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HEY, DO YOU KNOW KUNG FU? CHALLENGING STEREOTYPES OF ASIAN AMERICANS IN THE MEDIA BY ASHLEY NG


HEY, DO YOU KNOW KUNG FU? CHALLENGING STEREOTYPES OF ASIAN AMERICANS IN THE MEDIA BY ASHLEY NG


NAME COURSE SEMESTER INSTRUCTOR TYPEFACE PAPER

Ashley Ng GR 600 Spring 2012 Phil Hamlett Avenir LT Std Brilliant Supreme


01

HISTORY IN THE MAKING AN INTRODUCTION

02

NO, WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM?

03

HEY, DO YOU KNOW KUNG FU?

04

WHAT LANGUAGE DO YOU SPEAK?

EFFECTS OF MEDIA STEREOTYPES

STEREOTYPES THEN AND NOW

OPPORTUNITIES TO CHALLENGE STEREOTYPES


01

HISTORY IN THE MAKING AN INTRODUCTION


“ Asians were pioneers, whose contributions made the American dream possible. But when they tried to gain the American dreams for themselves, they faced prejudice and ignorance.” — The Slanted Screen

From the earliest days of the Gold Rush,

Because they were forbidden from owning

The point is that these did not begin out of

Asians played a leading role in transforming

land or homes, intermarrying with Whites,

any natural or instinctual desire on the part

the American west. They built the Great

working in many occupations, getting an

of Asian workers, but as a response to preju-

Transcontinental Railroad and the levees that

education, and living in certain parts of the

dice, exclusion, and institutional discrimina-

made California an agricultural paradise. Asians

city or entire cities, the Chinese basically had

tion—a situation that still continues in many

were pioneers, whose contributions made the

no other choice but to retreat into their own

respects today. Nonetheless, even in the face

American dream possible. But when they tried

isolated communities as a matter of survival.

of this hostile anti-Chinese climate, Chinese

to gain the American dreams for themselves,

These first Chinatowns at least allowed them to

Americans fought for not only their rights, but

they faced prejudice and ignorance (The

make a living among themselves. This is where

also for their dignity and self-respect. Although

Slanted Screen).

the stereotypical image of Chinese restau-

they were forbidden to become citizens and

rants and laundry shops, Japanese gardeners

therefore to vote, they consistently chal-

and produce stands, and Korean grocery

lenged their unequal treatment and unjust

stores began (Asian-Nation.com).

laws directed at them by filing thousands of

The time of the Gold Rush was the first largescale immigration of Asians into the U.S. Lured by tales and dreams of making it rich on “Gold

lawsuits at the local, state, and federal levels.

Mountain” (which became the Chinese nick-

Historical events such as, the Gold Rush and

name for California), The Gold Rush was one

World War II played major roles that led to

One of the gravest government mistreat-

of the pull factors that led many Chinese to

anti-Asian sentiment in America. These nega-

ment of Asians occurred during the Chinese

come to the U.S. to find their fortune and return

tive feelings towards Asians would be seen

Exclusion Act in 1882, which excluded skilled

home rich and wealthy.

in forms of media like, propaganda posters.

and unskilled laborers from immigrating to


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

America. This act is the only chapter in the

stole their women. Fu Manchu became a

United States Code of Laws that is completely

stereotypical archetype of Asians and not to

focused on a specific ethnic group (Wikipedia.

mention the role was always played by a white

org). Whites would stone Chinese people in

actor. So, Asians could not even play the role

the streets and cutting off their queues. The

of an Asian.

Rock Springs Massacre of Wyoming in 1885 led to brutal killings, and for the most part the shockingly violent acts were legally approved. The J a p a n e s e re l o c a t i o n c a m p s d u r i n g World War II also proved to be a contribution to the prejudice perspective of Asians. There would be posters screaming “Trap the Jap” or “Murdering Jap.” The anti-Asian sentiment brought about the phrase “Yellow Peril,” which developed from the immigration of Chinese as coolie slaves and laborers, and later associated with the Japanese during the mid 20th century, due to Japanese military expansion. Most direct forms of emasculation of Asian American males in 19th century USA were in the form of limiting Asian populations by preventing immigration of Asian women who were the wives or potential wives of Asian males. This gave rise to massive numbers of bachelor societies where Asian men never had any offspring because of the lack of Asian wives and anti-miscegenation laws against marriage with other ethnicities. The historical events that led to the term Yellow Peril would become the platform of stereotypical roles of Asians seen in the media of today. The theme of the Yellow Peril was often pictured in motion pictures such as, the Fu Manchu characters. Fu Manchu was a villainous Chinese doctor, who hated white people and

1

As the motion picture industry grew craictures of the inscrutable oriental dominated the big screen. Hollywood usually casted white actors to play these nefarious roles. Characters like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto paved the way for some of the film makers writers and producers, to create the stereotypical roles we see in current films and television. And as we look at motion picture of today, although the roles of Asians have progressed a bit to speaking roles, the stereotypical roles of Asians is still prominent in film and television.

ABOVE: Propaganda during WWII depicting early stereotypes of an Asian man.


02

NO, WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM? EFFECTS OF MEDIA STEREOTYPES


4

“ Why are your eyes small? Why is your nose flat?, or Why is your last name spelled like that?” — Common questions asked during my childhood.

It’s impossible to be able to count the number

is your nose flat?”, or “Why is your last name

The media has always played a large role in

of times someone has asked me “Where are

spelled like that?” But kids will be kids. And

society. It’s well known that media such as,

you from?” Followed with the expression of

as the author Why Me Julie Parker said, “Kids

film and television influence the way people

confusion when I respond to them with “I’m

are curious. If they see someone different,

perceive others in the world. This is espe-

from California.” Usually there’s always the

they’re going to ask questions.” And I guess

cially important because of the media’s influ-

follow-up question, “No, where are you really

this rings true for adults as well when they ask

ence on children at a young age.

from?” Often followed by the “No, where are

the infamous where are you from question.

your parents from” or sometimes the “No, where is your family from, like, back in the day?” What the questioner really wants to know is my ethnic background. Growing up as an Asian American, questions like these have become a bit repetitive, but I always find

From what I recall, there were not any Asians

I believe their curiosity stems from the thought

in the media while I was growing up, which I

that Asians are perceived as exotic and for-

believe is the reason why others would ask

eign. Much of these stereotypical idealisms

questions about my physical appearance and

have been defined by the portrayal of Asians

why I looked different. And because I grew

in the media.

up in a predominantly white town, kids just weren’t used to seeing someone with Asian

their confused expressions quite enjoyable. If

Often times you will see an Asian actor on

only I had a camera ready to snap when that

film or television playing a role as the “smart

“huh?” expression appears on their face.

guy,” the “kung-fu master,” the “perpetual

Not only did I grow up in a predominantly

foreigner,” or the “emasculate male.”

white town, every show that I watched on tele-

As a child, the questions were a bit more straight forward like, “Why are your eyes small?”, “Why

facial features.

vision was covered with faces of white actors.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

Through the media I inherently assumed that

movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

beautiful meant you were white. I wanted to

Rob Schneider dresses up as a very stereotypi-

look like the adorable little twins, Mary Kate

cal Asian male; squinting his eyes behind big,

and Ashley Olsen from Full House. I wanted

bulging eyeglasses, adjusting his top front

blue eyes like Kelly Kapowski from Saved by

teeth so that they protrude like buck teeth, and

the Bell. The only problem was, was that I could

talking in a strong “Asian” accent. Characters

never look like these people that I admired

like these on television and in movies are a

so much.

disgrace to the representation of who Asian

People find it strange when I tell them that as a child I wanted to be blonde haired and blue eyed. Today, it’s a different story and I am very proud of my Asian ethnicity. But this pride came with obstacles that derived from

Americans really are. Rob Schneider’s character in the movie is even more disappointing

of Asians.

my perception of who I was and how I saw

I believe children of all races that see these

myself through American media.

type of characters in film and television effects their perspective of who Asians in America are.

