There is a new movement in Hollywood calling for diversity and fair representation. One aspect of this movie is for Asian Americans to be the lead, rather than the loyal sidekick, as seen with the success of Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Farewell.
There are a handful of TV shows that don’t succumb to the Asian nerd stereotype. But these TV networks and their producers can do more to show a more diverse, well-rounded and intriguing set of ethnic characters. We want to see Asian characters who aren’t martial arts masters, can’t casually hack into the FBI’s database or isn’t a musical prodigy.
It is impossible to tackle to entirety of Hollywood’s diversity problem in a single blog post so I will be nibbling at it from different points of views. Here is a short list of TV shows that show some sort of representation for the Asian American population that could be worse, but could also be better (in no particular order)
- Hawaii 5-0
For a TV show that is based in Hawaii, where more than half of its population identifies as an Asian American, the two Asian stars, Kono Kalakua (Grace Park) and Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) were the supporting actors of two white men, Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Detective Daniel Williams (Scott Caan). At first, I was ecstatic to see such a diverse cast. When looking at the car-chasing, gun-slinging team, it’s easy to praise the show for its representation. Each of the characters in the team experienced loss, love and showed character development. But behind the scenes, it was anything but fair. Park and Kim eventually left the show because of a pay disparity. They were being paid between 10% and 15% less than their white counterparts and rarely received any profits from the show. It was disappointing to see such talented actors and lovable characters leave, but it was also disappointing to hear that the producers of the show didn’t respect them enough to give them equal pay.
There have undoubtedly been hundreds of characters in its 14 seasons. One of them being Kevin Tran (Osric Chau). According to the Supernatural fan wiki, Kevin Tran was a high school student who excelled in his studies before embarking on his journey with the main characters, Dean and Sam Winchester (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki). What’s interesting is that Kevin Tran plays an important role in the series. Although only appearing in 18 episodes and being mentioned in several others, Kevin Train ranks in among the top 10 characters with the most appearances in the show (For reference, Ackles’ and Padelecki’s characters appear in 327 episodes each) The only issue I have with this character is the stereotypical nerd archetype. An episode about his personal life is titled “What’s Up, Tiger Mommy?” and computer knowledge and electronics is listed as one of his skills (along with invisibility, hunting skills and telekinesis)
- The Good Doctor
At first glance, the demographics of this show were extremely disappointing. The main character is a young white male and so are the other main characters. Considering that it is based on a South Korean drama series, Good Doctor, I expected to see more diverse faces on the screen. When looking at the top 10 characters with the most appearances in the show, there are 3 Asian faces: Allegra Aoki (Tamlyn Tomika), Dr. Audrey Lim (Christina Chang) and Dr. Alex Park (Will Yun Lee). And while it is nice to see Asian faces in a leadership role as a doctor and hospital administrator, it would have been better to see as Asian as a lead. However, I can’t be too mad because the demographics of this show are somewhat representative of the demographics of doctors in the U.S. (69.8% of American surgeons and physicians are white whereas only 21.1% are Asian and 5.82% are Black ~another side note but there are no black characters with a recurring role according the TV show’s IMDb page)
- We Bare Bears
This is one of my favorite cartoon shows despite me not being the creator’s target audience. Not only is it cute, funny and entertaining, but the creator of the show is an Asian American artist, Daniel Chong. The show does a fair job of representation by showing a wide array of background characters — each one has a different skin tone, body type, some have physical disabilities, some wear hijabs and there are even characters in lesbian or gay relationships. There is no shortage of diversity and representation in this show. The one thing that does irk me is the young Korean American girl, Chloe Park (voiced by Charlyne Yi). Despite being a young child, she studies at a local university which subtly reinforces the Asian genius stereotype. On the other hand, the show does show appreciation for the Korean culture. In one episode, Ice Bear (voiced by Demetri Martin) speaks fluent Korean with Chloe’s parents and excels at cooking Korean food. Overall, the show deserves praise for diversity and adorable animation.
- Dear White People
I was a bit hesitant to add this TV show on this list particularly because of its “wokeness” and praise within the black community. It’s a unique drama series and social commentary. Criticism of the TV series varies from being too politically radical to its third season not living up to the same standards as the previous 2 seasons. IMHO, it’s a fun show to watch and summarizes the country’s racial issues in a smaller, easier to understand environment. That being said, the show’s portrayal of its limited number of Asian characters is disappointing. One particular interaction with a character named Annie (Cindy Nguyen) was especially awkward. Annie agrees to help the other characters by moving back a screening of Bowling for Columbine for the university’s Asian Unity club but then is asked what gun control has to do with being Asian. After Annie makes a snarky remark the other characters then say that she needs to calm down. It’s ironic that black characters are treating Asian characters in a way that would be outrageous and controversial if the roles were reversed.