Written by Kimberly Quitzon, Vice President
Asian Americans continue to live under the same stereotypes as they did a hundred years ago. Their slanted eyes impact their capability of driving, they have a natural ability to do Kung Fu or Karate, and of course they are all Chinese. As mainstream media perpetuates these stereotypes, it’s hard for Asian Americans to defend their actual culture. The representation of Asian Americans in the media has created a society where it is okay to discriminate Asian’s and laugh it off. Rarely do people pay any mind when white Americans wear yellow face and put on stereotypical accents, like in an episode of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. The episode reveals how desensitized people have become in offending Asians for the sake of comedy. Although the network intended the skit as a harmless joke, they were quickly called out on social media with the hashtag #HowIMetYourRacism.
However, the biggest problem with Asians in mainstream media is their lack of lead roles in film and television. Even if Asians are appropriately represented in a series or film, they’re more than often a supporting character. ABC recently released the show Fresh Off the Boat starring an Asian-American family and does a great job in reflecting an accurate story on typical Asian life without playing into stereotypes. Although this is a win for Asian representation, networks need to learn to be more inclusive in everyday sitcoms. A show like this is a stepping-stone toward introducing more culture, but it does not make up for the less than 5% in overall media. But why is it so hard for network executives to include Asians or really any other race into lead roles? It is because the network executives, the producers, and directors are all white.
The shift on screen must first take place behind the camera in preproduction and casting. Stereotypes can be eliminated with more representation in writing and directing. If there were more representation of Asian Americans in the positions of the people who create these shows and movies, there would be better representation on screen. The decisions made off camera impact what goes on camera and these decisions should be made strategically to reflect the actual world. With the lack of diversity in the field and many others, it brings us to The Bamboo Ceiling. Asians are the fastest growing population in the world, however, they are the least represented in executive positions. As a culture, there has been an ever-growing stereotype that although Asians are smart and hard working, they are quiet and unfit for leadership positions. The racial barrier not only applies to film and media positions but corporate positions as well, ultimately creating a vicious cycle of exclusion. Content creators are attempting to imitate the real world with white bosses and an Asian computer tech. Meanwhile, young Asian children search for powerful role models to connect with that are not there, discouraging them from pursuing management positions, or even jobs outside their stereotype.
The media has a responsibility to accurately portray Asian American’s in the media. This includes Indian-Americans who are also stereotyped for being liquor store owners and cab drivers. Networks also need to cast Asian-Americans in their deserved roles rather than casting white actors to play their parts. For example, Emma Stone who played a quarter Chinese and quarter Hawaiian character in the film Aloha. Her response was that “the character was not supposed to look like her background.” However, this was a perfect opportunity for Hollywood to cast an Asian actress in a lead role. This is not the first time a role was “whitewashed,” throughout history white actors have played roles of color an have went unnoticed. In The Last Airbender, a film based on a Nickelodeon cartoon with Asian and Native American descent characters, the 2010 film cast white actors to play the lead roles.
Like any minority in the media, the lack of representation creates a divide in culture and misunderstanding. However, Asian Americans continue to experience a unique form of racism in the media. East Asian’s have always been perceived as aliens or angry foreigners. From Marlon Brando putting on a poor Japanese accent to Mickey Rooney as a loud landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Asian culture has become nothing but a racist joke everyone looks past. If white actors today put on blackface, it would cause an uproar on social media and downplay the racism blacks have endured for the past centuries but the yellow face is just as racist and tends to resemble WW2 Asian propaganda. White America looks past this issue because they believe it’s getting better and one or two shows featuring Asian families are good enough, but there is still a plateau of leading Asian actors in feature films.
For the Asian girl who watches Mulan a hundred times because it is the only Disney character who resembles her, there should be twenty more princesses and superheroes alike. Diversity has become the forefront of the issue in Hollywood, especially with the recent backlash of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. However, it was mostly black actors and actresses who stood up to boycott the event. Although more black roles would be a step to more diversity, it’s important to remember there are other races represented in films that have been poorly cast, like Ben Affleck in Argo. The world is not black and white, and the media needs to remember that America is diverse with enough stories to tell and more than enough actors to represent that.