Thursday, March 31, 2011

Understanding the Problem

In my first post, I wrote a little bit about what I believe and what I hope to do in this blog.  Before I get started with the reviews and such, I think that its important to understand what I will be evaluating these movies and tv shows with.  There are a lot of issues that Asian Americans have in regards to the media, and I will be addressing them, but today the most obvious problem that I think I can address is the lack of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry. 

To be completely honest.

They are Missing In Action. [Did they forget about us? It's not like we don't live here too!]

I remember the first time I realized that the entertainment industry lacked Asian Americans.  It was in elementary school.  My friend Jackie and I were discussing actors and actresses that we could admire (or unknowingly identify with).  But we could only think of one Asian American actress.  Up until a few months ago, I hadn't really returned to this thought to ponder.

Let’s do a little research.  The CIA World Factbook says that the United States population is about 4.5% Asian.  If we round that up to about 5%, that means that 1 out of 20 people is Asian in the United States.  Anyone who knows anything about popular culture can attest to the fact that 1 out of 20 actors, actresses, and musicians are not Asian.  I know there's a lot of things we can say about why there's this lack of Asians.  Well, I think we all know that the issue certainly isn't a lack of Asians.  I mean, hello, Hollywood is in California, and there are probably more Asians in California than the rest of the United States (there is no statistical evidence to support this off the cuff claim of mine).  It's not as if Hollywood really puts out stuff that accurately reflects the ethnic populations of America (because if it did, we would eat a WHOLE lot less bacon).  Its no question that certain ethnic groups dominate Hollywood, but why oh why can't we just get a couple more actors in movies and television?!?!

 I remember when J-Lo was talking about how amazing it was for her, a Latina, to get roles in film and television.  I am so happy to see progressive portrayals of Latino characters because they are the fastest growing minority group in America ( I think, I heard that somewhere, don't cite me as a source).  I LOVE seeing more Hispanic (okay, if there are any Latino or Hispanic readers out there, can someone please school me on the best and least offensive way to refer to this really large and diverse ethnic group that in a similar way to Asian Americans includes individuals from a plethora of places that kind of get lumped in this giant ethnic group) characters portrayed in television and film (one of my favorites being the TV show Ugly Betty!).  Seriously! There are some great Latino actors and actresses out there.  

There's this little experiment that I like to play with a lot of my friends to illustrate the true scarcity of Asian American actors.  Before reading the next paragraph, I want you to try.  I bet you that if you're not Asian, you can count all the Asian American actors you know on one hand.  If you're Asian, I give you two hands.  But out of the hundreds of actors, actresses, and celebrities ( I understand that this experiment was focused only on actors and actresses, but to be honest, good luck trying to find any pop (not classical) musicians that are Asian American) you can only think of around 5, at the most.

alright. completed?

Sometimes, I even let people name individuals by their roles, not their actual names, even then its still less than a handful.  Most people's answers will include two or three of the following:
Lucy Liu
Brenda Song (Disney Channel)
Harry Shum (Glee, LXD)
John Cho (Harold and kumar go to White Castle)
and that guy from Community/The Hangover ). 

Of course this is a comprehensive list, including all of the names that I've been able to gather.  To be fair, most people will say Jackie Chan, but he's not Asian American, he's from Hong Kong (but of course no one knows the difference, because apparently, we're all foreigners, sorry. i will get to that complaint later).  If they like Grey's Anatomy, they'll name Sandra Oh, but sorry, thanks for playing she's Canadian.  (not that I hate Canada)

 I can name enough for two hands, but that’s because I pay special attention to Asian American actors and actresses. Hundreds of actors and actresses pass through our televisions and films every year.  If we expand to the general entertainment industry, how many Asian American musicians or singers can you think of?  So we have a problem. The lack of portrayal of Asian Americans on television and film, but many may ask so what?

This is part of a larger tapestry of problems that continue to plague Asian American entertainers.  The truth is that even when we are portrayed in media, our characters are riddled with stereotypes.  After engaging in a lengthy discussion with one of my friends about this issue two months ago, she informed me yesterday that since then, she's been really paying attention to Asian Americans and their portrayals in television and film now.  She's started to notice a lot of the things that I've been talking about.

I am going to talk about many more of the issues that I may have touched on in my next few posts, but if you are hungry and cannot wait, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans or ( MANAA) has a great comprehensive piece on their website

MANAA is a great organization that I discovered last week while doing some more research for this blog.  If anyone is actually reading this, I would love it if you would post a comment or something about how you feel after reading this.  Whether or not this is a problem that you realized long ago or something that you just realized after reading this article, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Plus, if you know people in your life (friends, family, coworkers) that you feel would understand or identify with this, please pass it on.  One of the greatest things that I've seen about the Asian American community is the amount of Internet mobility and fluidity.

Also, please expect a special post within the next week concerning the whole "Racist rant by UCLA student" situation.  I will be posting my opinion and analysis of the situation.  Thanks for reading.

That Asian Girl


  1. I think it's interesting that you named John Cho from Harold & Kumar but not Kal Penn, who is also (South) Asian-American...

  2. That is a great point! The truth is, I only named people that I heard in common responses from other individuals. I did not list all of the Asian American actors that I knew, but rather those that most people named

    . It is true that Kal Penn is another Asian American, an Indian American. It is a another whole article addressing how often times the term Asian American draws up images of those from an Eastern Asian background and not as much those from Pakistan or India.

    But the truth is that most of the issues I am discussing are related more so to East Asian Americans. The topical content and stereotypes that I am most familiar with are those of East Asian Americans, and I acknowledge that Indian Americans have their own battles that they fight as a part of their troubles, but they are different in some regards-especially in concerns to physical stereotypes.