BULLYING

The false representation of Asians give viewers

There was a recent study made by the U.S.

a negative image of Asian Americans and con-

Justice and Education departments that 54%

sequently leads to bullying. When people see

of Asian American teenagers are bullied in

that Asians are being made fun of on television

school, an overwhelming number compared to

and film, they are going to reenact what they

their white (31.3%), black (38.4%), and Hispanic

see in their daily lives. It is a negative cycle

peers (34.3%) who are harassed. And due to

that needs to be changed.

the progression of technology, cyber-bullying

In Fresno, California at Edison High School,

is an even bigger problem with 62% of Asian

Hmong students had been taunted and had

American children being harassed online at

food thrown at them during lunch. On February

least once or twice a month. Compared to 18.1

25, 2005, the taunts escalated into fights involv-

percent of white teenagers. Asian Americans

ing at least 30 students, resulting in numerous

endure far more bullying at U.S. schools than

injuries, suspensions, and expulsions.

members of other ethnic groups.

In 2005, while waiting on a subway platform

One of the major reasoning behind the bullying

in Brooklyn, New York, 18 year-old Chen Tsu

of Asian American kids is the way the media

was accosted by four high school classmates

portrays Asians. In the media, we are seen

who demanded his money. After Tsu showed

as nerdy, unassimilated with foreign accents,

his classmates his pockets were empty, they

emasculated, timid and weak, or just plain stu-

assaulted him, taking turns beating his face.

pid with buck teeth hanging out. Such as, Rob Schneider’s portrayal of an Asian man in the

“ 54% of Asian American teenagers are bullied in school, an overwhelming number compared to their white (31.3%), black (38.4%), and Hispanic peers (34.3%) who are harassed.”

knowing that he is from Filipino descent and contributing to the stereotypical caricatures

5

—U.S. Justice and Education


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

7

“ It kind of amazes me that people are such idiots sometimes. That the question ‘where are you from’ is really meant to classify you. And to suggest that you are not American.” —Kal Penn, South Asian American Actor

OPPOSITE: Kal Penn, Indian American actor. Known for his roles in The Namesake, Harold and Kumar, and House.


8

Tsu was scared and injured—bruised and

and recognition. The absence of cultural

swollen for several days—but hardly surprised.

images and characters that reflect them, con-

At his school, Lafayette High in Brooklyn,

versely, is disturbing to kids. It affects their

Chinese immigrant students like him are

aspirations. There is a fundamental inclusivity

that bullying doesn’t end in

harassed and bullied so routinely that school

that kids expect.”

adolescence, and that anti-Asian

officials in June agreed to a Department of

American bias hasn’t been

Justice consent decree to curb alleged “severe

“ The recent death of Army Pvt. Danny Chen is a sad reminder

eradicated from our society.”

and pervasive harassment directed at AsianAmerican students by their classmates.” Said Tsu after his beating, “Those guys looked like

—Aimee Phan, USA Today

they could kill somebody. ... I was scared to go back to school.” Across the nation, the Associated Press found that Asian students say they are often beaten, threatened, and called ethnic slurs by other young people, and school safety data suggest that the problem may be worsening. Youth advocates say these Asian teens, stereotyped as high-achieving students who rarely fight back, have for years borne the brunt of ethnic tension as Asian communities expand and neighborhoods become more racially diverse. “We suspect that in areas that have rapidly growing populations of Asian Americans, there often times is a sort of culture clashing,” said Aimee Baldillo of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (now the Asian American Justice Center). Youth harassment is “something we see everywhere in different pockets of the U.S. where there’s a large influx of (Asian) people.”

From first hand experience, growing up as an Asian American and not seeing Asian people in film or on television was discouraging. Being asked why my nose was flat or if I ate rice everyday were common questions that I had to put up with. To this day, it’s common for someone to ask me if I’m from China or Japan or Korea. And for some Asian Americans the bullying still continues. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “soldiers of Asian descent have dramatically higher suicide rates than other racial groups. Their risk is double or triple that of other soldiers, and four times higher in the war zone.” Earlier this year an article published by USA Today stated, “The recent death of Army Private Danny Chen is a sad reminder that bullying doesn’t end in adolescence, and that anti-Asian American bias hasn’t been eradicated from our society.” In a journal Chen kept during basic training and in letters to his parents, he confided concerns about harassment from other soldiers. Chen wrote “People crack jokes about Chinese people all the time, I’m running out of jokes to come back at them” (USA Today). The result of

Not only does this effect children, but it

Chen’s death was a result of the brutal hazings

especially effects Asian American children.

from eight fellow members of his battalion in

According to Lois Salisbury, the president

Afghanistan. Hours before his death, Chen was

of the non-profit organization Children Now,

dragged from his bed and forced to crawl on

“children in America tell us that being included

the ground while his comrades threw rocks

in TV is a major signal of acceptance, respect

and mocked him with ethnic slurs. He was then


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

9

LEFT: U.S. Army Private Danny Chen, bullied to death by the men in his same battalion.


10

forced to hold a mouthful of liquid while per-

Journalists Association (AAJA) issued a set of

ESPN promoted an article about

forming pull-ups.

guidelines for media outlets who are unfamiliar

the game on its mobile platform

Another recent example seen in the media is

by pairing an image of Lin with the

the racial comments made against pro NBA

headline ‘Chink In The Armor.’ The headline lasted for an hour

basketball player Jeremy Lin who plays for the New York Knicks. As his fame in basketball has been rising, so has the racial taunts. In the

before being removed, but

wake of Jeremy Lin’s thirty-eight point per-

was later repeated on national

formance against the Lakers, American news

television by a news anchor

journalist Jason Whitlock tweeted, “Some

with reporting on a story relating to an Asian American. It’s pretty ridiculous that people are so ignorant that the AAJA has to set up guidelines that should be common sense. The group also added, “Stop to think: Would a similar statement be made about an athlete who is Caucasian, African American or Latino?” The guidelines included the following:

lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple

NBA player, Jeremy Lin is Asian American, not

who was later suspended during

inches of pain tonight.” Whitlock was refer-

Asian (more specifically, Taiwanese American). It’s

the week for his words.

ring to the stereotypical assumption of Asian

an important distinction and one that should be

male emasculation and having a small penis.

considered before any references to former

Another occurrence of racial insensitivity was

NBA players such as Yao Ming and Wang

from news network ESPN. After a loss of the

Zhizhi, who were Chinese. Lin’s experiences

New York Knicks against New Orleans Hornets,

were fundamentally different than people who

ESPN promoted an article about the game

immigrated to play in the NBA. Lin progressed

on its mobile platform by pairing an image of

through the ranks of American basketball from

Lin with the headline “Chink In The Armor.”

high school to college to the NBA, and to char-

The headline lasted for an hour before being

acterize him as a foreigner is both inaccurate

removed, but was later repeated on national

and insulting.

television by a news anchor who was later sus-

Lin’s path to Madison Square Garden: More than

pended for his words. Although it might sound

300 division schools passed on him. Harvard

like a fun play on words to describe an Asian

University has had only three other graduates

person, Chink is a very offensive racial slur

go on to the NBA, the most recent one being

that can be compared to the terms such as nig-

in the 1950s. No NBA team wanted Lin in the

ger or kike. No one at ESPN would talk or write

draft after he graduated from Harvard.

about a lesbian athlete and unconsciously put forth that the woman in question would have

Journalists don’t assume that African American

a “finger in the dike.” If an African-American

players identify with NBA players who have

player was thought of as stingy, it’s doubtful

emigrated from Africa. The same principle

that anyone at the World Wide Leader would

applies with Asian Americans. It’s fair to ask

describe that person as “niggardly.”

