Are the film and TV industry doing justice in representing Asians?
When it comes to representing Asians within the film and TV industry, there is a lack of the correct expression, beliefs and people when portraying Asians. Whilst the industry believes the current representation is adequate, most of the typical characters are based on stereotypes and racist tropes which diminishes any chance of progression towards positive representation. As the industries try to change for the better, it seems as if they fall at the last hurdle – accidentally making a ‘mistake’ by playing on the outdated stereotypes, thus causing further controversy.
Does the industry fail to depict these representations accurately because of the lack of opportunities given to the Asian community or because they don’t want to move on from their controversial tropes?
Everyone likes when they can relate to a character; it brings a sense of comfort and ease knowing you share similar experiences and express the same feelings. The lack of Asian representation means that I, amongst many others, often feel disregarded by the industry. I am rarely able to relate to a character in terms of them sharing similar values, culture and religion like me. Are we seen as too different from the typical ‘norm’ to be accurately represented?
Muslim and Arab stereotypes
Being a Muslim and Arab Asian I constantly look for some representation within my passions. Like most, I enjoy watching films and series as these are an escape and bring new perspectives to think about. With that in mind, I rarely find perspectives that represent Muslims and Arabs without either following typical stereotypes or being racist, such as the girl taking her hijab off for a boy or portraying us as terrorists.
Stereotypical representations are nothing new as they have unfortunately always been there. This increased significantly after the 9/11 attacks, having Muslims often portrayed as terrorists and villains. Many argue that TV is just entertainment and holds no significance, but people forget that it still has some influence on the way we view and understand each other. As such, these particular views can be detrimental to communities from these backgrounds.
As shows try to be more inclusive and represent Islam and Arabs, they frequently follow the typical cliches of disregarding our faith and values as individuals. When watching the Spanish Netflix show Elite, I was quite happy when I saw a hijabi Palestinian character until the stereotypical tropes began: struggling with her faith, removing her hijab and suddenly being free rather than oppressed by the religion. People do struggle with their faith, fall in love and question things in Islam as we are no different from everyone else, but that does not permit others to display us as oppressed to create entertainment.
During 2017, Riz Ahmed gave a speech about diversity on screen ‘representation is not an added thrill because what people are looking for is a message that they belong’.
Not all TV shows have fallen foul to inaccurate and stereotypical representation. Skam, a Norwegian show, is one that I constantly refer to for its great representation of different individuals’ perspectives. In season 4 they introduce a hijabi, which is probably the best representation I’ve seen, presenting relatable situations without being racist and following the typical cliches. The character gave me a sense of belonging and understanding. Having only this show and a handful of others that have this representation makes me question if people can use these as examples to improve representation on the whole and help tackle the biases society has created. It’s important to have these accurate and fair representations as it ensures society learns and understands one other more. Ultimately, the industry is made to entertain us but what if it could do more than entertain?
Whitewashing and the portrayal of Asians
It is the height of white privilege to think a white person is better equipped to play an Asian character than an Asian personJenn Fang
Besides Muslims having a lack of representation in the creative industry, Asians are also subjected to Hollywood’s racism; from yellow face to cultural appropriation. Since the beginning, the industry Asian characters appeared with the form of racist cliches. Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an example of yellow face – a non-Asian impersonating an Asian person, which happened because the production team was reluctant to hire minority people.
Generally, most Asian characters in films are not created or played by Asians themselves, thus allowing the cliches and stereotypes to take place which marginalises Asian communities. This is also prevalent in adaptations of famous international dramas and stories, like in 2017 Ghost in shell, a classic Japanese anime which was adapted starring Scarlett Johansson. Many argued it was an example of yellow face and had the script adapted to allow a white actress to play the role – white washing the original to fit western standards.
This behaviour dehumanises people of colour (POC) especially when they are not being represented positively, giving negative and incorrect impressions to the audience.
What needs to change?
Looking at the film industry now, there has been a slight progression for inclusivity as more international films are profiled, some are highly successful like Parasite and more opportunities are given to POC. However, with the TV industry it might still be debatable as people take to twitter to request no more representation please, as things can’t seem to change for the better. But what needs to change for the right representation? The industry itself should not feel reluctant to involve and include POC. Having them involved might equate to progression and the right representation displayed. Creatives should not presume and follow stereotypical views – when have they ever represented people correctly? Rather than misjudging and misrepresenting, people in the industry should consider the power they have to influence people whilst entertaining people. They should teach us and show different perspectives correctly rather than dividing us with our differences and dehumanising us, intentionally or not.