The Invisibility of Asians On The Big Screen

The Invisibility of Asians On The Big Screen

An open letter regarding the erasure & whitewashing of Asian-Americans in Hollywood
68
views

To Hollywood, and to all my fellow Asian-Americans:

We live in a country where every time we turn on the television, we hardly see anyone who looks like us.

It’s a truth that all Asian-Americans know all too well in their lives: We go see box office hits about brave superheroes saving the world, watch TV shows about glamorous politicians and police detectives, read books about characters in poignant and beautiful romances. But none of them are about us. None of them tell our narratives—our stories.

And in those rare moments we do see people who look like us on the big screen? They’re either the geeky math nerd or the perpetual foreigner, the exotic prostitute or the model minority. Frankly, the list of racist stereotypes goes on and on.

It’s a particularly disturbing phenomenon when you consider the statistics: Asian-Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the country—yet, according to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, they only represent about 5% of speaking roles and about 1.3% of lead roles in today’s films. And at least half or more of all cinematic, television, or streaming stories fail to portray one speaking or named Asian or Asian-American on screen. In a world where American entertainment media plays a pivotal role in defining the perceptions of every aspect of daily life, the unfortunate truth is this: on screen, Asian-Americans are mostly invisible.



But we won’t stand for it.

Instead, we ask you: why is the erasure of the Asians—and other minorities—still an acceptable practice in Hollywood? It’s bad enough that there already aren’t a lot of opportunities for Asian actors to appear on the big screen—so why do today’s top films still underrepresent the Asian-American population, feature racist stereotypes of the Asian culture, and even engage in the practice of “whitewashing” traditionally Asian narratives and roles?

Indeed, there’s a problem that so clearly needs to be addressed when, even in stories that traditionally feature Asian characters and Asian narratives, we are still rendered invisible. Take last year’s film “Aloha” for example, where Emma Stone took on the lead role of a half-Asian woman named Allison Ng—yes, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white Emma Stone, as a woman of Chinese and Hawaiian descent. And just last April, Disney and Marvel Studios released a trailer for the adaptation of the Marvel comic “Doctor Strange” that presented Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One—a character that had originated in the comics as a Tibetan monk. And in the live-action American film adaptation of the Japanese manga series “Ghost in the Shell,” scheduled to be released in 2017, main character Motoko Kuanagi will be played by Scarlett Johansson—in a black bob.



And the list goes on. Too often, our rich and diverse narratives, essentially rooted in our Asian culture and heritage, are “whitewashed” into roles portrayed by white actors in plot-lines grounded in white culture—stories being told that are, for the most part, stories about white people—which is, after all, nothing new in Hollywood. (Recall Mickey Rooney's "yellowface" caricature-like portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in 1961, or John Wayne's role as Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, in "The Conqueror" in 1956.) It’s almost as if our stories are just not seen as relatable or applicable to a predominantly white demographic—as if being minorities or people of color make our experiences not accessible or universal, but instead “ethnic” and “exotic” and “foreign.”

Well, to those filmmakers and producers in Hollywood we say this: Our stories are just as beautiful, just as universal—and just as important. When you engage in the practice of whitewashing, you allow the assumption that people have an inability to relate to and empathize with Asian characters, and thus perpetuate a mindset that ultimately diminishes our humanity and obliterates our essential identities in our own narratives. And we won't stand for it. As a rich, diverse, and complex group of people, we deserve just that—rich, diverse, and complex depictions of our stories and experiences.

So we ask you to join us in our movement: to stop the deleterious practices of whitewashing and erasure of Asians in film and to instead fight for our visibility on the big screen. To make beautiful films not just with Asian people as unimportant, minor characters in the background—as the heavily-accented, no-English foreigner, or the book-smart, straight-A’s math geek—but about Asians who are successfully acculturated as an integral part of the American culture, or about Asians who are street-smart and outspoken and badass people. We ask you to make films about Asians who are passionate and daring and confident, Asians who are flawed and human, Asians who are hot and desirable in positive romantic leads, Asians who are unique and interesting and shatter the cliched stereotypes that the world often molds them into—Asians who are essentially the lead roles in their own individual, extraordinary lives.

It's time for the film industry to catch up to the progress that television programs have recently made: to offer fresh, genuine portrayals of Asian-American families like ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat,” or to present Asian men in positive romantic leads like in The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” or to depict Asian women in ultra-competent and ultra-stylish lead roles in glamorous occupations like Lucy Liu in CBS’s “Elementary.” We’ve waited long enough to even see ourselves on the small screen—isn’t it time for those gains made in television to move to the big screen, too?



And to all my Asian-American brothers and sisters, I remind you: change starts with you. Especially to those who are the artists, the writers, the actors, the creatives—we need you now, more than ever. We need your novels on bookshelves, your screenplays in Hollywood, your names in big lights on movie screens and theater stages. Step up and make your art,even if your parents tell you that it’s not a practical career choice or if the rest of the world laughs and says that Asian entertainers have no future in the States; share your art, tell your stories—let your damn light shine.

