Where are Asian-Americans in Entertainment?

For many Americans, the entertainment media has become a core part of everyday life. I myself am one of those people. I watch TV (or Netflix) and go to the movies to relax, to take a little break from my life, or just to veg on the couch for an hour or so. Once the episode or movie is over, it’s back to reality. Recently I noticed that there is something in reality that media entertainment hasn’t gotten a grasp on yet: diversity.

Yes, there has been more racial diversity in media in the recent decades, but still several group are severely under represented. One such group is Asian-Americans. In the year 2011, over 18 million Americans were Asian-Americans.You’d think with that much of the population falling into that category that Asian-Americans would have a decent sized media presence. You’d be wrong.

Let’s take a look at a few popular shows/movies.

Shameless

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This binge-worthy show is one of my recent favorite television shows. “Shameless” chronicles the lives of the Irish-American Gallagher family as they struggle to stay out of poverty and fix the problems created by their alcoholic father. The show takes place in the South side of Chicago in a neighborhood that is far from prospering.

All the main characters are White and working class, besides the character Veronica who is Black. Minor characters of the show are mostly White as well, with the occasional Black character (who is usually associated with Veronica). There is only one notable Asian-American family. Though the series is still ongoing, I highly doubt that the demographics of the show will dramatically change in upcoming seasons.

The exception to the predominantly White character show was introduced through teen pregnancy. The White, rebellious teenager Karen gave birth to an Asian-American baby who had Down Syndrome. It is only after the birth of the child that the father of the baby, Timmy Wong and his mother, Mrs. Wong, make an appearance on the show (briefly). Though Tommy has no noticeable accent, his mother (who does the majority of the speaking) speaks with a heavy Chinese accent. The creators of the show made it very obvious that Mrs. Wong was an immigrant. She suggests that the baby’s Down Syndrome could be cured with an ancient Chinese herb, clearly not understanding that you can not get rid of an extra chromosome. That is the only notable exchange that the Wong family has before their characters are gone forever.

The very limited amount of Asian-Americans in this popular series begs the question as to why. Why are there so few Asian-American characters? Why are the ones who are portrayed as strictly “traditionally” Chinese?

I wish I had concrete answers for these questions, but I really don’t. I can only speculate that television producers don’t see their target audience as Asian-Americans and that they do see an opportunity to play out a stereotype.

But maybe this is a stand alone example that confirms my suspicion that Asian-Americans are under represented in media entertainment.

Or maybe not.

The Office

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Yes, I know that this is not the most recent show out there. But it is still extremely popular on Netflix, so it is relevant in media entertainment nonetheless. “The Office” is a television comedy that focuses on the personal/professional lives of the employees of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in Scranton, Pennsylvanian.

Again, much like “Shameless”, the cast of the office is predominantly White middle/working class individuals, with two main characters who are Black. This series also seems to lack true diversity.

Asian-Americans play a very minimal (mostly non-existent) role in this series.  There are no reoccurring characters that are Asian-Americans. The only encounter that viewers see with the main characters and Asian-Americans is in Chinese restaurants. The regional manager in the show, Michael Scott, goes to a Chinese restaurant to pick up waitresses and bring them to the office Christmas party because he is feeling down that his girlfriend broke up with him. He brings back two waitresses and later has trouble telling the difference between the two women. Both waitresses are dressed in “traditional” Chinese dresses that they have to wear to work and both speak with an American accent. He ends up marking one of their hands to tell them apart.

Again in this example Asian-Americans play a very minimal role. They fit the stereotype that many believe that all Asian-Americans work in Chinese restaurants and dress a certain way, which (believe it or not) is not true.

The lack of Asian-Americans in this popular television show is troubling because “The Office” has so many viewers and has reached high popularity. If viewers buy into the idea that Asian-Americans play a very small role in society (because they are barely seen in the show) then that will transfer into the viewer’s ideas about the real world and the people in it.

But again, maybe you don’t think that the lack of Asian-Americans is a reoccurring trend. So, one finally quick example.

The Girl on the Train

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This movie came out towards the end of 2016. A recent favorite of mine, “The Girl on the Train” is a thriller that depicts a woman’s life after a messy divorce. If you haven’t seen the movie I don’t want to ruin it for you so that’s about as much as I will say about that.

All of the main characters are White.

Asian-Americans play so small of a role in the entertainment media that the writers/casters of this movie didn’t even put an Asian-American (or any non-white person for that matter) in the film.

I do really like the film for its entertainment value, but it fails to show any sort of diversity that America used to boast about.

 What’s the Big Idea?

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So why should you or I care? It’s not our problem; we can’t do anything about what they do in Hollywood, right?

I will admit we might not be able to change what Hollywood produces over night, it is important to bring up issues like this that put a group at a severe disadvantage. If people consume so much media that limits the importance of Asian-Americans, then that can become something they hold as true because nobody has told them otherwise. If Asian-Americans are only depicted in an effort to reaffirm stereotypes, then the media consumer will begin the think it is true. They will bring that into their real lives and pass their ideas onto others and/or treat the Asian-Americans that they meet in a certain (usually negative) way.

Go ahead and watch the shows/movie above, but remember the seemingly forgotten and under represented population.

Be a smart media consumer and remember that if you are more than an a stereotype, so is everyone else.

 

 

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