A quick Twitter break turned into something more when Twitter decided to add my retweet to a Twitter moment that ended up disrupting my study time for midterms. But now my organic chemistry midterm is done and I have to time to reply to all the notifications.
Yes, many Asian girls have coloured hair. I, myself, have had coloured streaks. But as I addressed in my tweet, it’s how American media tends to distinguish “stereotypical Asians” from “badass Asians” and the characterisation often ends there. It’s like the “not like other girls” trope that developed in rom-coms - the one where the lead only falls for this manic pixie dream girl because she’s not like other girls, implying that girls just aren’t all that great to begin with. Movies created the streaked hair Asian badass to fight the submissive Asian stereotype, forcing Asian female characters to fall into one of two categories, which just furthers the tokenisation and fetishisation of Asian women. It’s true that some movies also have white women with coloured hair to characterise them, but white women are also more represented in media and get to play a wider range of complex characters.
Recently, we have seen some amazing Asian women portrayed (Rose Tico!), but the number of Asians in Western media is far from realistic. In fact, more white people have won for awards for doing yellow face in movies than actual Asians have for acting. Asians rarely get leading roles and the few roles they do get are still mainly submissive i.e. nerd, prostitute, masseuse. If not submissive, we get the Asian badass that will do a bit of martial arts and then be hypersexualised (women) or desexualised (men). And more often than not, the characterisation of Asians revolves around their Asian-ness rather than who they are. Though culture does play a big part (i.e. The Big Sick), it’s not everything.
This is the part that people usually tell me to go back to Asia and watch the movies made there. Though I do admit I have watched a Kdrama, I was born and raised in Texas and am Asian-American, not Asian. Like many others, I have never been to Asia, much less lived there, so I can’t relate to a lot, if not all, Asian media. I appreciate Asian media but I grew up consuming American movies and TV shows just like my non-Asian neighbours - so don’t I deserve to see my face in popular movies? Shouldn’t American minorities have characters to look up to from our home country?
As a part time actress, I hate seeing casting calls for “All-American look only” actors. In the Seattle theatre scene, people have been working to change that by creating databases and communities of POC, differently-abled, and marginalised actors. Shahbaz Khan, a friend of mine, after seeing a play in which Muslims were portrayed as domestic abusers, went out of his way to direct a show about Muslims that showed them in a positive light and had a full POC cast and crew. A playwright I know has been writing shows that place POC characters in everyday situations without denying cultural context.
On a larger scale, Wong Fu Productions, based in LA, produces shorts and web-series that put Asians in the spotlight and has an international audience that include Asians and non-Asians. Kim’s Convenience, Fresh Off The Boat, and Crazy Rich Asians are films and TV shows that have been making strides in Western media, so it shouldn’t it be time to drop the hair-streaked badass and the sexy submissive Asian tropes? You may not have heard much from us yet, but we’re loud and working for our representation. Even with many people telling us to stop complaining and to go back to Asia, I say make characters that young Asian-Americans can look up to without feeling like they didn’t belong.