And to those who are not artists: exercise your power as a consumer. As the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, our households outspend the average American family by 19% annually, and are 29% more likely than the average American to spend money on name brands. We have more consumer power than we realize—and we don’t have to continue settling for films and sitcoms with people who look nothing like us, people whose experiences and voices are nothing like our own. Don’t just politely ask and wait—demand a seat at the table, call out studios and networks for their whitewashing and racist stereotypes and reward and offer support to the progressive ones.

After all, it’s time for Hollywood’s monotone vision of the world to get a taste of our colorful, diverse stories—stories that are our own, and, after all these years, deserve to be told in our own unique voices.

Cover Image Credit: nytimes.com

Popular Right Now

50 Quotes from the Best Vines

If you're picturing the vines in your head, you're doing it right
795253
views

In 2017 we had to say goodbye to one of the best websites to ever roam the internet: Vine. In case you have been living under a rock since 2013, Vine was -(sad face)- a website and app that took the internet and the app store by storm in Winter 2013. It contained 6-second videos that were mostly comedy- but there were other genres including music, sports, cool tricks and different trends. Vine stars would get together and plan out a vine and film it till they got it right.

It was owned by Twitter and it was shut down because of so many reasons; the viners were leaving and making money from Youtube, there was simply no money in it and Twitter wanted us to suffer.

There's been a ton of threads on Twitter of everyone's favorite vines so I thought I'd jump in and share some of my favorites. So without further ado, here are some quotes of vines that most vine fanatics would know.

1. "AHH...Stahhp. I coulda dropped mah croissant"

2. "Nate how are those chicken strips?" "F%#K YA CHICKEN STRIPS.....F%#K ya chicken strips!"

3. "Road work ahead? Uh Yea, I sure hope it does"

4. "Happy Crimus...." "It's crismun..." "Merry crisis" "Merry chrysler"

5. "...Hi Welcome to Chili's"

6. "HoW dO yOu kNoW wHaT's gOoD fOr mE?" "THAT'S MY OPINIONNN!!!.."

7."Welcome to Bible Study. We're all children of Jesus... Kumbaya my looordd"

8. Hi my name's Trey, I have a basketball game tomorrow. Well I'm a point guard, I got shoe game..."

9. "It's a avocadooo...thanks"

10. "Yo how much money do you have?" "69 cents" "AYE you know what that means?" "I don't have enough money for chicken nuggets"

11. "Hurricane Katrina? More like Hurricane Tortilla."

12. "Hey Tara you want some?" "This b*%th empty. YEET!"

13. "Get to Del Taco. They got a new thing called Freesha-- Free-- Freeshavaca do"

14. "Mothertrucker dude that hurt like a buttcheek on a stick"

15. "Two brooss chillin in a hot tub 5 feet apart cuz they're not gay"

16. "Jared can you read number 23 for the class?" "No I cannot.... What up I'm Jared, I'm 19 and I never f#@%in learned how to read."

17. "Not to be racist or anything but Asian people SSUUGHHH"

18. 18. "I wanna be a cowboy baby... I wanna be a cowboy baby"

19. "Hey, I'm lesbian" "I thought you were American"

20. "I spilled lipstick in your Valentino bag" "you spilled- whaghwhha- lipstick in my Valentino White bag?"

21. "What's better than this? Guys bein dudes"

22. "How'd you get these bumps? ya got eggzma?" "I got what?" "You got eggzma?"

23. "WHAT ARE THOSEEEEE?" "THEY are my crocs!"

24. "Can I get a waffle? Can I please get a waffle?"

25. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAVEN!" "I can't sweem"

26. "Say Coloradoo" "I'M A GIRAFFE!!"

27. "How much did you pay for that taco?" Aight yo you know this boys got his free tacoo"

28. *Birds chirping* "Tweekle Tweekle"

29. "Girl, you're thicker than a bowl of oatmeal"

30. "I brought you Frankincense" "Thank you" "I brought you Myrrh" "Thank you" "Mur-dur" "huh...Judas..no"

31. "Sleep? I don't know about sleep...it's summertime" "You ain't go to bed?" "Oh she caught me"

32. "All I wanna tell you is school's not important... Be whatever you wanna be. If you wanna be a dog...RUFF. You know?"33. "Oh I like ya accent where you from?" "I'm Liberian" "Oh, my bad *whispering* I like your accent..."

34. "Next Please" "Hello" "Sir, this is a mug shot" "A mug shot? I don't even drink coffee"


35. "Hey did you happen to go to class last week?" "I have never missed a class"

36. "Go ahead and introduce yourselves" "My name is Michael with a B and I've been afraid of insects my entire-" "Stop, stop, stop. Where?" "Hmm?" "Where's the B?" "There's a bee?"

37. "There's only one thing worse than a rapist...Boom" "A child" "No"

38. "Later mom. What's up me and my boys are going to see Uncle Kracker...GIVE ME MY HAT BACK JORDAN! DO YOU WANNA SEE UNCLE KRACKER OR NO?


