Why Asian Representation Matters in Today’s TV and Movie Industry

For decades, Asian-American actors have often been overlooked solely because of their race. The Hollywood Film industry lacks Asian representation in its movies and television shows, and on the rare occasion they cast an Asian person, they are typically typecast as a “typical Asian,” usually very book smart, getting top grades, and playing a musical instrument.

Our world is changing, and Asian representation in Hollywood needs to change along with it. We need to be more open-minded about representing all races in television shows and movies. An example of that is the musical Hamilton. Most of the characters are played by people of color, which is something we would not have seen a few years ago. It was not until 2018, when the film Crazy Rich Asians came out, that we saw an all Asian cast on the screen. White actors have dominated the silver screen since the beginning of Hollywood. “White audiences do not need to worry about representation because of white privilege,” said Pamela Pan, Ph.D., Professor of Composition in “Asian Americans in Films: Why Are They Important?” White privilege is the societal privilege that benefits whites over non-white people. This means that actors of other races have a huge disadvantage since they are often overlooked. 

When portrayed in movies and television shows,  Asian Americans are almost always stereotyped as having heavy accents, being book smart, and playing a musical instrument, along with many other problematic tropes. For example, in the movie 16 Candles, there is an especially racist and problematic portrayal of a Chinese exchange student named Long Duk Dong.  People need to realize that what they are currently seeing on screen does not accurately portray Asian-Americans and their experiences. The stereotypes are furthered when white actors selected for Asian roles use makeup or change their appearance drastically, a practice called “yellowface,” which remains controversial. In the 1973 show Kung Fu, David Carradine, a white actor, wore yellowface makeup and prosthetics to look more East Asian. 

One actress, in particular, has expressed the importance of Asian representation in Hollywood. Her name is Phillipa Soo, an actress from the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. After a video of a little girl saying that she sees herself on the screen went viral,  Soo responded to it: “Little Jenna here is exactly why #representation matters. I am so grateful for this show, that so many young people can watch it and say ‘It’s me.’” Soo also mentioned in interviews how important representation is and why we should all be more educated on this topic. In one of her interviews with SiriusXM, Soo shares how rare it is that she gets to play a character who is Chinese, let alone be in a cast with all Asian actors. She continued, talking about how she did not see this kind of casting when she was little. This is important because White actors are always prioritized in movies no matter what the role. For example,  Scarlett Johansen’s role as the protagonist in Ghost in the Shell. She is a white actress but got priority over an Asian woman, who was just as competent for the role. We must continue to take small steps so that Asian representation only increases.  

If we don’t start to realize the importance of Asian representation in movies and television, our society will never change and will always be stuck in the past. As we progress, so should Hollywood.