October 5, 2006
Written by C.N.
Many Asian Americans have consistently noted through the years that the mainstream media and entertainment industry too often just does not “get it” when it comes to portraying Asian Americans in a balanced and non-stereotypical way. With that in mind, it’s always nice to find instances in which the establishment actually recognizes this shortcoming and fesses up about it. Such is the case in a recent article by ABC News:
Hollywood likes to paint different groups with broad strokes. Southerners are backward. Priests are pedophiles. Mexicans are lazy. Italians have links to the Mob. Few groups with as long a history in this country as Asian-Americans have been portrayed in such a limited variety of roles: The kung fu fighter. The studious nerd. The mercenary businessman. The “Dragon Lady.” The prostitute.
In his new documentary, “The Slanted Screen,” writer/producer/director Jeff Adachi says these narrow screen portrayals are dangerous because they affect the way Asian-Americans are perceived in the real world, shaping and defining their identities. . . . Even more insulting was the fact that many Asian characters, like Charlie Chan, were played by white actors in what is called “yellowface” — wearing devices like eyepieces and rubber bands to “slant” the eyes, dark makeup, and false buck teeth to try and “pass” as Asian.
Many Asians reveled in the success of martial arts expert Bruce Lee, who became a star in America with the 1973 film “Enter the Dragon.” But this too became a stereotype, says Tisa Chang, director of New York’s Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, as Asian-American actors emulated Lee and began studying kung fu. “So now the flip side of stereotyping is that every Asian-American actor is expected to know some form of martial arts. Any casting person will say, ‘Well, do you do some martial arts?’”
I give ABC News credit for covering this issue, especially in light of the Asian American Justice Center’s report that the major networks are woefully lagging when it comes to equal representation of Asian Americans and other groups of color in their TV shows. As those 12 steps programs tend to say, the first step in getting help is admitting that you have a problem.
The next step of course, is concrete action to ensure that (1) there are more roles offered to Asian American actors whether those roles are ethnic-specific or not and (2) making sure those roles do not perpetuate cultural stereotypes about Asian Americans and Asian culture. To be honest, I may be a little too pessimistic but I do not have much faith in the mainstream media to make these necessary changes.
At the very least, articles like this at least show that there are some in the media industry who do “get it” — we just need more of them in decision-making positions to actually make a difference.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Recognizing Media Stereotypes" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/10/recognizing-media-stereotypes/> ().
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