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Asian Representation in Western Film

With the recent popularity of #StarringJohnCho, discuss the history of Asians in Western Television and Film and the possible reasons why there is so little Asian representation today. Why are there so few leading Asians in film, and why does Hollywood tend to stick Asians into stereotypical supporting roles?

  • Hollywood's formula at its most reductive is a film which attracts the largest consumer or the most specific one (camera angles, landscapes, fandom etc.). This isn't to say Asian America doesn't consume film. Rather, it means there is a presumed range of audience-consumers who watch films for pleasure and, as a result, won't care whether the portrayal of the Hero who exercises restraint and is later rewarded is White or Asian. But there lies the paradox: films which are enjoyable because characters express a philosophy or individuality audiences can live through vicariously means that there is an emotion or performed emotion which is accepted as universal. Justice looks like this, honour like that. However, this axiom (self-evident truth not up for discussion) has been established alongside, in response to, or disavowing a history which is, fundamentally, racist. The term carries hostile connotations, yeah, but it also speaks to a legacy of bad blood recognized and enforced by the law to keep the peace. Asians in supporting roles confirms what is imagined as quintessentially Asian. This specificity is something the cast, rather than the lead, should accomplish because authority, which the cast defers to the lead, is assumed to lack or exist in spite of such associations. Thus, the lack of Asian leads is because there is the implicit understanding that Whiteness is unquestionably located in a philosophy that aspires to transcend or progress past racialized and ethnic histories and identities. Bring an Asian into the picture to represent a role considered unhindered by this baggage and the narrative is disrupted. Most times, it is then critiqued for attempting to insert politics into a space reserved for enjoyment—and unquestioned for its White legacy. – JMIWrites 5 years ago
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  • Great topic -- has anyone done this already? Asians are a massively underecognized ethnicity in film. As an asian american myself I am always on the lookout for asians in hollywood. – sophiacatherine 5 years ago
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