With the release of Crazy Rich Asians, here’s my most popular post from last year: On the “Ugly Asian Male” stereotype, and why Asian-American males are considered the least attractive people and the least likely to be a lead.
– Ugly Asian Male: On Being the Least Attractive Guy in the Room
I was surprised this post got any traction at all. Often when I talk about anything Asian, people glaze over and tune out. “You’re smart, you have it easy, you work hard, you people are privileged too,” I always hear, as if my only say in the matter is to be grateful and bow all the time. And I know that “diversity” is not an issue everybody wants to hear because it’s been used as a guilt-sledgehammer. So I rarely talk about it here.
But these things do matter to me. I learned quickly as a young Korean-American that my life was a second-class existence. I was a prop, the comic relief, the third acquaintance. I wish I had any sort of Hollywood hero to aspire to.
Asian males in American media are often emasculated hair-dyed plot devices, mute kung fu experts, evil villains, or the computer guy in a chair. It’s almost impossible to name the last time an Asian male was the romantic interest in any American movie. Even Mulan was the only animated Disney movie where the romantic leads didn’t kiss. I guess an Asian male having that sort of energy was too weird.
That’s all fine, I suppose, but the power of mainstream art has a way of drawing boxes around our perception of others, including the perception of self. I suffocated in this box for too long. And God forbid we have actual dreams, hopes, insecurities, and backstories like everyone else.
With recent shows like Kim’s Convenience, Fresh off the Boat, and Ugly Delicious, it’s great to see we’re slowly chipping away at old conventions. I’m not sure that Asian-Americans are going to have the “one huge hit that will change everything.” If that happens, I’m all for it. I’m also all for working modestly towards the horizon, like we’ve always done. I hope you will hear us. Our stories are worth sharing. Here’s to breaking boxes.
3 thoughts on “Crazy Male Asians: Stories Matter”
It seems every ethnic or racial minority has had to fight for their place here in a predominantly white North America. The rest of us don’t notice until someone speaks up. Keep saying it, JSP — people may be slow — even unwilling — to catch on, but eventually they will.
Actor Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto in “THE LONE RANGER” went on to fight for sensible acting parts for native Americans. After I read that I began to think about all the movies showing those poor brainless Indians circling wagon trains and getting picked off. Really? I read a bit of auto-bio from Sammy Davis Jr and it was the same story. African-Americans have had a long fight just to be considered human, and for sure to get any accolades in Hollywood.
Prejudice can be affected by other factors than appearance, too. The tones of Oriental languages are so different from English they tend to grate. Most people love French, Irish, Spanish accents, others not so much. Italians discussing something often sound loud and angry; Oriental languages sound shrill to English ears —not high in the “sounds we love to hear” bracket.
You raised a very interesting point about language and auditory prejudice. I’ve never thought about that.
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In this case it’s possibly, as I said, the irritating-to-an-English ear sounds. Sometimes it’s more general fear that makes people resist all other languages & accents.
Some folks — and if I might say it, Americans are noted for this — ONLY want English spoken. I’ve lived in a polyglot city and lived amongst English-only folks and my observation is that people, when they hear another language being spoken, assume the person speaking must be saying nasty things about them.