Movies + TV, Pop Culture

I am not your model minority and I’m damn sure not invisible

Representations of all Asians in American media matters.

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As a young girl, I never saw any representations of myself anywhere. I grew up in a predominately white city, as an Asian-American child of immigrants. I often felt as if my multicultural experience was so weird and so out-there, that no one could ever relate. And in part, I blame the lack of Asian representations in American media.  There are no television shows with little Asian girls or children’s books featuring Asian protagonists. When an Asian person would be around, they were a background character often portraying stereotypes.

As a young girl, I never saw any representations of myself anywhere. And in part, I blame the lack of Asian representations in American media. Click To Tweet

The issue of why representation matters, is broad and multifaceted. But largely speaking, we need representation because stories matter. The stories we consume through media are an inroads to understanding people and the identities they embody. Media shapes our understanding of how people who are both similar and dissimilar to us experience the world. By not promoting authenticity, Asian and non-Asian audiences lose out on the opportunity to gain understanding of ones self and others.

The Huffington Post interviewed media researchers on the importance of representation. Ana-Christina Ramon, assistant director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, said, “If you are a black, Asian or Latinx person who sees an “inauthentic” or “one-dimensional” version of yourself, you may wonder if that is all that is expected of you in society.” 

In a 2016 University of Southern California study, researchers found that “half the films and TV shows they analyzed had no Asian speaking characters.” This is hugely problematic because without dialogue, Asian characters are reduced to token window dressings to a larger storyline that is not about them.

By not displaying authenticity, both Asian and non-Asian audiences lose out on the opportunity to gain understanding of ones self and others. Click To Tweet

The lack of Asian people in American media is emblematic of a larger problem regarding invisible Asians and the pervasive model minority myth. In so many examples, Asians are disregarded as minorities and lack representation everywhere.

The model minority myth is a pervasive social problem in which Asians immigrants in America are labeled the “model minority” because East Asian people generally have higher levels of education and higher incomes. The model minority myth is not only toxic towards Asian people, who are reduced to stereotypes and aggregated to one single experience, but also toxic to other minority groups that are then compared against “model minorities.”

To this day, I don’t see many representations of myself in the media. A lot of times on television, Asian people are portrayed as interested in STEM and nerdy. Movies like Ghost in a Shell and Aloha cast white women to play Asian characters! This sparked outrage not only in me, but many other Asian-Americans as well. While Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson are great and all, they’re not Asian! And they shouldn’t be portraying Asian people when the industry already has so few Asian roles.

In response, #StarringJohnCho and #StarringConstanceWu was born. The internet began photoshopping pictures of Asian actors, John Cho and Constance Wu onto movie posters. The creators of #StarringJohnCho have said, “#StarringJohnCho is a social movement that literally shows you what it would look like if today’s Hollywood blockbusters cast an Asian-American actor – specifically, John Cho – as their leading man.”

I love seeing Asian people as the stars of movies. In the future, I hope it can be a forever reality.

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[Image description: From #StarringJohnCho John Cho on the movie posters of Me Before You, The Nice Guy, and Go Rogue.]
The model minority myth is not only toxic towards Asian people, who are reduced to stereotypes and aggregated to a single experience, but also toxic towards other minority groups that are then compared against “model minorities.” Click To Tweet

But things are getting better. Notable recent representations of Asian people on television are: Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project, Fresh Off the Boat with Constance Wu and other AMAZING Asian actors, Community with Ken Jeong,  Nikita with Maggie Q, and Hawaii Five-O with Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. It’s a slow roll, but we are making major improvements.

For me, I have found other Asian-American people through smaller media channels. I regularly read Angry Asian Man and Thick Dumpling Skin, two blogs that talk about the socio-political role of Asians in American society. I follow Instagram accounts of Asian media influencers like Aimee Song and Eva Chen. And I talk to my friends who are Asian about our experiences, whether shared or not, as Asian-Americans. 

While Asian representation in TV, movies, and books is still limited, we are making improvements. And having conversations about the importance of representation is a good place to start. Click To Tweet

While we still have a long way to go, having conversations on the importance of media representation is a good place to start. I hope that one day we will have Asian-Americans in television series and movies, so another Asian-American girl, like myself, can grow up feeling like she belongs. 

Grace Wong

Grace Wong

Storyteller and content creator studying Political Science at Wellesley College. Inspired by creative-community building, where ideas become reality with authenticity and kindness. Working towards equality, empathy and kindness, daily.

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