Americans have a long tradition of exoticizing China. Chinese food. Chinese checkers. Blac Chyna.
Because of this attitude of "foreignness," depictions of Chinese people and Chinese culture have been problematic in Hollywood. In fact, even in the 21st Century, people of Asian descent hardly get cast in movies at all. (Source)
In the 1980s, there were lots of Asian people in films. There were the Shanghai gangsters in Temple of Doom, Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, and Japanese Mr. Miyagi, who can catch flies with chopsticks.
Racist portrayals? Yes, yes, and yes.
Gremlins continues the 1980s trend of showing East Asia—China specifically—as being weird, funny, and dangerous. Gremlins illustrates the two main feelings toward China. It's exotic and alluring, but its foreignness is also scary and dangerous. If you look closely enough at Gizmo, can you see a "Made in China" tag sticking out of his butt?
Questions About Foreignness and the Other
What are people's attitude toward the mogwai when they first see them? How does their attitude change as the mogwai mutate?
Could Gremlins be an allegory for U.S. attitudes toward foreign cultures? If so, is it criticizing the U.S., or is it criticizing those it deems foreigners?
Taking mogwai out of the equation, which people in the movie could be seen as "others"? What are their fates?
Chew on This
Mr. Futterman's fear of foreign-made products shows us the general suburban attitude toward foreign goods. They are wary of them, if not downright afraid.
Gizmo is an illegally imported product, making Gremlins a cautionary tale about the dangers of free trade. (We're joking.) (Or are we?)