39. "Dad look, it's the good kush." This is the dollar store, how good can it be?"

40. "Zach stop...Zach stop...You're gonna get in trouble. Zach"

41. "CHRIS! Is that a weed? "No this is a crayon-" I'm calling the police" *puts 911 into microwave* "911 what's your emergency"

42. "WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? "

43. *Blowing vape on table* * cameraman blows it away* "ADAM"

44. "Would you like the spider in your hand?" "Yea" "Say please" "Please" *puts spider in hand* *screams*

45. "Oh hi, thanks for checking in I'm still a piece of garrbaagge"

46. *girl blows vape* "...WoW"

47. *running* "...Daddy?" "Do I look like-?"

48. *Pours water onto girl's face" "Hello?"

49. "Wait oh yes wait a minute Mr. Postman" "HaaaAHH"

50. "...And they were roommates" "Mah God they were roommates"


I could literally go on forever because I just reference vines on a daily basis. Rest in peace Vine

Cover Image Credit: Vine

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Do not fear the subtitle, embrace it

Why you shouldn't let a fear of "reading" while watching stop you from amazing shows or films...why you should embrace the subtitle.

230
views

I am a lover of all movies, encompassing drama, comedy, romance, action, adventure, etcetera, etcetera. Whether films have subtitles is of no consequence to me now, but it wasn't always like that. In my younger and more vulnerable years, I heavily feared and avoided the dreaded subtitles, pesky words that meant reading when all I wanted to do was mindlessly absorb whatever moving image was on the screen of choice in front of me. I consciously stayed away from foreign films where I would have to put subtitles on and read actual words instead of just being able to listen and absorb whatever the characters were saying. I would love to say that my eluding of foreign films went away with age and was replaced with an eclectic taste for all films subtitled with languages alien to my American ears. Alas, that would not be the truth.

In actuality, my venture into the world of foreign films was forced upon me by high school level French classes where the teachers thought all of us 15 year-olds would suddenly become half fluent in a language we spoke 40 minutes a day if we watched a movie in said language. Sadly, I did not become fluent in French thanks to those high school classes; they did, however, lay the groundwork for a foundation of appreciation for foreign films. And they erased my fear and avoidance of all movies subtitled, instead, the forced high school French films of my mid-teen years created an appreciation for subtitles.

Instead of avoiding movies where I had to read the dialogue at all costs I, cautiously at first, started watching movies where the language was not of my tongue. I started with French films considering I was taking the language, and have been for five years but somehow still do not know it very well, and was pleasantly surprised with how well I actually liked reading the subtitles. I know it sounds crazy, but I really did like it and I will tell you why. First, it immensely helps when the movie you are watching with subtitles is one that you actually picked out yourself with a plot that intrigues you. I think in high school when kids are forced to watch movies in a foreign language class they think it's the subtitles they hate when in actuality it is just the extremely boring or underwhelming plot of whatever "school appropriate" and approved movie the teacher lazily clicks play on. It is so much easier to lose yourself in the feelings of a film when you are the one who picks it, subtitles or no subtitles, and that's a fact.

Second, people's main problem with subtitles is that they have to "read" when all they want to do is mindlessly melt into the couch while numbly consuming the movie in front of them. Well, that is just not possible with subtitles...but, that's a good thing. For one, you literally can't go on your phone because then you will miss whatever is happening on screen due to the face that you actually have to be engaged to keep up with what is going on. And two, a certain feeling of achievement washes over you after finishing a film with subtitles (as silly as that sounds). For one, you feel that you not only just watched a movie but you were also reading at the same time. Ergo, that feeling of having actually read something replaces the feeling of guilt at having not left your house all day to watch television instead. Therefore, making watching a movie with subtitles a very "intellectual" activity.

Also, many people do not take into account the amount of American or English films that subtly use subtitles in the film. Most famously Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" which switches from French to German to English and back again (I would say Italian but I do not think Brad Pitt's southern accent twanged "Buongiorno" counts). In cases such as those, yes you are watching a movie primarily in English but isn't there something unnameable and special when those scenes in an international tongue come on. Maybe you realize it and maybe you don't but I bet you're hanging on the edge of your seat just a little bit more or paying attention just a little bit harder because the characters on screen are speaking in a way your brain cannot translate so your eyes have to do it for you.

So, the next time you are scrolling through Netflix or Amazon Prime or any form of movie streaming services you prefer do not knock films with subtitles out of the waters right away. Take a minute, maybe two or even three, to see if there are any foreign movies that tickle your fancy whether they be dramas, comedies, romance, or anything else. Engage with movies and characters that may seem far removed from your life because they speak a language different than your own, but really they are just like you. Or maybe they're not, and that's why you love them. But, you will never know if you never try and read while you watch. Do not fear the subtitle, embrace it.

Cover Image Credit:

c1.staticflickr.com

Related Content

Facebook Comments