Media excludes Asian culture’s social identity


By Marci Suela, Art Director

When I was 6 years old, my idol was figure skater Michelle Kwan simply because she looked like my then image of sleek black hair, pale skin and dark brown eyes.

As I grew older, I started to worry about finding a career because of the occupations my family members had. Kwan was the exception, who was not a nurse, doctor or engineer. The small number of Asian-American public figures, however, made me wonder about what else I could do as a career.

By placing Asian-Americans into lead roles in film, television and theater productions, younger Asian-Americans may be able to relate to their characters and be proud of their roots, feeling able to break the stereotypes they hold in their minds.

Often times, in movies, I see the Asian-American character portrayed as the sidekick with a twist — whether he or she is smart, funny or knows how to kick someone’s butt. Although those movies are enjoyable to watch, that character usually lacks depth and is used for comedic relief.

Sometimes, I like to watch Asian television dramas because they provide cultural relevance and realism to occupations for Asians that American cinema fails to capture.

American media are repeat offenders in misrepresenting Asian-Americans by putting white actors and actresses in “yellowface” into films and television, instead of accurately placing actors of Asian descent into those roles.

A recent example of this was the casting of actress Scarlett Johansson for a movie role originally made as an Asian character announced in April.

Also, the ABC network recently offered up an example of growing up as an Asian-American with the television series “Fresh Off the Boat,” with stories based on chef Eddie Huang’s memoir about being a Chinese immigrant in America.

The sitcom emphasizes Asian accents, embracing the “American Dream” and focuses on situations where Asian-Americans are singled out for being culturally different.

One scene captures the struggle of fitting in at school as Eddie confesses to his parents that he threw his (Asian) lunch away and demands “white people food to get a seat at the (lunch) table.”

While “Fresh Off the Boat” addresses assimilation and racial identity, the show itself suffers as it caters to a wide American audience. Now in its second season, the parents’ heavy accents have been dropped, the show’s narrative voice has been dropped and an identifiable “love” storyline has been employed.

On May 5, digital strategist William Yu created a Twitter account under the username @starringjohncho. Under the hashtag #StarringJohnCho, he started a social media movement to show what Hollywood blockbusters would look like with an Asian-American lead.

Yu redesigned movie posters like “The Martian,” “Me Before You” and “Spectre” by PhotoShopping Korean-American actor John Cho into the artwork to replace the images of white actors starring in those movies.

Hiring Asian-American actors for lead roles in American media just could break down the stereotypical idea that Asians all go into engineering or science fields, while embracing the struggle of being from a non-white ethnicity in America and providing more relevant role models the entire U.S. population.