Lin whether he looked up to or took pride in the accomplishments of Asian players. He

The headline drew widespread criticism and

may have. It’s unfair and poor journalism to

following the outrage over several racially

assume he did.

insensitive coverage of Lin, the Asian American


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

Lin is not the first Asian American to play in

Martial Arts: You’re writing about a basket-

the National Basketball Association. Raymond

ball player. Don’t conflict his skills with judo,

Townsend, who’s of Filipino descent, was a

karate, tae kwon do, etc. Do not refer to Lin

first-round choice of the Golden State Warriors

as “Grasshopper” or similar names associated

in the 1970s. Rex Walters, who is of Japanese

with martial-arts stereotypes.

descent, was a first-round draft pick by the New Jersey Nets out of the University of

Me love you Lin time: Avoid. This is a lazy pun

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“ No one at ESPN would talk or write about a lesbian athlete and unconsciously put forth that the woman in question would have a

on the athlete’s name and alludes to the bro-

‘finger in the dike.’ If an African

ken English of a Hollywood caricature from

American player was thought of as

the 1980s.

stingy, it’s doubtful that anyone

have been the first Asian American to play

Yellow mamba: This nickname that some have

at the World Wide Leader would

professional basketball in the United States.

used for Lin plays off the “Black Mamba” nick-

Misaka, who’s of Japanese descent, appeared

name used by NBA star Kobe Bryant. It should

in three games for the New York Knicks in the

be avoided. Asian immigrants in the United

1947-48 season when the Knicks were part of

States in the 19th and 20th centuries were sub-

the Basketball Association of America, which

jected to discriminatory treatment resulting

merged with the NBA after the 1948-49 season.

from a fear of a “Yellow Peril” that was touted

Kansas in 1993 and played seven seasons in the NBA; Walters is now the coach at University of San Francisco. Wat Misaka is believed to

Chink: Pejorative; do not use in a context involving an Asian person on someone who

in the media, which led to legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

is Asian American. Extreme care is needed

If one good thing comes out of this, maybe

if using the well-trod phrase “chink in the

sportswriters can stop saying that they don’t

armor”; be mindful that the context does not

think the issues of race and ethnicity have any-

involve Asia, Asians or Asian Americans. (The

thing to do with Lin’s emergent celebrity. Of

appearance of this phrase with regard to Lin

course it does. That’s why the hate is so ugly

led AAJA MediaWatch to issue statement

and supporters are so fiercely protective of

to ESPN, which subsequently disciplined some

his seat at the NBA table. The very kind of

of its employees.)

casual racism Lin has faced—the anti-Asian

Driving: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to an “Asian who knows how to drive.”

Twitter jokes, the Yellow Mamba signs, the mock Chinese talk, the catcalls from people attending the games—is something every single Asian-American has experienced at one

Eye shape: This is irrelevant. Do not make such

time or another. That it happens at all is a sad

references if discussing Lin’s vision.

fact; that ESPN is now in a position of hav-

Food: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.

ing to apologize for something which never should have happened shows just how far we have to go.

describe that person as ‘niggardly’” —Edge of Sports, Feb. 21, 2012


12


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

13

“ I experienced a lot of discrimination while I was in the Marines, and I had a lot of fights. One time someone called me a ‘Jap.’ Knocked him out with one punch.” —Wilman Ng, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran

OPPOSITE: Wilman Ng experienced racial discrimination while in the U.S. Marines.


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DANGERS OF ASIAN STEREOTYPES IN THE U.S.

54%

of Asian American teenagers are bullied in school, compared to their white (31.3%), black (38.4%), and Hispanic peers (34.3%) who are harassed.

62% of all Asian American students reported online harassment once or twice a month. This compared to their white (18.1%) peers.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

8%

of Asian American women report being raped. A portion of the already under reported 26% of rape victims that come forward.

5.1% of hate crimes result from antiAsian/Pacific islander bias out of 3,725 racially motivated.

15


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SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

RAPE AND HATE CRIMES

Tragic events such as Private Danny Chen’s

Although Asians have been rarely in main-

have become a common consequence due

stream media, when they are seen they are

to bullying. During recent times, bullying has

often misrepresented in stereotypical roles.

become an increasing problem where more

The usual roles would be the martial artist,

and more victims are taking their own lives.

nerd/doctor, outcast, foreigner, weak, emascu-

Some even return with revenge and violence.

late male, dragon lady, tiger mom, oversexual-

On April 16, 2007 a school shooting took place

ized woman, and the submissive woman.

on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed thirty-three people and wounded seventeen others before committing suicide. The massacre is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.

The submissive and oversexualized stereotype of Asian women can be harmful to Asian and Asian American women. It is a societal norm to reduce an Asian woman to a sexualized stereotype, a one-faceted “thing” that is exclusively an object of desire. For example, an article on a news forum called Gawker posted an article

Reports showed that Cho had severe depres-

on November 29, 2008 headlined with the title

sion and was bullied for speech difficulties in

“Following Hallowed Nerd Tradition, Michael

middle school. He had a long history of being

Phelps Dates Asian Chick.” The writer wrote,

teased and bullied as a child that would later

“So it’s funny that he’s gone and done what

follow him as an adult. In one instance in grade

so many newly-rich, videogame-anime-lady-

school, he was teased for his poor English skills

obsessed nerds have done before him” he’s

and was often made fun of, according to a

found himself an Asian girlfriend.” Implying

classmate. He was even told by some students

that media material such as, video games and

to “Go back to China!” Reports also claim

anime create a stereotype of Asian women and

that he was ostracized and mercilessly bullied

establishing this type of fantasy. Some people

for class, height, and race related reasons in

even theorize that Asian women have differ-

high school. By the time he became a col-

ent gynecological anatomy than other human

lege student, his emotional state was severely

beings. Others repeat racist belies that the

unstable and the V-tech school shooting was

entire ethnic category of women are “submis-

the culmination of deep seeded rage that had

sive” and mindless, sexual playthings to be

overcome him. Speculations can conclude that

bought and sold.

the combination of mental health issues and bullying played a large role in the shooters motive to murder thirty-three others and take his own life.

The writer of the Gawker article also stated, “look at all these rich nerds with fetching Asian ladies on their arms. We don’t want to sound ‘offensive’ but it’s just a thing, you know?…a cliché.” The inappropriate statements made by Gawker imply false perceptions of interracial


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

17

LEFT: Seung Hui-Choi, killer in 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in which 33 students were killed. Choi had a long history of being teased and bullied as a child that would later follow him as an adult.

dating. Asian American women suffer a stun-

they believed were “submissive.” (The very

ning exception to hard-fought notions about

same beliefs so blatantly bandied about by

racial equality applied to other minority

Gawker and some of its readers.)

groups. These stereotypes are dangerous. Reducing Asian women into a sexual object is not funny, it is not flattering. We can see this when Asian women are subject to racetargeted sexual violence. The racist nature of crimes go unrecognized and unpunished, as if there is nothing wrong with choosing a rape victim because she is Asian. In Spokane, Washington, two white men and a woman specifically hunted random Japanese women in an elaborately planned scheme to kidnap, rape, sodomize, torture and videotape them. Their motivation? According to police reports, the rapists had a sexual “fantasy” and “fixation” about young Japanese women, who

During a one month period in Autumn 2000, the predators abducted five Japanese exchange students, ranging from age 18 to 20. Motivated by their sexual biases about Asian women, all three used both their bodies and objects to repeatedly rape - vaginally, anally and orally—two of the young women over a seven hour ordeal. In Spokane, one of the attackers immediately confessed to searching only for Japanese women to torture and rape—and eventually all pled guilty and were convicted. It clearly was a racially-motivated criminal case.


