Editorial: Television and film still failing to represent Asian culture

Constance Wu and the cast of

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Constance Wu and the cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” accepts the Hollywood breakout ensemble award at the Hollywood Film Awards on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Pictured from left are Henry Golding, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Nico Santos, Michelle Yeoh, Lisa Lu, Harry Shum Jr., Awkwafina and Ken Jeong. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Growing up, I realized there were only a few Asian characters on TV. I could only recall London Tipton, Wendy Wu, and Mulan, though, two of those characters were played by the same person.

In a 2017 article published by Deadline.com, Dino Ray-Ramos states that “the new study found that 69.5% of TV series regulars are white, while 14% are black and 5.9% are Latino. Mono-racial AAPI (a person of single or multiple Asian or Pacific Islander heritage) make up 4.3%, while Multiracial AAPI account for 2.6%.”

Asians have rarely been cast as main characters and instead, played a small role in which they mostly acted as a stereotypical Asian who was “nerdy” and most of the time an outcast in the group. It’s as if we’re looked down upon as some sort of joke and are just made fun of based on stereotypes.

Actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone have played Asian roles. To this day, Hollywood never wants to admit their wrongs in whitewashing Asian characters. When it was announced that Disney’s Mulan remake was going to cast white actors, I felt angry because to me, it goes beyond having a full Asian cast, it’s about telling our story with actual Asians who feel the same way. When directors compromise Asian roles in movies, it takes away the significance of our stories.

Why are white people representing me? It seems as if directors focus more on how much money they could make by throwing in famous white actors instead of taking the time to find someone who’s actually fit for the role. It shows that nobody cares enough about the story to give it its true meaning.

For the most part, I was always proud to be Asian. But because I never saw enough Asians on TV or in movies, I didn’t see myself, and I later felt weird to be Asian.

Asian culture is hardly ever portrayed on TV to normalize and to appreciate it. A lot of movies or TV shows were racist or characterized Asians to the point where I believed that was how people viewed us and I began to identify myself and my culture in that same way.

I couldn’t even imagine seeing Asian people in books. Every time I imagined what a character would look like, I immediately thought they were white. When they described a beautiful person, I would imagine a white person because I personally thought that Asians were not conventionally attractive. Every time I saw a white person on TV having such an ideal life, I couldn’t picture myself living that way because we just weren’t the same. Every time I drew people, they were mostly white because I thought they were better to draw. Last year, I drew an Asian person for the first time. It was myself. I learned that Asian people weren’t so plain and that there’s an endless amount of detail in everyone. But it took me so long to realize that.

As it is quoted in a September 2071 article in The Huffington Post, “this is something that Asian-Americans struggle with in general ― visibility. You’re not recognized as someone who is fully present in society. It’s a literal silencing of Asians and it reinforces the stereotype that Asians aren’t expressive, they’re invisible, that they’re not really there. But that’s because [Hollywood’s] not casting them,” said Nancy Wang Yuen, Ph.D.

Asians are poorly represented in society. We have so much potential to play influential roles yet Hollywood decides to ignore us instead. We are more than just the stereotype Hollywood continues to reinforce.

During my trip to Asia last summer, I noticed that Asians didn’t even use Asians to advertise. Obviously, I thought this was weird considering the fact that I was in Asia and you would think there would be more representation. Asian people didn’t think they looked appealing on ads. White people were the face of beauty and seemed more convincing on advertisements. Whitening creams were also being sold everywhere. There was a need to look white.

The first time I saw Asian representation was on Youtube. I grew up watching Ryan Higa, KevJumba, Wong Fu Productions, and Michelle Phan. From comedy to beauty, I finally found a group of successful Asians who I was able to look up to yet I still felt like that wasn’t enough. Up until recently, we’ve only been given two major movies with an Asian as the main character.

Why did it take this long to get to this point?

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Asians on TV because there are just as many great Asian actors as there are white, black, and latino actors. Our stories must be heard and told correctly, not whitewashed or twisted into stereotypes.

Representation is not just the incapability of finding a Disney princess who looks like you anymore. It’s being able to see us as a community in society and to know that we exist and that we are just as equal as any other race.

Representation matters to me because I want future generations to see themselves and not have to struggle with their identify as I did with my own. My community must be noticed.

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