due to a long history of racism toward Asians and Asian Americans and the nature of the war itself. The films of the 1980s and beyond, coupled with the waves of refugees and opening of relations with Vietnam begin to show the Vietnamese as human beings. The most recent film of the twenty-first century honors the former enemy. There have been vast improvements, but other advancements remain to be made in race relations on screen and in real life.