18

What is astonishing, however, is that the district

included, the number would be much higher.

attorney failed to bring an additional charge

Even though 5.1% may not sound like much,

that would have tagged the crimes as moti-

it is still something, and stereotypes seen in

vated by racial bias. The police also neglected

the media have a part in those hate crimes.

crimes or incidents of hate, it is

to report the crime as a “hate crime,” as

Although political and economic circumstances

hard to refute the proposition

demanded by the Justice Department to keep

can often spark crimes or incidents of hate, it

that media representations of

accurate statistics of all bias-driven crimes.

is hard to refute the proposition that media

Although the attackers all received long sen-

representations of social groups can fuel the

tences, an important opportunity to raise the

flames of such hatred. As such several orga-

nation’s consciousness was lost. We, as a soci-

nizations have formed and worked together

ety, were told that it’s not a hate crime to rape

to combat hate crimes and hate incidents

an Asian woman because of her race.

against individuals of Asian origin, and have

“ Although political and economic circumstances can often spark

social groups can fuel the flames of such hatred.” —Diversity in U.S. Mass Media

The biggest obstacle to bias crime charges in those cases is that society at large thinks it benign to hold sexualized stereotypes about Asian women. Until we see a change in how these types of sexual attacks are perceived, Asian women in particular remain vulnerable. Unlike any other racial group in America today, Asian women routinely are dehumanized in

also campaigned against stereotypical portrayals of Asians in the mass media. Among the active organizations are the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and the Korean American Coalition (KAC) (Luther, 147).

popular culture as sexualized, meek and voice-

There are several hate crime incidents against

less objects.

Asian Americans that are not broadcasted on

Not only women are victims of crimes pointed towards their ethnicity, but males are often victims of physical violence. The repercussions of media-disseminated Asian stereotypes and the negative feelings they evoke need to be seriously considered especially in light of the number of hate crimes toward Asian Americans that have been reported. According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, of the 3,725 racially motivated “single-bias” hate crimes that were reported in 2010, 5.1% were directed at Asian/Pacific Islander individuals. Included are crimes against individuals as well as property. If incidents of hate that are not necessarily defined as crimes were to be

the news. In August 2006, four New Yorkers of Chinese descent were attacked in Douglaston, Queens, New York by two white men shouting racial epithets. The white men beat two of the Chinese Americans with a steering wheel locking bar. Kevin M. Brown, 19, of Auburndale, and Paul A. Heavey, 20, of Little Neck, were charged with assault and hate crimes. Douglaston and other nearby communities are now almost one-third Asian, and tensions have escalated. “There’s an undercurrent of suspicion of the new immigrant—what are they doing, what are they building, what are they putting in that store?” said Susan Seinfeld, the district manager of Community


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

Board 11, which includes Douglaston. A local

organizations, Vincent Chin’s murder is often

City Councilman has introduced legislation to

considered the beginning of a pan-ethnic Asian

require store owners to include English transla-

American movement (Wikipedia.org).

tions on signs.

The stereotypes seen in the media of Asian

In Chicago in September 2007, Du Doan, a

males being emasculate and weak are huge

62 year-old Vietnamese man, was pushed

factors in the reasoning behind hate crimes

off a fishing pier into the icy waters of Lake

against Asians. Having continuous portrayals

Michigan, where he drowned. John Haley, 31,

as the nerd or unassimilated leave large target

a self-described “skinhead,”43 was charged

marks on the backs of Asian males. Society

with first degree murder after he told police

automatically believes that Asian males will

how he “pushed our victim in the water—that

be easy to overpower and walk all over. Asian

being taking both hands, shoving them in the

American organizations like MANAA and AAJC

back, and literally catapulting him into the

help make a difference in actively fighting to

water.” Earlier, Haley reportedly pushed a sec-

stop these stereotypical characters. These ste-

ond Asian man into Lake Michigan who was

reotypes are not only false, they are dangerous

able to swim safely to shore and also tried to

to the safety of Asians and Asian Americans.

shove a third Asian man off the pier who fought him off. Despite these reports, police did not charge Haley with a hate crime and have not classified the murder as a hate crime incident. In 1982 a man name Vincent Chin was beaten to death in Detroit, Michigan by Chrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens, with the help of his stepson, Michael Nitz. The murder generated public outrage over the lenient sentencing the two men originally received in a plea bargain, as the attack, which included blows to the head from a baseball bat, possessed many attributes consistent with hate crimes. Many of the layoffs in Detroit’s auto industry, including Nitz’s in 1979, had been due to the increasing market share of Japanese automakers, leading to allegations that Chinese American Vincent Chin received racially charged comments before his death. Because the subsequent Federal prosecution was a result of public pressure from a coalition of many Asian ethnic

19


20

“ When I was growing up, I was very much influenced by what I saw, and more importantly what I didn’t see, on television.” —Yul Kwon, winner of Survivor: Cook Islands in 2006

OPPOSITE: Yul Kwon, winner of Survivor: Cook Islands 2006 and former correspondent for CNN on a series exploring issues affecting the Asian American community.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

21


03

HEY, DO YOU KNOW KUNG FU? STEREOTYPES THEN AND NOW


24

“ Bruce Lee made Asian men lethal, graceful and cool. But Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype and unwillingness to go beyond proven formulas of success turned Lee’s legacy into both a blessing and a curse.” — Brian Robinson, ABC News May 20, 2005 From the beginning of motion picture and tele-

Since African Americans have been able to

strong and sexy. However, the Bruce Lee craze

vision, depictions of Asian stereotypes haven’t

progress in their status in the media, Asian

of the 1970s created a new stereotype of the

evolved much in recent times. From the Fu

Americans have taken the second-class status

Asian man: namely, the martial artist, which still

Manchu’s to the submissive lotus blossoms,

in comparison to Whites in the film and televi-

permeates in Hollywood cinema.”

none of the stereotypes have changed much.

sion industry.

They may have evolved into a more modern form, but the stereotypes are still portrayed

Various doors were closed to Asians and Asian Americans in Hollywood before Lee achieved

LEGACY OF BRUCE LEE

fame. Before Lee debuted in 1966 as the

Bruce Lee transformed the image of the Asian

faithful sidekick Kato in the TV series “The

Directors have manipulated the art to portray

male in U.S. cinema. But his legacy has argu-

Green Hornet” and later reached legendary

what they want; the concept of art imitating

ably closed as many doors in Hollywood as it

super stardom in kung fu classics like “Fists

reality hasn’t always been encouraged. In fact,

has kicked open. “Before Lee’s time, Asian

of Fury” and “Enter the Dragon,” Asian men

stereotypes of ethnic groups have run amuck in

men had been largely depicted as emas-

were largely portrayed in Hollywood as docile

the industry, despite how truthful these stereo-

culated and childlike—coolies, domestics,

servants, unskilled laborers or evil geniuses

types really are. For example, D.W. Griffith’s

etc.— in American popular culture,” said Hye

patterned after the Dr. Fu-Manchu character

The Birth of a Nation is full of racist ideals

Seung Chung, a postdoctoral fellow at the

in early 20th Sax Rohmer novels. Most were

about African Americans and promotes awful

Department of Asian Languages and Cultures

disciplined, even the nerds and laborers.

stereotypes that led to riots and hatred when

at the University of Michigan. “Lee proved that

it was first released.

the image of the Asian man can be tough,

in obvious forms.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

25

Lee made Asian men lethal, graceful and cool.

“After Bruce Lee, you had the image of the

But Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype and

hyper-focused martial artist, focused on his

unwillingness to go beyond proven formulas

craft, aesthetics,” said Kim. “But as I was

of success turned Lee’s legacy into both a

watching ‘Romeo Must Die,’ I was waiting to

blessing and a curse.

see if Jet Li was going to kiss Aaliyah. But they

leading Asian actors have

never kissed. … Asian actors almost never get

remained a U.S. film rarity.”

