Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry

By Michael Suman; Gabriel Rossman | Go to book overview

6
Strategies of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans

Guy Aoki

I remember spending hours on the phone talking with friends back in the 1980s complaining about the insulting ways Asian Americans were portrayed on television and in film. Growing up in Hawaii, where Asians make up the majority of the population, I knew all types of Asians. But for some reason, the media were only interested in our pretty women and the men were always depicted as asexual nerds or wimps. The men were never paired romantically with anyone and the Asian women were interested only in white men. The media seemed to be saying that Asian men are not attractive, even to women of their own race, and that Asian women, in order to be accepted and to get ahead, should get white boyfriends. Most irritating was the fact that the group that could potentially benefit from these portrayals was the one that, by and large, was perpetuating them--white men. (A 1998 study by the Writers Guild of America later revealed that white men wrote 70% of all prime time television shows and 80% of all feature films.)

Asian Americans were also depicted as if they were foreigners--more Asian than American. They were routinely portrayed as immigrants with accents. Fourth generation Americans like myself who speak perfectly good English were rarely seen. (There is nothing wrong with Asians who speak with accents, but on television and in films their accents were used to make fun of them and their race.) On most television shows and films Asians were entirely absent, unless they were needed for comic relief or to provide a villain viewers could hate, such as the Hong Kong drug lord or the cold Japanese businessman out to take over America. There had to be some specific excuse for including us--we had to be waiters in Chinese restaurants, martial artists, or exchange students. We were not depicted as people in regular, mainstream jobs who just happen to be Asian.

Then in 1991 I took note of the stories that the media ran on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Rather than shedding new light on the subject, all too often the stories just revived old fears and prejudices. Readers and viewers were confronted with old false rumors about pro-Japanese espionage

-29-

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