Asian Stereotypes in Media


Hannah Kim, Staff Writer

  Like most 9-year-olds, I was fiercely devoted to Disney Channel. Each day I came home from school, bursting with excitement to see what shows I could watch. Although I enjoyed my share of “Hannah Montana” and “Wizards of Waverly Place” episodes, I was always disappointed to see that there was never an Asian girl like me on screen. Throughout the years, I became somewhat satisfied as more Asians appeared on TV, but little did I know, I’d still be equally disappointed.

  For decades, Asians have fought for visibility in media, only to be pushed aside to play discriminatory roles. In “Sixteen Candles,” Long Duk Dong provides comic relief as the socially awkward Asian kid. “The Big Bang Theory” has their only Asian character, Raj, being chronically incapable of talking to women. Jill, better known as “Mouse” in “The Carrie Diaries,” is a cutthroat overachiever that strives to be number one. This trend has become increasingly popular in both the big screen and small screen. Why are these poor, degrading portrayals of Asians so common? Why is it always the Asian that’s ridiculed for being socially inept? Are Asians seen as merely squinty-eyed robots who only get straight A’s?    

  In Hollywood’s eyes, Asians can never be the leading role. They’re pushed aside to fill common stereotypes just to be used as the butt of the joke. Other races are seen as confident, brave, and dominant while Asians are only useful when it comes to math. Casting tends to favor non-Asians because they are considered more capable of being the heroic lead.

  Asian women in particular are usually portrayed as hyperfeminine. They’re oversexualized as the “exotic” woman meant to fill the desires of their male counterparts. Lucy Liu in “Charlie’s Angels” portrays a spy who uses seduction as a tool. Asian men lack masculinity and never fulfill a romantic role. Han Lee in “2 Broke Girls” is regularly made fun of for being too short to be a jock as part of a running punchline. These skewed representations are nothing but demeaning and humiliating.

  USC’s latest study on diversity in entertainment reports that Asians represented about 5 percent of characters across film, television and digital series in 2014. In movies and TV shows, when there actually are Asian characters present, they’re portrayed as either a wimpy, nerdy sidekick or a cold-blooded genius that has to be the best at everything.

  But shouldn’t I be proud that Asians are widely viewed as intelligent people? To answer your burning question: no. Most are aware that Hong Kong and South Korea are the top countries in the world in academics. I suppose it’s somewhat rewarding how people recognize that many Asians seem to thrive academically, but it’s irritating when people are shocked that I don’t have a 4.8 GPA and a perfect SAT score. We’re seen as nothing but our academic achievements and the product of high standards.

  As a Korean, these stereotypes have troubled me my entire life. We’re never seen as athletic or anything other than our grades. Hearing the words: “Of course she’s smart; she’s Asian,” still makes my ears bleed. Our hard work is overlooked because as Asians, that’s just what we’re expected of. People have coined the term “dumb Asian” for those who don’t live up to societal expectations.

  I know my frustration seems trivial compared to other racial issues surrounding our society. I’m aware that it’s impossible to avoid stereotypes. But not all Asians are intimidatingly smart or socially awkward, contrary to what the entertainment industry demonstrates in TV shows and movies. It’s time that people come to realize that Asians are more than these demeaning stereotypes. For the sake of the Asian community and me, the media needs better representation. We’re more than our grades and supposed social incompetence. We’re not robots trained to study constantly; we have feelings. We’re real people too.