“It depends on what you mean by curse,” said L.S. Kim, assistant professor of film and

Romantic leading Asian actors were an anomaly

Cruz. “Lee changed the way Asian males were

as Hollywood studios typically assigned the

portrayed in Hollywood. He represented a

roles of Asian characters to white actors in the

powerful figure, he kind of presented idealized

early 20th century. They were more common

strength and masculinity. But he couldn’t help

in U.S. cinema before the Bruce Lee era, but

the racism that was in Hollywood, that studios

they were not allowed to kiss any non-Asian

began to typecast people. What you see on

on screen.

write the script, on the producers who greenlight the film.”

Various laws barring interracial marriage were still in effect in the United States and interracial mingling in films in the early 20th century

With the blockbuster success of “Enter the

was considered taboo. In silent films such as

Dragon,” in 1973, Lee turned Asian men into

“The Wrath of the Gods,” “Alien Souls” and

action heroes on the big screen. But for all the

“The Dragon Painter,” Japanese immigrant

machismo gained through the Lee mystique,

actor Sessue Hayakawa played a romantic lead

Asian actors still have remained largely emas-

opposite his wife, actress Tsuru Aoki. Philip

culated in Hollywood.

Ahn, Anna May Wong’s on- and off-screen love

They are rarely considered romantic leading men. Lee’s characters were too busy fighting off villains to fall in love. Some romantic chem-

antimiscegenation laws, romantic

to kiss the girl.”

digital media at University of California, Santa

the screen largely depends on the people who

“ Still, long after the death of

interest, played her romantic lead in “Daughter of Shanghai” in 1937 and “King of Chinatown” in 1939.

istry was suggested between Jackie Chan and

Still, long after the death of antimiscegena-

Jennifer Love Hewitt in “The Tuxedo” and Chan

tion laws, romantic leading Asian actors have

and Roselyn Sanchez in “Rush Hour 2,” but

remained a U.S. film rarity. “James Shigeta wins

moviegoers never saw them share an on-screen

the love of Victoria Shaw and marries Carroll

kiss. Similar circumstances surrounded Jet Li in

Baker respectively in ‘The Crimson Kimono’

his roles opposite Aaliyah and Bridget Fonda in

and ‘Bridge to the Sun,’” said Chung. “Of

“Romeo Must Die” and “Kiss of the Dragon,”

course, these are exceptions to more preva-

respectively. In the end, the characters played

lent stereotypes of emasculated Asian male

by Lee, Li and Chan always save the day. But

images. Most recently, we saw John Cho as a

they never get the girl.

romantic lead in ‘Harold and Kumar

—Brian Robinson, ABC News May 20, 2005


26

“ Bruce Lee definitely made it harder for Asian men…People would come up to me and ask ‘hey man do you know Karate?’ and I’m like No! But it’s because of Bruce, people think that I know Karate.” —Bobby Lee, Korean American Comedian

OPPOSITE: Bruce Lee, Chinese Actor well known for bringing Kung Fu into the American entertainment industry.


28

ASIAN AMERICANS ON FILM & TV

14,674,252 Asian Americans live in the U.S. but are severely underrepresented in the media as only 3% of total characters on television and only 1% of opening credit characters.

4/5

Lead roles will be handed to a White male actor. Only 1/5 lead roles will go to an actor of color.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

29

3%

of prime time television shows have at least one Asian American actor.

100%

WHITE

BLACK

80%

ASIAN

60%

LATINO/HISPANIC

40% 20% 0% ABC

CBS

NBC

FOX


30

“ Asian women have been portrayed in Hollywood as exotic, sensual Madame Butterfly-type characters who have either forbidden love affairs or are victimized by American suitors; seductive, scheming dragon ladies or assassins originally made popular by Anna May Wong’s performance in ‘Daughter of the Dragon.’ ” — Brian Robinson, ABC News May 20, 2005

PLIGHT OF THE ASIAN ACTRESS

are the sidekick, best friend or quirky friend of

Asian actresses arguably may have more

a main character. And they also must contend

choices than men but they are still stereotyped.

with competing with other Asian women, in addition to non-Asian actresses, for the few

Anna May Wong was the first Asian American

available roles. Take for example, Sandra Oh

actress to become a Hollywood star in the

on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Her character Dr.

1920s and 1930s, but she was frustrated by the

Cristina Yang is a modern day Dragon Lady;

lack of diversity in her roles. Generally, Asian

fearful, exotic, asexual, and devoid of emotions

women have been portrayed in Hollywood as

which constantly limits her to “side-kick” to

exotic, sensual Madame Butterfly-type charac-

the main character Meredith Grey.

ters who have either forbidden love affairs or are victimized by American suitors; seductive,

“The main struggle for me is that when it

scheming dragon ladies or assassins originally

comes down to it, I’m a struggling Asian

made popular by Anna May Wong’s perfor-

American actress, like others, who’s relatively

mance in “Daughter of the Dragon”—and like

anonymous who’s going up against actresses

their males, docile servants and model students.

who have been in the business 20 years more than me,” said New York-based actress Ann Hu.

Asian actresses today also face another kind of stereotype: being cast for roles where they


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

31

LEFT: Actress Anna May Wong in the movie Daughter of the Dragon, in which she plays a dangerous and sneaky ‘dragon lady.’ OPPOSITE: Actress Brenda Song in the movie Social Network, in which she plays a modern day ‘dragon lady.’


32


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

33

“ I was tired of the parts I had to play. Why is it that on the screen the Chinese are nearly always the villain of the peace, and so cruel a villain- murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that. How could we be, with a civilization so many times older than that of the West? We have our rigid code of behavior, of honor. Why do they never show those on the screen?” —Anna May Wong, first Asian American movie star

OPPOSITE: Anna May Wong, the first Asian American Hollywood movie star. Known for playing one dimensional roles as the stereotypical dragon lady or submissive china doll.


34

Another film that portrays the Asian culture

Hollywood films, Asian women were depicted

through stereotypes is William Nigh’s Lady from

as diabolical, sneaky and mean, but with the

Chungking. Anna May Wong plays Madame

added characteristics of being sexually alluring

Kwan Mei, a Chinese aristocrat who has been

and sophisticated and determined to seduce

captured by Japanese troops during early

and corrupt” (Shah 3). By this time, a few Asian

made his movies, He was always

World War II. She and other prisoners who are

actors were able to land leading roles, but

playing a native Chinese person

forced to work in slave labor plot to kill the

even they were tired of the stereotypes they

Japanese general, who is incidentally played

had to play. In Thi Thanh Nga’s article “The

by Harold Huber, a white man. “During much

Long March from Wong to Woo: Asians in

American, I can’t relate to the

of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood,

Hollywood,” he writes:

image of the Korean immigrant

scores of actors, big-name actors, had no moral

laundry shop owner. For once,

qualms about taking roles that required them

" Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, but he had to practically become an expatriate when he

in his movies…As an Asian

I'd like to see my story told."

to ‘slant’ their eyes, do that funny walk, and practice their embarrassingly poor ‘Oriental’ accents.’” As his lady companion, Madame

— L.S. Kim, assistant professor of film and digital media at UC Santa Cruz.

Kwan Mei becomes the diversion the Chinese need to put their plans into action. She dresses seductively and persuades the general that she will remain at his side and that she will submit to his every desire. “Moviegoers

Anna May Wong explains her reason for leaving Hollywood- “I was tired of the parts I had to play. Why is it that on the screen the Chinese are nearly always the villain of the peace, and so cruel a villain- murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that. How could we be, with a civilization so many times older than that of the West? We have our rigid code of behavior, of honor. Why do they never show those on the screen?”

were fed erotic images of the China Doll as concubine, supple in cheongsam attire, secret

In current times, the China Doll stereotype can

danger cocked in her eyes, graceful as a

still be seen. Memoirs of a Geisha and The

snow leopard.”

