Asian American Characters On Screen Are More Likely To Be Laughed At Than Laughed With

A new study describes how major movies perpetuate harmful stereotypes about AAPI people and make them the punchline.

8/4/2021 12:09:00 PM

A new study describes how major movies perpetuate harmful stereotypes about AAPI people and make them the punchline.

A new study describes how major movies perpetuate harmful stereotypes about AAPI people and make them the punchline.

Andrew Cooper/Sony PicturesCliff Booth (Brad Pitt) fighting Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) in Quentin Tarantino's"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." Many Asian Americans criticized the film's depiction of Lee, which turned the actor and martial arts legend into a punchline.

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The researchers also looked at the ways that AAPI characters are described in the plot summaries of major movies. For example, with characters that perpetuated the “model minority” stereotype, about 60% were written as “smart,” and 47% were written as “hard-working.” But fewer than a third of these characters “displayed leadership traits” or “were seen as cool.” Instead, when they were on screen, the characters with these traits were portrayed as meek, docile and one-dimensional, reinforcing the model minority trope.

Time and again, studies like these have illustrated the ways that AAPI representation on screen and off screen are intertwined. To better understand this, one component of the study involved a survey of more than 300 AAPI people working in Hollywood, conducted in June by CAPE.

In that survey, only 43.5% of the respondents said they felt their “voice is valued.” Nearly 90% said they have been the only AAPI person in the room, more than 75% said they have felt tokenized, and 81% said they have experienced microaggressions at work, like someone confusing them for another Asian person or assuming they don’t speak English.

The vast majority of respondents said they feel AAPI representation in Hollywood is moving in the right direction, but nowhere near fast enough. The survey found that many AAPI creators see a gap between their own definition of “representation” and the definition held by the industry at large.

Nearly all of the survey respondents agreed that representation means “portraying a group of people in an authentic way on screen.” However, only 42.9% of them said they think Hollywood as a whole considers that the definition. Instead, many of them said they believe industry leaders define representation as “serving as a proxy for a certain group.”

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty ImagesAsian women at a protest in Washington's Chinatown on March 27, 2021. One woman holds a sign that reads"6 Asian women were murdered," a reference to a March 16 shooting spree in Atlanta.Elsewhere, respondents elaborated on the ways they think the entertainment industry has a much lower bar for representation, writing that they’ve often worked with industry leaders who treat the issue as simply a “check box you have to tick” — when in reality, “just being on screen is not enough.”

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The overwhelming theme of both the report’s recommendations and the survey responses from AAPI people in Hollywood is the idea of “more”: more kinds of AAPI stories and characters, more people telling them, more investment in them and more AAPI people working in Hollywood at all levels, from crew members to casting directors to studio executives.

The researchers also emphasized that no single story can stand in for an entire community or group, urging Hollywood to pay attention to what kinds of Asian stories are overrepresented, and to aim to portray a wider range of lived experiences of AAPI people.

One of the study’s recommendations is for “more balance” in storytelling. In addition to avoiding stereotypes and tropes that flatten AAPI characters, it’s also about depicting AAPI people as multidimensional and complicated. For example, one of the respondents in the survey wrote: “I would like to see us as empowered and edgy.”

Other respondents said they want to see greater representation of mixed-race and multi-ethnic characters and families, as well as more AAPI inclusion in classic genres like coming-of-age or romance stories. Many said they hoped to see fewer stories where a character’s AAPI identity, or their immigrant experience, is the sole plot point or catalyst for the character’s story arc — reflecting a desire for Asian Americans to be seen as our whole selves.

Read more: HuffPost »

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They perpetuate the stereotype long before it gets to Hollywood. How many Asian, (say Southeast Asian), films have you people seen? Articlefail That would be true only if Asian martial art movies were not that hilarious Hoboy...another acronym to learn. I still confuse LTBGQ or whatever with BBQ and BLT. AAPI, reckon what that could be? 'ITOTS' (I'm tired of this shit.)

I don’t see that but will look. What I see is more Asians in American roles as in commercials and such. But racism I don’t see much of that in TV or Public. Racism is phasing out, Americans I feel are tired of it. Insignificant Thank You.

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Selena Gomez Addresses The Good Fight's 'Tasteless' Joke About Her Kidney Transplant - E! Online'I am not sure how writing jokes about organ transplants for television shows has become a thing,' Selena Gomez shared after The Good Fight referenced her health struggles. WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOY SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA WE LOVE YOU SELENA But they weren’t making a joke about it, that was kinda the point Guys the series literally said they CAN'T make a joke about it...this is taken so out of context 🤦‍♀️