From Margaret Cho’s painful stand-up at the Golden Globes in 2015, to Matthew Moy on Two Broke Girls, to Hong Chau at the Golden Globes in 2018, to Jessica Huang in Fresh Off the Boat, and to the upcoming cast of the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians, just stop. Asian/ Asian American representation seems to be everywhere nowadays. You’d think this would be a good thing, but whenever I see it I cringe. I wait and ask myself, “How are they gonna mess it up this time?”
Whether Asian American voices and bodies are used to show that Hollywood isn’t racist, to fill a diversity quota, or are shown on their own terms, it’s for some reason, painful. I’m not used to seeing people who look like me represented in mass media, so whenever they are visible, I am very critical of it. Whatever they show will influence how others think of me and people who look like me, and whenever it is shown, it’s usually for comedic effect or to subtly make fun of white people.
Case in point, Hong Chau and Seth Meyers bit at the Golden Globes in 2018. This bit is uncannily similar to Chris Rock’s bit at the Oscars in 2016, when he used Asian children to represent calculators and computers. Meyers gave Hong Chau a set up and Hong Chau’s punchline (which she says with a straight and unsmiling face) goes something like, “white people aren’t as good as math as Asian/Chinese people.” For some reason that’s “funny.” Why? When are we going to stop perpetuating this harmful minority myth? When are we going to stop saying Asian people are basically white? This is false and reductive. It takes Asian Americans out of the fight for racial and social justice, when they so desperately need to be in the running. We acknowledge Asian Americans are needed for diversity quotas in shows and ad campaigns, but we also think they’re white. Those two things cannot exist at one time.
My favorite cable network show, Superior Donuts, decided to throw in an Asian caricature in its latest episode. This charming character is germaphobic, overweight, wears glasses (plus a fanny pack), gels his hair like it's the 1980s, and stalks the main character. All of this is done for cheap laughs. It’s even “funnier” because he’s Asian. Therefore, he must be emasculated and nerdy. I love Superior Donuts because even though the humor is misplaced at times, when it wants to get a message about racism or classism across, it really does. However, when it comes to Asians and Asian Americans, people just don’t know what to do with us. They take us out of the fight for racial justice and regulate us to “weird foreigners.” Representation matters. Asians are such easy targets for bullying in school and for the rest of their lives. We’re either seen as “aliens” or as “white” so the the bullying seems justified or "not that bad." We need better media representation to be seen as people with feelings, needs, and different personalities in order to stop the hurtful stigmas against us.
I don't think I will never be satisfied with mainstream Asian American content on cable because none of it will ever be good enough for me. None of it shows the diversity of the Asian/ Asian American experience. Sometimes it’s trying to be so normalizing that it’s actually alienating. Not even the projects that are being created by Asian Americans that are supposedly "positive" representation such as Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians is that good. Fresh Off the Boat has gotten better and grown into its own thing, but it’s no gold mine. It plays it safe, and just tries to be as white as possible. As for Crazy Rich Asians (I’ve read the book that they’re basing the movie off of), it limits the Asian American and Asian experience to lives of the wealthy which is totally unrealistic for the majority of viewers. It’s just a Cinderella story and romantic comedy drama, but with Asian people. Progress? Yes, Asian people are successful, but are they all “crazy rich”? No, they’re not. Though the book does show the dichotomy between Asians from Asia and Asian Americans - which is super important - I just feel like it trivializes the whole idea with making the story so exaggerated (Nick - the love interest - is from a Singaporean mafia family). How relatable.
To an extent, it’s impossible to represent a whole community that’s based off of a huge continent of different countries, ethnic groups, cultures, languages, skin colors, etcetera, but one place where I can find solace is YouTube. Mainly, because it’s genuine. The creators are real people, being themselves, and living their authentic lives. Though all Asian American YouTubers are not made equally, most of them are just trying to be funny, creative, and overall real to watch. It’s a lot better to see Asian American voices and bodies speak for themselves, rather than ones that are hand picked by white people.
24 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.