Transporter both have roles with supporting actresses played by Asian females. Both play

In this film, although Wong is ultimately the hero, she is often depicted as a cold-hearted Dragon Lady, one of the main stereotypes

quiet, submissive roles that make men gawk and run to them with just a few flutters of their lashes.

found to describe Asian actors. “A journalist reporting on the Chinese Empress Tsu-hsi coined the term when he referred to the

TOO AMERICAN

monarch as a ‘reptilian dragon lady who

Another stereotype that the Asian American

arranged the poisoning, strangling, beheading

community falls in the shadow of is the unassim-

or forced suicide of anyone who challenged

ilated immigrant or the perpetual foreigner. It

her rule’” (Shah 3). The men she leads ques-

is the perception that Asians do not assimilate

tion her motives, especially when she sits by

with American culture and speak with foreign

at the general’s side and quietly watches the

accents and strange mannerisms.

elderly men from her group be executed. “In


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

Hu, who is in her 20s, recalls that when she first

But actresses like Hu may have reason to be

began auditioning for some roles, the direc-

optimistic, particularly in the roles recently

tors wanted her to speak in a Chinese accent.

played by Sandra Oh, who co-starred on HBO’s

However, as the daughter of English-speaking

“Arli$$” before gaining some fame for perfor-

immigrants—and an Asian-American who grew

mances in 2004’s “Sideways” and ABC’s hit

up in the United States speaking English—

hospital drama “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Hu didn’t have an accent. She would go to a nearby Chinese restaurant and tape-record employees reading her script. Hu ultimately imitated the accent, but she was still turned down for parts.

“Will the Madame Butterfly stereotype disappear from Western culture in this new millennium? I doubt it,” said Chung. “However, some improvements are being made. Sandra Oh plays substantial, racially nonspecific roles

“This was basically an instance where who I am

in ‘Sideways’ and ABC’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’

kind of got the better of me,” she said. “They

Bilingual Korean American actress Yun-jin

basically thought my mannerisms were too

Kim—who appeared in the Korean block-

American, that I seemed too American for the

buster ‘Shiri’—plays a fully developed, three-

part. Maybe it was that they were aware that

dimensional character which does not conform

I was acting out the accent and they wanted

to pre-existing stereotypes such as Madame

someone who had the accent.”

Butterfly or dragon lady in ABC’s ‘Lost.’ I

Hu has had guest roles on NBC’s “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Trial By Jury” and

certainly hope to see more of these changes in the future.”

just finished a run as one of the lead roles in

Some argue that U.S. studios’ tendency to look

the play “An Infinite Ache” in Greensboro, N.C.

abroad for talent in films further crowds an

Despite her work in television and theater, Hu

already competitive field of Asian actors and

says she has had a hard time finding work in

actresses and shows how much the perspec-

film. And she says she has had difficulty getting

tive of Asian Americans is overlooked by

auditions for leading roles.

Hollywood. It implies that Asian Americans

“Usually I don’t get to audition for a lead role,” she said. “I usually get an audition for

aren’t good enough or that Hollywood wants to continue the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype.

a supporting role, sidekick, the best friend.

“Hollywood tends to import their Asian actors

I don’t know why that is because I feel Asian

from Japan, Hong Kong, China, which doesn’t

men and Asian women are such strong

help the Asian-American voice in this country,”

characters, especially in this country. And

Hu said. “And it’s not like we don’t want them

unless I know kung fu, or some kind of knife

to work. But this country is really overlooking

fighting or sword fighting, or something of

the well of stories; identity crisis, identity

that stereotypical nature, it would be hard

epiphany stories waiting to be discovered,

for me to be seen as having a leading role.”

35


36

RIGHT: Poster for the 2008 movie 21. Although based on a true story about Asian American characters, the movie was “whitewashed� and the Asian Americans were replaced with non-Asians.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

waiting to be told from the Asian-American

versions played by big name Hollywood stars. It

experience. It is something that has really been

happened with films like the 1960 western, The

supported by the independent film industry

Magnificent Seven, which starred Brynner, Steve

and not by Hollywood at all.”

McQueen and Charles Bronson, and was based

WHITEWASHING ASIAN ROLES While there have been some successful Asian actors to take leading roles in early film, the majority of them were cast in small, nonspeaking roles such as servant, laundry man, and shopkeeper. Even in movies where the plot centered on an Asian person, Whites were cast in those roles. In movies such as Broken Blossoms (1919), Lady from Chungking (1942), Three Came Home (1950), Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), Blood Alley (1955), and The World of Suzie Wong (1960), stereotypes of Asians are all over the place, to include the four main stereotypical roles: Dragon Lady, Yellow Peril, Charlie Chan and Lotus Blossom, and it is evident from these films how society viewed this group of people. Kent A. Ono, a professor of Asian-American

actors to play Asians and Asian-American characters has a long history in Hollywood. Until recent decades, this mostly took the form of white actors playing stereotypical representations of Asian characters, such as Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of I.Y. Yunioshi in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rita Moreno as Tuptim and Yul Brynner as King Mongkut in the 1956 film The King and I, and Katharine Hepburn as Jade Tan in 1944’s Dragon Seed. In recent years, Ono said, Asian characters have been replaced with white American

“ Casting white actors to play Asians and Asian-American characters

on the influential 1954 Japanese film by Akira

has a long history in Hollywood…

Kurosawa, Seven Samurai. As Japanese manga

In recent years, Asian characters

and anime have grown more popular, it has

have been replaced with white

happened in films like Dragonball: Evolution and Speed Racer. The film 21 is another example of

American versions played by big

whitewashing characters. The movie is based on

name Hollywood stars.”

Ben Mezrich’s best-selling book Bringing Down the House, which recounts the true story of a group of MIT students who devised a method of counting cards and took Las Vegas casinos for millions. In the real-life version, most of the students were of Asian descent—the idea being that casinos are less suspicious of Asians with lots of money to gamble away. But in the world of Hollywood, we have pretty white actors, Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth leading the cast. The filmmakers threw in Asians Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira to placate angry activists, but that hasn’t stopped some in the community from expressing outrage and threatening a boycott.

studies at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, said the practice of casting white

37

YELLOWFACE BROWNFACE The practice of making white actors look East Asian was called “yellowface” and South Asian is called “brownface.” Tied to blackface and the portrayal of African Americans on the stage by whites in the nineteenth century, the term yellowface appears as early as the 1950s to describe the continuation in film of having white actors playing major Asian and Asian American roles and the grouping together of all makeup technologies used to make one look “Asian.”

—Kent A. Ono, professor of AsianAmerican studies at the University of Illinois


38

In the 21st century, we are still seeing these stereotypical roles of an actor putting makeup on to play a role as an Asian man or woman. These roles could be an opportunity to cast an Asian actor but unfortunately movie and showmakers replace the roles with a White actor. Why is this? Some people think White people sell better and bring more people to watch their movie or television show. But in reality, Asians have never really been given a good opportunity to showcase their talents. There are several different stereotypes that are continuously repeated in film and television. During the silent film era, there were many films the showed a stereotypical perception of how America viewed Asians during the time period. For example, D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms is a silent film that is a perfect about a “yellow man,” Cheng Huan, who leaves his home country in order to teach white men ABOVE: Al Jolson, performing in blackface makeup, 1927. Blackface was a theatrical convention used by many entertainers at the beginning of the 20th century.

about the Buddhist message of peace. The title character is obviously an Asian man, but audiences are not given any specificity as

better Asians than actual Asian actors did. This was probably true, since the white actors were often actively trying to play ‘Asians,’ trying to play the stereotypes, while the Asian actors were perhaps just playing themselves, which are regular people (A Certain Slant). It is also important to note that there were some Asian actors in this film, such as the shopkeeper who sold the flowers, but none played speaking roles and virtually faded into the background. Before yellowface makeup was blackface. In the 19th century, it was a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows and later vaudeville, in which performers create a stereotypical caricature of a black person. During the time, blackface was an important performance tradition in the American theatre for about 100 years. The stereotypes embodied in the caricatures of blackface minstrels not only played a significant role in establishing and producing racist images, attitudes, and perceptions worldwide. Today, anyone who paints their face black stirs controversy.

to what exact nationality he is; “distinctions

Yellowface makeup came after blackface, but

among Asians of different nationalities went

is still alive and well in modern times. Why is

unrecognized.” The interesting part about the

it okay for White actors to dress as, while its

main character is that although the story is

controversial to paint an actors face black?

about an Asian man, the actor playing this role, Richard Barthelmess, is White, thus illustrating Hollywood’s reluctance to give a leading role to a person from an Asian background.

