Hollywood Will Never Change For Asian Guys
Amid the #oscarssowhite fiasco was a frustrated cry for diversity and for equal opportunity in the media. Truthfully though, the resounding war cry I kept hearing regarding media representation sounded to me like more of the same black versus white dichotomy that is so ingrained in American society that we tend to forget that America, better yet the world is not solely black and white. It may surprise some of you to know that, caught in-between this age-old tug-of-war, is a plethora of varying shades and peoples, one of which I belong to, which are all equally significant and beg to be celebrated, but much to my chagrin has remained voiceless for so long. I am talking about the much-fabled and mythical creature known as the North American-Asian male.
Rarer than Nessie sightings in Loch Ness, and more elusive than Bigfoot, is the existence of the North American-Asian male. Maybe once every blue moon, when the stars align just right and when Jupiter is in Venus, we see glimpses of these fantastical creatures in the world of film. For instance, every few years we see John Cho in a noteworthy role, acting like, lo and behold, every other American, without the funny accent or fobbishly-stereotypical culture.
Meanwhile on the small screen, there have been reports of a Steven Yuen, who is delightfully and surprisingly a fan favourite in the show, The Walking Dead, in addition to reports of an ever-increasingly popular funny-man Aziz Ansari. Apart from these few rare specimens though, sightings of these beings are too few and far between to confirm their wide-spread existence. It’s almost as if Chris Rock’s “joke” that Hollywood is less “burning-cross racist,” and more “sorority racist” actually has credence to it.
What strikes me is that in the face of that glaring yet incredibly subtle truth, all focus was placed solely on the struggle of African-American actors fighting to get solid acting roles. While there was an uproar over the lack of black movies and actors nominated at the Oscars, not a thing was said about the disappearance, or should I say the non-existence of a whole demographic of people in Hollywood, much less their lack of Oscar nominations.
When I look back on my childhood, I, along with others like myself were exposed to lovable scoundrels like Ferris Bueller, preppy love interests like Blake McDonough of Pretty in Pink fame, and the always panty-dropping charm of Ryan Reynolds in pretty much any film; all basically guys who traverse everyday social life seizing days and getting the girls.
Meanwhile, North-American Asian guys are left with mystical fighters like Liu Kang, or Jet Li or some other Chinese-centered action-comedy ala Jackie Chan films. Even Bruce Lee himself, the only man who could kick Chuck Norris’ ass to death couldn’t beat the mighty hand of Hollywood (I will accept that only if Hollywood was possessed by the undying spirit of Chuck’s beard). Back in the seventies, Bruce Lee had a pitch for a show called The Warrior, which was about a martial artist traveling in the Wild West, which never got picked up due to Lee being Chinese-American.
Spoiler alert though, there eventually was a show about a martial artist in the Wild West, called Kung Fu starring none other than…David Carradine? Well I guess at the time he looked Asian enough right? Granted those were the seventies and America wasn’t really known for their inclusiveness then, and Lee did rationalize that the idea of an American cowboy in Chinese media probably wouldn’t have done too well either. In any case, let’s fast forward to the eighties, when Rap started carving out a market for itself and when teen angst and John Hughes were inseparable.
John Hughes, arguably the voice of a generation crafted unforgettable characters like John Bender, and the aforementioned Ferris Bueller, what character could he bring to life for North-American Asian guys? He gave us three unforgettable words, Long…Duk…Dong, quite possibly one of the worst and offensive characters I’ve ever seen, and who was overtly resistant to integration, as well as a caricature of every racial Asian stereotype you could imagine. Thanks Mr. Hughes!
These days we thankfully have normal characters like Harold Lee, Glenn Rhee, and Han Seoul-Oh. But for every progressive step Hollywood takes in representing North-American Asian males properly, we get a naked and unflattering Ken Jeong jumping out of a trunk, channeling the spirit of Long Duk Dong which brings us back ten-thousand steps. Seriously, where are all the normal, modern Asian guys?
All joking aside, in a society where a demand for diversity and representation is so clearly fought for. It is quite disheartening that there seems to be no progression towards representing a specifically North-American Asian male devoid of ridiculous stereotypes. I mean, for some reason, we can only ever appear as martial artists, “fresh-off-the-boat” nerds, or submissive beta-males with bad teeth and funny accents.
The last time I checked, it is 2016, not post-World War II, Cold War Era America, so why are we still being painted as the non-integrated, ever-different alien? At the same time, think about how often Asian females appear in Hollywood films, and how they tend to be represented (a topic all its own). I’d say there are two dominant portrayals of Asian women. Either they’re normal ala Lucy Liu in Elementary or Hollywood celebrates their differences and displays them as these sexualized, submissive, yellow-fever goals that are hotly desired by the leads or supporting actors (all of which are usually not Asian).
In fact, it’s more common to see Asian females in interracial relationships in the media as opposed to their male counterparts. Think back to Lucy Liu and Matt Leblanc in Charlie’s Angels or Maggie Q and Timothy Olyphant in Live Free or Die Hard. Hell in Dragon Ball Evolution we have Justin Chatwin as Goku, and Jamie Chung as Chi Chi, the power couple of Dragon Ball. On top of all that, these are just examples of movies; I’m not even getting into regular commercials that run on the television, hourly. If Asian women can be depicted as these desirable and culturally integrated characters, why is it so hard to find and more importantly accept a single, successful North-American Asian male?
This non-representation shouldn’t really be a big deal though right? I mean we’re talking about made up stories that have absolutely no effect on reality. In addition to that, we’re all way too media-literate to let anything on Television inform our opinions or ideologies…right? If so, here’s a question to ponder. Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? If only it were so cleanly separable.
The truth is it’s a cycle. Each side feeds each other, we imitate the art in the media, and as such the media responds and reflects back on us depictions of ourselves. It is only when we take a step back and gaze at the representations of ourselves that we can take notice of these imbalances. For instance, think of an East-Asian or South-Asian equivalent for Chris Hemsworth or Denzel Washington. I’m apt to say that the pickings are slim, and the opportunities to display such skill and worthiness are too few and far between.
Needless to say, this failure to give Asian guys proper representation is a major problem. It not only erases North-American Asian males from the minds of the general public, but also takes away any value or urge to see them on screen, of from what I’ve seen, in everyday life. It seems this Tinsel Town ain’t big enough for Asians guys. The only way North-American Asian males, (East, South and all that’s in-between) will ever be able to take a seat at the Hollywood table, is through exposure and an undying need to establish a modern and integrated presence both on screen, as well as in society.
A presence such as that would generate a semblance of value and respect for our demographic. Without it we would all be crawling at a snail’s pace in a race to get a piece of the proverbial pie. Without proper, respectful and equal representation, without exposure in the media, the dream of integration and acceptance will never be realized.
Instead, North-American Asian males will forever be viewed as separate aliens to be feared, disassociated with, dominated and extinguished. That is a future I refuse to accept. It is a life and situation I refuse to abide by. I will not be relegated to the sidelines; I will not be easily erased from the annals of history. Today, and until it is achieved, I swear that I will do everything to bring about this change.
So here I am asking for your help. To those who are listening. To those who agree. To those who want change for ALL peoples, as diverse as we are. Will you help me light a fire bright enough for the world to see, and one that won’t be put out that easily?
Kilian Bugayong | Contributor