Home Posts Here's How Much Harmful Asian Stereotypes Are Perpetuated By Hollywood Movies
Here's How Much Harmful Asian Stereotypes Are Perpetuated By Hollywood Movies
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Here's How Much Harmful Asian Stereotypes Are Perpetuated By Hollywood Movies


Anna May Wong, a pioneering Asian American actor, lamented in 1959, "when I die, my epitaph should be: 'I died a thousand deaths,'" referring to the numerous times her characters were killed off in her films.

Wong's observation is still relevant today, more than six decades later: in 2019, more than a quarter of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander (API) characters in the year's top 100 box office films were dead by the end of the film, and all but one died violently. This is just one of a slew of harmful tropes about API people and communities that many Hollywood creators continue to perpetuate.

Despite years of public pressure and promises to improve diversity and inclusion, the entertainment industry continues to pay API representation “little more than lip service,” according to the study’s co-authors, sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen and University of Southern California professor Stacy L.

The new study, funded by Amazon Studios and the UTA Foundation, made use of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's existing database of the top 100 highest-grossing films each year from 2007 to 2019, which served as the foundation for the group's annual studies on representation in Hollywood. Yuen, Smith, and a team of researchers and students examined API representation in the 1,300 films and 51,159 speaking roles.

Unfortunately, when representation appears to be tokenistic, Hollywood is only doing the bare minimum to promote inclusion.

Nancy Wang Yuen, sociologist and author of "Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism," is an associate professor at Biola University.

Only 5.9% of the characters were API, which is insufficient in comparison to the 7.1% of the US population who identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. Only 44 of the 1,300 films had an API lead or co-lead actor, 14 of which starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

API women fared even worse: only six of the top-grossing films in 13 years starred API women as the lead or co-lead.

The study discovered that “white male actors named Ben, Chris, Daniel, James, Jason, John, Josh, Michael, Robert, Sean, or Tom were far more likely to be hired as the top actor in a film than any API woman actor auditioning in Hollywood.”

The team also focused on the characters from the top 2019 films to better understand how API people are portrayed in the few instances when they do appear on-screen. The study discovered that API roles are rarely leading characters and are frequently “silenced, stereotyped, tokenized, isolated, and sidekicks/villains.” For example, 67% of the characters “reflect tired tropes,” such as the mocking depi.

Only 13% of the API characters in their films "had a full spectrum of relationships," where "audiences know about their family, friends, and romantic interests." Recent examples include Destiny (Constance Wu) in "Hustlers," Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) in "Jumanji: The Next Level," Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) in "Yesterday," and Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) in "Parasite."

Many of the films featured “violence, death, and disparagement” of API characters, which is especially troubling at a time when Asian Americans are experiencing an increase in racist violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the films featured “violence, death, and disparagement” of API characters, which is especially troubling at a time when Asian Americans are experiencing an increase in racist violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic..The characters frequently amplified pernicious tropes, such as how Asian Americans are viewed as "perpetual foreigners," which is reinforced by films in which characters speak with exaggerated Asian accents or are portrayed as not understanding English.

Many of the films featured “violence, death, and disparagement” of API characters, which is especially troubling at a time when Asian Americans are experiencing an increase in racist violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic..The characters frequently amplified pernicious tropes, such as how Asian Americans are viewed as "perpetual foreigners," which is reinforced by films in which characters speak with exaggerated Asian accents or are portrayed as not understanding English..Many of the films examined in the study featured hypersexualized Asian women.

Many of the films featured “violence, death, and disparagement” of API characters, which is especially troubling at a time when Asian Americans are experiencing an increase in racist violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic..The characters frequently amplified pernicious tropes, such as how Asian Americans are viewed as "perpetual foreigners," which is reinforced by films in which characters speak with exaggerated Asian accents or are portrayed as not understanding English..Many of the films examined in the study featured hypersexualized Asian women..The study also discovered that 58% of Asian male characters on screen had no romantic partners, perpetuating another long-standing pop culture trope: Asian men's emasculation.

Many of the films featured “violence, death, and disparagement” of API characters, which is especially troubling at a time when Asian Americans are experiencing an increase in racist violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic..The characters frequently amplified pernicious tropes, such as how Asian Americans are viewed as "perpetual foreigners," which is reinforced by films in which characters speak with exaggerated Asian accents or are portrayed as not understanding English..Many of the films examined in the study featured hypersexualized Asian women..The study also discovered that 58% of Asian male characters on screen had no romantic partners, perpetuating another long-standing pop culture trope: Asian men's emasculation..

According to the study, nearly half of the top 200 grossing films in 2018 and 2019 had no Asian characters or only five lines of dialogue or less.

The study found that API characters are “predominantly young and largely male, straight, and able-bodied,” with disparities in how API ethnicities and nationalities are represented on-screen.

Across the 1,300 films in the study, only 3.5% of directors were API — including a grand total of just three API women in 13 years. No API woman was credited as the sole director of a live-action top-grossing feature film between 2007 and 2019.

“People frequently ask me whether representations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are improving,” Yuen, an associate professor at Biola University and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” said in a press release. “Unfortunately, when representation appears to be tokenism, Hollywood is doing the bare minimum for inclusion.”

The complete study is available here.

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