During the early 20th century, there are wellknown yellowface roles such as, Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. These roles were played by white actors who used makeup to slant their

The yellowface controversy is not about the

eyes and spoke in broken English. Today,

quality of the films or performances. It is

we still see the use of yellowface makeup.

about the individual choices made by direc-

Rob Schneider portrays an Asian man in the

tors, performers, and production companies.

movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

One justification offered by Hollywood for

He is dressed with bulging eyeglasses and buck

yellowface “was that white actors simply made


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

teeth while speaking in an “Asian” accent. The

you know how to do satire correctly, I believe

most recent controversy was Ashton Kutcher’s

you should stay away from it.” When film or

portrayal of an Indian man in the broadcasted

television provokes these type of “satirical”

advertisements for the potato chip company

characters, it also provokes the stereotypes

called Pop Chips. Kutcher and the company

that are attached to viewers psyche.

39

have been criticized for using a white actor for the Indian character. In the ad, Kutcher shakes his head as he speaks and effects a strong accent in the clip. The “brownface” controversy quickly took hold with prominent Twitter personalities like writer Anil Dash and New York rappers Das Racist tweeting their disgust with the campaign. There is a fine line between satire and pure racism. Some may believe that these type of portrayals is to make light of people perception of an ethnic group. Sylvia Chan-Malik, Postdoctoral Fellowship, UC Santa Cruz states, “On the one hand it seems like it might be a tongue and cheek portrayal of those types of

ABOVE: Ashton Kutcher dressed in “brownface”

images, but on the other hand you have to be

acting as a “Bollywood Producer” in a Pop Chips

in on the joke. And my question is are we all in

commercial advertisement.

on the joke? And who’s laughing?” If making fun of an ethnic group is done correctly it can be funny, but it depends on how it is executed. For example, comedian Sarah Silverman tried to make a joke on the Conan O’Brien show about getting out of jury duty and writing “I love chinks.” Guy Aoki, head of watchdog organization Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) confronts Silverman about her racial remark and states, “I understand satire…I enjoy good satire. It’s a great device for making great points for comedy. But if you don’t know how to use satire correctly, you run the risk of making people think that you really believe what you’re saying. And until


40


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

41

“ Being Asian in this business is something you have to consider, because sometimes people aren't as open. They'll say, I can't see you with a Caucasian person.” —Lucy Liu, Taiwanese American Hollywood actress

OPPOSITE: Lucy Liu. Well-known for her seductive dragon lady type roles in Charlie’s Angels and Alley McBeal.


04

WHAT LANGUAGE DO YOU SPEAK? OPPORTUNITIES TO CHALLENGE STEREOTYPES


44

“Television not only fails to accurately reflect the world in which young people live, but it also sends a message that some groups of people are more valued by society and worthy of attention than others.” — Children Now With not a lot of representation in the media

just as good as any other person. His fame has

filmmakers creatively finding an outlet of

and the misrepresented portrayals, Asian

helped knock down stereotypes of the weak

exposing Asian talent. Wong Fu Productions

Americans need to have an outlet that will

and timid Asian male.

primarily promotes themselves through videos

empower them to not feel discouraged by what they see in the media in current times.

Others have challenged the stereotypes of the media by uploading their own videos

Recent stories such as the Knicks basketball

on new media networks such as YouTube

player, Jeremy Lin’s rocket to fame is truly a

and Vimeo. Asian filmmakers and show-

Cinderella story. He was hardly ever put into a

makers have also tried to make an effort

game and when one player was out for an injury,

and use their power to help create films that

he was lucky enough to be put into a game

cast Asian actors such as, Justin Lin. Justin

and show off his talents. And what surprised

Lin has been the director of movies such as

people the most was that not only is he Asian

Better Luck Tomorrow and Fast and Furious.

American, but he is actually really good.

He fights to have Asians star in his films, which

He has quickly received numerous amounts of fans who pay just to watch him play in a game.

is something that all Asian Americans should be appreciative of.

on YouTube and have received millions of views and several thousand fans. According to a feature by CNN, newscaster Ted Rowlands reported that Wong Fu’s primary audience were “young Asian Americans who often can’t find accurate depictions of themselves in mainstream media.” Through their films, Wong Fu Productions hope to break the different stereotypes of Asian Americans. Wong Fu Productions have said “We want to show that APAs are just normal people, and shouldn’t be stereotyped in the media and should have proper representation. We don’t all do martial

His skills as a basketball player just shows that

The Chinese American filmmaking group called

arts or have accents. We have stories that most

if given the chance, Asian Americans can be

Wong Fu Productions are also examples of

everyone can relate to as human beings. We


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

45

� There's a lot of [stereotypes]. The more we can do to break those down by the day, the better we'll become. Hopefully in the near future we'll see a lot more Asians and Asian-Americans playing basketball in the NBA." —Jeremy Lin, NBA basketball player for the New York Knicks


46

RIGHT: Movie poster of Better Luck Tomorrow, directed by filmmaker Justin Lin who fights for Asian actors and demands three-dimensional roles for them. OPPOSITE: Wong Fu Productions is a filmmaking group who’s success has been primarily through their short films on YouTube. They have become a great inspiration for many young Asian Americans who don’t often find accurate depictions of themselves in mainstream media.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

47

“ We want to show that APAs are just normal people, and that we shouldn’t be stereotyped in the media and should have proper representation. We don't all do martial arts or have accents. We have stories that most everyone can relate to as human beings.” —Wong Fu Productions

really want to show that our work and voice

Although the efforts of these inspiring artists

should and can be seen colorblind. The same

have helped change the perception of Asian

way African Americans can now be accepted in

Americans in America, there is still a lot more

the mainstream without a second guess, that’s

work to be done. To correct the underrepre-

what we hope will someday be the case for

sentation and stereotypical roles of Asians,

APAs.” Wong Fu Productions are often consid-

I have come up with five different possible

ered role models for Asian Americans aspiring

solutions, which are illustrated and explained

to enter the entertainment industry of today.

on the following pages.


48

Under-representation Not many people realize that Asian Americans

My solution is to create a campaign exposing

are underrepresented in American media. There

the underrepresentation of Asian Americans in

are several studies that have been conducted

the media. Posters will be posted around the

showing that Asian Americans are one of the

streets of cities and towns to bring awareness

least represented ethnic groups in the media.

to the community that there is inequality in

According to a study conducted by the non-

the media.

profit organization Children Now, “the number

The example on the right is how I want to

of Asian characters in opening credits has

represent the severe under-representation of

decreased by 50% since 1999. Furthermore,

Asian Americans. I hope to show the imbal-

acting roles that are given to Asian Americans

ance in the media when it comes to Asian

often consist of stereotypical characters that

Americans. I want to leave a strong impact on

only serve to perpetuate already trivial-

people ages fifteen to thirty-five. I chose this

izing cultural beliefs� (Children Now). Since

age range assuming that at these ages, people

the media often reflects societal norms and

likely to be actively opinionated and complain

beliefs, socialization of such stereotypes as the

to network and film companies.

perpetual foreigner, the Kung Fu master, and the token nerd are unacceptable. There needs to be a change in this.

