Ultimately, these concepts reduce the Asian community as a whole to a monolith, assuming that all Asian identities are interchangeable. It’s important to note that Hollywood also focuses heavily on East and Southeast Asians and often excludes other communities like South Asia. The mixed Asian experience almost always centers whiteness. “Probably one of the largest issues to me right now is the creation of a monolithic identity surrounding Asians in general, and then also surrounding individual subcultures,” says Johnnie Yu, a History and Cinema Studies student at NYU and Co-President of NYU’s Chinese Student Society. “Asia is an emerging market with a lot more potential to move between social classes in society, and the issue is those who don’t fit this image are silenced or marginalized. Asian Americans who grew up in America are very much different from international Asians who grew up abroad but come to the U.S. to work or to study. All of these people face different struggles, have different historical and cultural discourses, experience different desires, needs, and wants in life.”

pALWAYS BE MY MAYBE from left Ali Wong Randall Park 2019. Netflix Courtesy Everett Collectionp

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, from left: Ali Wong, Randall Park, 2019. © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

In recent years, there’s been a major shift in Asian American storytelling all across film and television especially when it comes to female characters. Asian women are now the protagonists, not side characters. Films and shows like Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Always Be My Maybe (2019), To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), and Never Have I Ever (2020) reveal fresh perspectives and prove to be successful without reinforcing harmful stereotypes. “The first images of Asians were played by white actors in yellowface in villainous, exotic, and demeaning ways,” Yuen tells Teen Vogue. “When Asian Americans started playing themselves, they were saddled with the same stereotypes and had to go outside the Hollywood system to create their own projects to tell their own stories.”

Young adds that “We are seeing more nuanced, realistic, and complex representations. We are seeing more stories that humanize the diversity of Asian American experiences. We are definitely seeing less stereotypical depictions, but we have a long way to go.”

Despite calls for more diversity and representation, there are still long ways to go when it comes to inclusivity and accurately reflecting the Asian American experience. “We’re all super excited about Asian-focused shows and films, because there has never been such an interest in our culture, and we appreciate it,” says Yu. “But with that said, it’s all fun and games until someone from outside your culture joins in. It’s not that we’re exclusive and don’t welcome others in, but more so that with the colonial past and the still existing colonial power structure between the East and the West, it’s hard to not see jokes through colonial optics.”

Representation in Hollywood is crucial in shaping narratives that bleed into reality, and it must humanize the Asian experience beyond the screen. “A lot of ‘representation’ on-screen right now is achieved superficially,” Yu explains. “The least they should do is hire Asian writers in the writing room and take their inputs seriously. It’s arguably worse when white writers speak through the voice of Asian characters and make racist jokes as some sick form of textual passing.”

“While it is important to have a wider variety of Hollywood and media depictions of Asian Americans, greater representation and visibility is not the solution to racism,” says Young. “We need to look at systemic racism and how that is embedded in our institutions—within the legal system, healthcare, education, and government. We need to address the economic inequalities of immigrant populations. We need to critically examine the ways in which the ‘model minority’ rhetoric is problematic. Finally, we need to stand up against the rise of racist, anti-Asian, and white supremacist discourses and violence because words and action matter.”

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