Asian Americans in the Movie Industry

This week, the class got to watch the documentary The Slanted Screen, which was about Asian American portrayals in the media. The documentary mentioned several important names like Sessue Hayakawa, James Shigeta, Mako, and Bruce Lee – all of whom are popular in the movie industry. It stated how, in the very beginning, white actors stepped in to play Asians roles. As we saw in the movie clips, those white actors would have their eyes taped so their eyes look smaller, talk with accents, and some of them even incorporated Fu Manchu’s beard in order to have a more sinister look. Even though Asians began to appear on the screens later, it was still inevitable to avoid playing nerds, martial arts fighters, etc. These, along with the limited diversity of Asian roles on television, showed the extent to which Asian Americans were negatively portrayed, deepened the Asian American stereotypes, and created a sense that Asian Americans are not worthy of posing as role models.

It was depressing to see those negative portrayals of Asian Americans and even more so after acknowledging the detrimental impact those roles have on the audience. People may be aware of the situation, but not everyone is willing to stand up to fight for what is wrong. I find the actors, directors, and playwrights from the documentary extremely courageous for not only speaking up to point out the problems in the movie/show industry, but also suggesting future actors to audition for any role (instead of aiming for those that are already meant to be played by Asian Americans). I agree with their perspective of not labeling roles for specific races; people should be seen as who they truly are and what they are capable of doing, not based on the characteristics that they were born with.

In all, the documentary gave Asian Americans who are involved in the television industry the opportunity to voice the struggles they had (and still have) to overcome. The industry had come a long way from originally casting white actors to play Asians roles to now having Asian Americans as leads in primetime shows. I am positive that, over time, Asian American actors will be able to prove that they are not simply defined as nerds or martial arts fighters, but are qualified for a wider variety of roles.


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