Representations of Asians in the Entertainment Industry Impacts Asian Hates

News & Society

  • Author Napaht Na Nongkhai
  • Published June 22, 2021
  • Word count 2,321

The United States of America is probably one of the countries that have the biggest influence in the world. The influence is via fashion, technologies and anything in our everyday lives. The most successful place to do that is through the entertainment industry. You want to make something go viral? Get it on commercials. You want to set a standard? Then write a T.V. show or a movie that sets up that standard. Find an iconic actor to play that part, and the whole world will take that as a yes.

Hollywood and Broadway have so much influence on earth, and they are the images of such a country that has a very diverse population, but for a long time, there was a lack of diversity in the most influential media. That doesn’t mean we have never seen people of colors in the media before. It’s what we have seen that matters. That’s what representation means. It’s not about adding some ethnic people in the background, and call that diversity.

For a long time, Asian people have been playing the same stereotypical characters. The world will never go anywhere if we only stay with the stereotypes that were written ages ago by someone who existed during the time that equality was not even a thing. This includes the lack of representation of diversity in Asian cultures, misunderstandings of characteristics of Asians and sexualization of Asian women and girls.

First, Lack of Representation of Diversity in Asian Cultures:

How many times have you started or have you heard a conversation of someone who just saw an Asian person, and would describe them as “Chinese?” “Oh, my day was good. There was this Chinese woman who brought a husky on a train today.” Or if you are Asian, have you ever experienced somebody confidentially guessing your ethnicity? “You’re from China?” Or straight up “ni hao.” Then if you say that you’re not Chinese, they will keep guessing “Japan? Korea?” Like there are only three countries in Asia. Then there is sometime where a random person asks you where you are from because you look Asian, and you must not be from the U.S. If you say, “California”, then you’ll hear, “No, like where are you actually from? Also why don’t you have an accent?” I have friends who are South Asians, and they consider themselves as South Asians. Other people would not agree with them because if they are Asians, why don't they look like the stereotypical Chinese, and then even call them Arabs or Muslims when they are neither of those.

These are effects that were cost by the lack of representation of diversity through media. The media is a place where the majority of the world, kids to elders, go to get knowledge from, but the only knowledge they gain from the media about Asians is that any Asian person will probably be from China, Korea or Japan, cannot be from the U.S, they all speak chinese, can’t speak English or must have a certain accent, they own Chinese restaurants, masters of chopsticks and have a certain look.

It’s not all bad. We have a good example of good representation, which is Disney that represents the Asian, Indigenous and Pacific Islandic cultures well. As someone who is from Thailand, Southeast Asia, I am very proud that Raya and The Last Dragon shows a wonderful representation of not only the strength of a young girl, but a representation of many ethnicities, colors and cultures within Southeast Asia itself.

Aren’t these just some people who are ignorant and harmless? What does it have to do with the Asian Hate Crimes? After the Corona Virus outbreaks, the news says that the source started in The Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. That was when the Asian Hate Crimes started increasing, and Asians were being called “Virus.” It doesn’t make sense to attack anyone in general, but especially if the reason to attack was by thinking that all Asians would be linking to each other and carry the virus. People didn’t realize that people with the same race are not the same person, are not from the same household, and they probably don’t know each other. I have Asian-American friends in New York City who got alcohol sprayed on while riding the train, and were being told things in a way that they were tourists from China that just arrived in New York City during COVID-19, and would bring the virus here even though they have been living here since birth, and have never been to China. They are not even Chinese. The big part of why people think this way is because of the media. The media has been presenting the same type of character and the same life story for Asian community again and again with no variety, which makes it seem that every single Asian person anywhere on earth is this repeated stereotype. When the rumor started that the virus came from a person in Wuhan City, China from eating bats, it became a new popular trait to add into the idea that people already thought every Asian person is the same, which would make them think that therefore every Asian person must eat bats.

Second, the Misunderstandings of Characteristics of Asians:

Many times, we forget that we are all humans, and our ethnicities, homelands, cultures are not all of who we are. At the end of the day, we are our own individual beings. We all have different personalities based on how we were raised, based on events that happened in our lives, who we choose to be today and choices that we make. Like it was mentioned earlier, “We forget.” We take in what we see on screens and hear on radios, and we just believe that those are facts. Most of the time Asians are in the media just to add “diversity,” and that’s how we are seen in real life. We are seen as a joke, as people who you can racially joke to their faces, and they will just laugh. We are seen as being easy taken. We are seen as minor characters. They show a lot about us being able to do martial arts, but they also show a lot that we are weak, soft, and whatever anyone says to us, we will just nod. The media talks a lot about how good we are at math, and we have two careers waiting for us. Either owning an Asian restaurant or working in a medical field. How about what the media says we are not? The girl/boy next door. Someone who is the most beautiful girl in the school. A Regina Goerge. Someone who falls in love. Or we can say, basically everything that is regular that they leave it for the main characters. Some people see a person who’s asian, and everything that’s mentioned above is all they see in us. Without getting to know us, they already assume they know everything.

