I recently attended a screening of The Slanted Screen, a documentary about depictions of Asian and Asian American males in television and movies. Coincidentally, I read the wrong book for class this week and stumbled on Celine Parreñas Shimizu’s critique of The Slanted Screen in Straightjacket Sexualities while trying to catch up. Shimizu points out that, contrary to the film’s recommendation, that the problem with media depiction of Asian males is a distinctly male problem and that the problem they face requires a different solution to the one currently plaguing Asian females. I thought that this was a very valid criticism; often times the film talks about the perception of Asian men by white American men and shows responses to these perceptions by notable Asian male actors. This leads me to ask the question: what do Asian women think? What do American women in general think about this portrayal?
Shimizu notes that another notable documentary that attempts to address this question, Some Questions for 28 Kisses seems to have some problems with bias. Based on Shimizu’s critique (since I haven’t actually watched that film) it seems to me that the filmmakers could easily have cherry-picked the negative responses they wanted in order to create their desired effect on the audience. If this is true then I would definitely love to see a proper poll taken on what women—or anybody—thinks about the depiction of Asian men on screen. Actually, I’d love to see what people’s perceptions of Asian and Asian American men in reality (as in separate from their media depictions) are in general.
On that note, I’m very tempted to conduct an informal survey on the issue, asking questions like, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Asian men?” and the like but I don’t think I’d be able to write my questions so that they wouldn’t be leading. I’m also concerned that me being an Asian American man might affect responses since the people responding would have me to use as a reference. There might also be the issue of people not wanting to offend me or generally feeling uncomfortable being truthful when their responses aren’t perfectly anonymous. Another confounding factor would be that I’d be asking this question at a university so my population probably wouldn’t be representative of the entire American population. Regardless, I would love to see someone do this just to see how the media depiction (which is mostly decided by a handful of producers and writers) compares to people’s personal perceptions of Asian men.
On a side note I went ahead and asked two of my Asian American friends (one male and one female) to answer a short survey regarding Asian Americans in western media. Both of them expected Asian men to either play either scientists (or something science heavy) or the nerdy, socially awkward stereotype. On the other hand, they both expected Asian women to be portrayed in a sexualized manner, with one of them pointing out that women are usually slender as opposed to muscular or athletic. Neither of them had an Asian American role model who appears in movies or television.