OPPOSITE: Posters that will be hung around towns and cities to spread an awareness that Asian Americans are under-represented in the media.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

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50

New Media Technology With the growth of new media, many Asian

Asian Americans about the Asian American

Americans have found an outlet for film and

community.

music through social networking sites such as, YouTube and Vimeo. Although these videos may be popular within the Asian community, I feel it is a good opportunity to help promote the talents of these young Asian Americans at another level.

The iphone app will allow users to read current events about what has been happening in the Asian American community, they will be able to watch videos of interviews and music, and they will be able to purchase music or films that support Asian American artists. The app will

There has been some blog websites that have

also allow users to create their own profile and

created a network to inform and promote Asian

upload their own videos and links to promote

American entertainment news such as, The

their own talents. It will also be used to inspire

Angry Asian Man, 8Asians, and Nikkei View:

the younger generation of Asian Americans.

The Asian American Blog. Each have helped

Since, almost everyone has a smart phone, I

provide information to the Asian American

believe this app could have the potential to

community and allow people to see a more

be a useful everyday tool for many people.

accurate view of Asian Americans. From the inspiration of these blogs, I think that a iphone app would be a great tool for informing young

OPPOSITE: Asian empowerment smartphone application that will allow users to read, listen, and watch videos about current Asian Americans in the media.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

51


52

Dangers of Stereotypes As seen earlier, Asian American teenagers

bullying, and teachers will know how to inter-

are the most bullied in schools compared to

fere when they see it. It will also give details

their other ethnic counterparts. This includes

about incidents that have occurred.

physical, verbal, and cyber bullying. According to U.S. Justice and Education departments, “54% of Asian American teenagers are bullied in school, compared to their white (31.3%), black (38.4%), and Hispanic peers (34.3%) who are harassed.” I want to create a guidebook for parents, students, and teachers explaining the dangers of bullying that is caused by stereotypes seen in the media. The guidebook will explain that Asian Americans are just normal Americans and that they shouldn’t be treated any differently. Parents will learn what to do if their child is being bullied based on their ethnicity, children

Recently, there has been a huge increase in suicides resulting from anti-gay bullying making national headlines, which inspired outreach support such as the “It Gets Better Project” YouTube videos. But a recent study shows that Asian Americans are the most bullied in schools and is often times overlooked. Parents need to be more aware if their child is being bullied and what they can do to help him/her. Bullied victims also need to not be afraid and stand up for themselves or not be afraid to trust an adult who can take care of the situation.

will learn how to react when they are victims of

LEFT: The guidebook will explain that Asian Americans are just normal Americans and that they shouldn’t be treated any differently.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

53


54

Novelty Items As seen throughout this book, there are

facts. One of the facts will be ways they can

several questions that Asian Americans are

contact a film company or TV network and

often asked. Most of them are so repetitive

complain about the problems of inequality to

that people are tired of having to repeat their

Asians in the media.

answers. So, to go along with these repetitive questions I want to create fun novelty items. These items will include T-shirts, cards, and toys. People can purchase and use these items whenever they are asked a redundant stereotypical questions such as, “Where are you really from?”, “Do you know Kung Fu?”, “How many languages do you speak?”, etc.

The photo above is an example of an item that can be purchased. The image on the T-shirt is in response to the question, “Do you know Kung Fu?” Most Asian males are asked this and if they respond yes, then the questioner always gets excited and then often times they will ask “can you kick my ass?” But if you say no, then the questioner feels disappointed

Another aspect of these items is that it will

and they probably would have wished you said

come with a card explaining the under-

yes. So, my solution would be a quick and easy

representation and stereotypical roles Asian

message. If you don’t know Kung Fu, keep the

American actors play in film and television.

questioner’s excitement up by letting them

These novelty items will not only be fun and

know that you can still kick their ass.

witty, but they will also be informative with

OPPOSITE: T-shirt that plays along with the common question most Asian males receive asking if they know Kung Fu.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

55


56

Effects On Children’s Self-Perception A part of growing up is learning to know what

and worthy of attention than others.” Movie

is right from wrong. Many of the stereotypes

and television are primary sources that shape

on television and in movies provide children

the public opinion.

at a young age a misconception of what is true and what is false.

I want to create images that show parents the effects of the media on their children’s

The majority of children movies and television

thoughts. I read an article about how a young

shows feature white actors as the lead cool

Asian girl hated that she was Asian because of

guy, the superhero, or the popular girl. This

the way people perceived her as being the shy

causes an effect on the thoughts and percep-

and fragile “Asian” girl. This is a stereotype

tion of children of color.

seen in the media today. These stereotypical

Learning from personal experience, it took a while to realize that I should be proud of my Asian ethnicity. Future Asian American children shouldn’t have to go through self loathing and insecurity like I did. According to Children Now, television “sends a message that some groups of people are more valued by society

thoughts all revolve in a cycle that can begin with the under-representation of Asians, but the Asians that are seen in the media are type casted in stereotypical roles, which then effects society’s thoughts and perception of Asians. It’s a continuous cycle that needs to change. It’s a change necessary for the children of our future.

OPPOSITE: Poster of how the media effects children thoughts of themselves.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

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58

“ Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

59

Conclusion With time and effort, I believe there can be

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Everything

actors that have played a lead role in a televi-

a faster progression with Asians and Asian

that we see is a shadow cast by that which

sion series or blockbuster film that didn’t play

Americans in American media. Current orga-

we do not see.” I feel that this quote strongly

a stereotypical role. I want to see more people

nizations, filmmakers, showmakers, and actors

relates to how people’s perception of Asians

breaking down the stereotypes and showing

are only small pieces of the puzzle that bring us

in American because they do not see Asian

that Asian Americans are worth watching

a few steps forward. By exposing the harmful

Americans as just normal everyday Americans.

because we have the skills and talent. There

consequences that under-representation and

This is because that is how the media perceives

will hopefully be more Jeremy Lin’s and Wong

stereotypes has on society. Especially, children

us to be. We are seen as foreign and assimi-

Fu Productions that this problem of diversity in

who are easily influenced by what they are

lated. We are seen as over-sexualized women

the media will just be something of the past.

shown through television and movies.

that are submissive and fragile or evil and

Along with saving lives from being harmed through bullying and hate crimes, the main point of equally diversifying the media is to protect the children of our future. I look up to people who have changed the views of people by using the media as a tool for posi-

conniving. We are seen as Kung Fu fighting machines that can quickly calculate a SAT math question without any difficulty. These stereotypes may be true for some, but for the majority that do not relate to these misconceptions is not right.

tive messages. I hope that someday I could be

My personal goal in five to ten years is to

a part of sending out these positive messages.

be able to name at least ten Asian American


60

References

Websites angryasianman.com

nikkeiview.com

asiaarts.ucla.edu

opposingviews.com

asiasociety.org

racebending.com

bc.edu

sag.org

brightlightsfilm.com

telegraph.co.uk

capeusa.org

wongfuproductions.com

childrennow.org colorlines.com digital.films.com fbi.gov heyyaa.com hollywoodinvasian.com manaa.org


Hey, Do You Know Kung Fu?

Books

Articles

Luther, Catherine A., Carolyn Ringer Lepre,

Braxton, Greg. “TV’s Color and Gender

Naeemah Clark. Diversity in U.S. Mass

Lines, Examined Anew.” Los Angeles Times

Media. West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing,

12 Jan. 2000.

2012. Xing, Jun. Asian America Through the Lens: History, Representations, and Identity. Oxford: Alta Mira Press, 1998.

Kim, Jaemin. “Asian Women: Rape and Hate Crimes.” The Huffington Post 3 Feb. 2009. Kim, Sallie, and Shannon Stockdale. For Asian Women, ‘Fetish’ is Less Than Benign.” Yale News 14 Apr. 2005. Robinson, Bryan. “In Bruce Lee’s Shadow: Asians Struggle to Create New Hollywood Images.” ABC News 20 May 2005.

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