It seems harmless, but it’s not. Race jokes happen all the time more than you think. Sometimes it happens by a stranger who means well, and thinks that if they say a racial joke to you, it may clear the air of uncomfortability and awkwardness and make you guys closer. Sometimes it’s said by a friend, and sometimes just anybody because they think “It’s just a joke”. The media is a big part behind this because for centuries, Asians in the media have been seen as easy targets because we won’t fight back, and we would even smile and laugh with you. The most we would do if we are not okay would be walking away because we don’t want any problems. The media doesn’t focus on an Asian who is a human. Someone who has feelings, who can get hurt, can be offended and decides to stand up to their bullies like a normal human being. The media creates the image that Asians are the easiest target. They always tell the same story. It’s so black and white like if we’re not the Asians who would easily walk away then there’s a cooler version, the ninja assassins with no emotions. Racism against Asian community has been happening longer before COVID-19 started, but it has been normalized. Even today where “Unity in Diversity” is a big trend, asian crimes are still normalized and being overlooked.

The Sexualization of Asian Women and Girls:

I have a friend from Thailand who went to Germany as an exchange student, and on the first day of school, a kind high school boy who she just had a class with reached out to her if she needed help because she’s new. That’s how it seemed. What he actually greeted her with was “How much?” My experience, a friend of a friend asked me why I came to the U.S because Thailand has beautiful islands and beaches. Before I even got a chance to answer, a guy friend of hers yelled “Yeah, prostitute!” With his fist up like it was a victory. One night on the way home from school, I decided to get a slice of pizza. “You’re from China? No? Korean?” I told him, “No, I’m from Thailand.” He looked at me, and smiled, “Oohhh Pattaya Huh? Pattaya!!,” and he winked. Pattaya is one of the most well known cities in Thailand where tourists go. The city is full of beautiful palm trees, beaches, the seas, bars, clubs and brothels. I have nothing against prostitutes. If it’s their will, it’s their will, but I’m already tired of getting cat calls by guys on the streets of New York City everyday. Now I have to experience guys asking me what my price is because I’m Thai? Sure, there is a city in my country that’s full of brothels, but does it make every girl you see from Thailand a prostitute? Do you really think there’s no other occupation? Something I got asked recently from someone that seems to believe this stereotype of Thai women is real, and he even embraces it. He complimented me that I’m very pretty like Thai girls, then he asked if this is the only thing we care about, right? Beauty? Living a chill life? Becoming a model? Marry any old white guy to get out of the country and be rich? Just have fun? He said that Thai girls are so cool, fun to hang around and our culture is so fun.

No, it’s not fun even hearing you talking about it. No, I don’t want to just be pretty doing nothing and wait to find a white guy to get married with. Being a prostitute, dancing and drinking all night is also not my culture.

No surprise why this is still a thing because there is no representation of Thai people or Southeast Asians in the Entertainment industry. I can think of a couple Hollywood T.V shows and movies that mentioned Thailand for a few seconds. The only thing they mention is a prostitute or there will just be a naked Asian woman lying on the bed next to the main male character, and the only thing they mention is he’s in Thailand. The most famous images on screen when it comes to Southeast Asian women is a reality show that follows couples who have applied for or received a K-1 Visa, and the hottest topic people talk about when it comes to the couple with a Thai girl is that the guy can’t afford his young Thai fiancé. That just strengthens the stereotype mentioned above that a young Thai girl would just find an old white guy to marry just to use his money.

Roles of Asian female characters in Hollywood have been shaped in two directions. One that is soft, sweet, young, powerless, a Lolita style. One that is sexy and for people to sexualize. Even on Broadway, we don’t have many good representations of Asian community, especially for Asian women. The ones that are known have some truths to it, but still cycling in the realm of powerless and prostitutes.

In conclusion, these are examples of how powerful the entertainment industry is to the society, and we can use that power to influence what we call “Unity in Diversity.” These are examples of what we are missing today if we think we are already living in Utopia. We are far from it. We are doing much better than the past. There’s a lot of good representations of Asian community today in the entertainment industry that I did not mention, but we are just starting. We have a long way to go. We need more media that tells powerful stories of each ethnicity, not just one or two and call it that. We need more media that truly represents the image of what Unity in Diversity is. Some that tell a story of us as human beings experiencing normal but complex human experiences, and our races don’t make us who we are or what our jobs will be or how our characters behave and talk. An impact doesn’t happen by us creating one new thing just to show that we are making changes and then stop. We have to represent the most variety of every single community, and make that normal. We have to let go of the stereotype and remember that whatever ethnicity, we are humans, and we have to represent that. Showing the truths from the past and telling our history is valuable, but what about spreading the story of today? What about creating new standards for tomorrow?

Hi! My name is Napaht Na Nongkhai. As a young asian woman and a new artist stepping into the entertainment industry, these struggles are real, and we have been facing them for a long time, but it’s time to change, and I need this to be heard.


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