The media we consume plays a significant role in how we view the world and its people. Film may be a form of entertainment, but it can inform how different people and cultures are perceived.
Representation has been a keyword in entertainment for the past few years as more people demand it. For centuries, only white characters were given complex stories and identities to represent on screen.
Fetishsising The Other
For many centuries, media prioritized representations of white characters only. If people saw another race on stage or screen, it was usually a white actor portraying that race with costume and paint.
There is a very long history of reduction and fetishization towards different cultures in the West. Black men were portrayed as hypersexual beasts, black women as jolly nurturers, and Asian women as objects for sex.
Although playing a person of another race on screen soon became unpopular, the characters didn’t change. In the case of Asian men and women, you would not see them play well-rounded characters in films.
Asians were either cast as the comedic relief, clueless sex object, femme fatal, or martial arts master. To add to the insult, plenty of these characters played on to a male gaze that caused harmful stereotypes.
Affecting Real Lives
It is impossible to argue that any media text is purely for entertainment as we have evidence of its societal effects. However, many cannot realize the adverse effects of misrepresentation if they aren’t facing the consequences.
Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’ features a line that’s haunted many Asian women since the film’s 1987 release. The line “me so horny, me love you long time” has resulted in men shouting the quote at Asian women.
Lucy Liu’s character in ‘Ally McBeal’ was reduced to an erotic figure. ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Harry’ did the same to the five Asian women dressed in lingerie ready to have an orgy with Sandler.
These harmful stereotypes affect real lives, as we’ve seen with the recent shooting in Atlanta. The gunman blamed sex addiction and temptation for shooting six Asian women just this March.
When the film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ came out, it was a significant moment for representation in Hollywood. People finally saw an ensemble cast of Asian descent play a wide range of characters only in 2018.
We soon saw Lana Condor get a leading role for a movie that usually would’ve been reserved for a white actor. Now we have films like ‘The Farewell’ and ‘Minari’ to help us look forward to more Asian voices in the future.
Although they didn’t need to in the first place, the Asian community has proven itself fit to tell its stories. It is now up to Hollywood to redress its mistakes by encouraging more inclusive stories, talent, and film teams.
The days of ‘Asian Hooters,’ comically named Japanese twins and wise fortune cookie advice man are over. Now is the time for Hollywood to step up their game, especially with all the recent events in the US.