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Stereotyping and Unfair Representation

Streotyping and Unfair Representation

While the current stereotype of Asians and Asian-Americans is that they are smart, competent and hard working, a century ago, Asian-Americans were perceived as illiterate, undersirable, full of filth and disease, and unassimilable. In fact, they were perceived as 'marginal members of the human race,' denied the right to become naturalized U.S. citizens, and segregated to ethnic enclaves. Films and media have a significant influence on societal perspectives of Asians. Therefore, movie portrayal is essential to shaping the public opinion. Although situations have changed recently, historically, Asians and Asian Americans have had neither fair nor accurate representation in American movies and Hollywood.

Isabel Paner from the Dominican University of California makes an argument on the unfair stereotyping and underrepresentation Asians in Hollywood films are subjected to. Paner notes that historically, Asians are either portrayed in a stereotypical role, given no role at all, or rendered invisible by Hollywood and mass audiences. The marginalization in the film industry has damaging effects on the perceptions of Asians in society. 

As Tim Yang from Dartmouth University states, historical events have acted as bases for depictions of Asians. During conflict, competition, or strife, Asian are the evil enemy. During times of ease, however, Asian are the model minority who assimilate into American society. All in all, the discrimination, whether overt or not, is always there. 

Hollywood's Perspective of Asia

Hollywood has a habit of indiscriminately casting any Asian actor into any Asian role. For instance, a Chinese actor may portray a Korean character and vice versa. This particular habit of Hollywood perpetuates the idea that Asia a monolith with interchangeable cultures even though Asia is made up of dozens of countries, each with their own culture and traditions. As Robert Parungao from the University of British Columbia states, American films often borrow haphazardly from all cultures forming one homogeneous identity. In the end, this idea and unfair portrayals as such damage the perceptions of Asians in society as one entity, rather than a diverse group of people. 

One example of this phenomenon can be seen by the fact that, up to World War II, the representation of all Asians was commonly taken from Chinese stereotypes. Cultural typecasting has always been a problem for ethnic groups in the United States. One of the primary means of spreading these stereotypes to the general population has been through popular media and film. Indiscriminately casting any Asian actor into an Asian role is not helping depictions of Asians in society. 

The Yellow Peril

The Yellow Peril refers to Western fears that Asians, in particular, the Chinese, would invade their lands and disrupt Western values, such as democracy, Christianity, and technological innovation. Media portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans involved ‘Yellow Peril’ imagery as a sign of evil, malevolence, or unreliability. Popular illustrations emphasized ‘exotic’ features, such as eye shape often rendered as narrow slits and skin color usually exaggeratedly yellow. The Yellow Peril is one of the examples where history has acted as the base to influence the portrayal of Asians in the media. 

The Hays Code

In the 1930s, Hollywood had a strict set of moral guidelines called The Hays Code which forbade the depiction of interracial love on film. This code has contributed and prevented various actors of color from getting roles, including Asian actors. This Code reacted in its xenophobic manner by prohibiting interracial relationships onscreen by suppressing the racial other through exclusionary and stereotypical imagery.

Various Examples

Below is a timeline of various movies throughout history with streotypical portrayals of Asians which has often been influenced through historical events of the time. 

Stereotyping and Unfair Representation