Fresh Off the Boat was renewed for a 3rd season. The Mindy Project was renewed for a 5th. Master of None was renewed for a 2nd season. So were Dr.Ken and Quantico. This is all in the same year! Why is this a big deal? Almost all of them are shows created by and starring Asian characters (who do not look anywhere close to white) and they’re being renewed – meaning there are enough “mainstream” audience members tuning in. Asians/Asian Americans represent 5.6% of the US population but representation is disproportionately low in TV and films. And when you consider that their stories often take place in cities where there should be a large Asian/Asian American population, yet the few Asians depicted are in hospital settings and Chinatowns. There is not just a dearth of Asian representation, but also a dearth in the variety of roles Asians can play.
Until these past few years, starring roles for Asians/Asian Americans have been mostly nonexistent, especially starring roles where they’re central characters who do not have to play second fiddle to the white co-lead. The claim has always been that there just isn’t enough of an audience for Asian leads. Family sitcoms are huge on broadcast network television, yet the last network sitcom to star an Asian American family was in 1994 until Fresh Off the Boat was created in 2015. During that time, the number of Asians/Asian Americans in the US has doubled.
Asian roles have mainly been limited to stereotypes and roles and stories that everyone is comfortable with seeing Asians perform (so ix-nay on having an Asian in the role of male romantic lead in a heterosexual relationship). Furthermore, due to whitewashing, leading Asian characters that should have gone to Asian/Asian-American actors are often reimagined as white characters (see 21) or are played by white actors (see Aloha). While Asian countries have their own TV and movie industries and some Asians/Asian Americans consume their content, it does not feel right that we have to “go back to where we came from” and sometimes have to leap over a cultural divide to find Asians as nuanced, central characters.
In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, here are some interesting blog articles and movie recommendations related to this topic:
Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle: A subversive, stoner comedy featuring two Asian male leads getting into shenanigans like getting high and taking a pointless road trip which ends up being a metaphor for self-discovery. Here is a trailer. You can borrow this from the Boston Public Library.
Indian Accents Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film Borrow the book from the Wheelock College Library.
Master of None, episode 4 “Indians on TV”. This episode tackles issues of diversity in Hollywood. Here are two scenes from that episode. You can watch this episode if you have access to Netflix.
Slaying the Dragon by Deborah Gee: a documentary about the portrayal of Asian American women in film. While the documentary is old, it lays out the history of Asian stereotypes in media. Borrow the DVD from the Wheelock College Library.
#StarringJohnCho: Click on the hashtag to view popular movie posters photoshopped with John Cho as the male lead. Those who feel John Cho is out of place in these posters will have glimpsed a little into how minorities feel about whitewashing and those who don’t feel he is out of place won’t be deterred from movies featuring an Asian male lead.
This is a Jar Full of Major Characters. Beautiful, easy-to-understand explanation about whitewashing and the difference between racebending a character from POC to white and racebending a character from white to a POC.