Marginalized by media

Jen Kwok’s “Date An Asian” may have been meant as a playful song, but its critique of mainstream North American culture rings true.

“Where my Punjabis at? Where my Filipinos at? Where my bubble tea-drinkers at?” Kwok croons in her self-described Mariah Carey-esque video.

Looking around at pop culture images, I have to wonder.

In the few blockbuster movies where they appear, Asian men are almost always the nerdy sidekick, math club president, Dr. Fu-Manchu, terrorist or kung-fu master.

Jackie Chan as East Asian Chief Inspector Lee in Rush Hour 2 doesn’t get to share an on-screen kiss—Hollywood’s seal of romantic approval—with Roselyn Sanchez after going to great lengths to rescue her.

In Bride and Prejudice, Nitin Ganatra’s South Asian character Mr. Kohli is shafted for Martin Henderson’s bland, all-American William Darcy. South Asian character Balraj gets his girl at the end, but the movie reminds us he has a British accent.

In mainstream entertainment, Asian male characters speak poor English through bucked teeth, own laundromats or convenience stores and never get the romantic storyline. The only places I seem to find alternative—though not necessarily more accurate—representations of Asian masculinities are OMNI 1’s Korean tele-dramas and Bollywood movies.

I thought I was jumping to conclusions until Google helped me confirm my fears. When I typed “desexualization” into the box, the search engine helpfully finished my search term with, “of Asian men.” Okay; so Google also recognizes there’s a problem.

One important fix is to even out the disproportionate number of onscreen appearances Asian men are allotted.

If we use Texas as our scale, as good North Americans do, Asia is bigger than Texas. People from Texas, however, are more frequently the creators and subjects of mainstream entertainment than Asians.

I’m not suggesting the only way to change perceptions of Asian masculinities is to include more Asian characters or performers. A critical mass alone won’t solve the issue. Looking strictly at numbers simply attempts to assimilate marginalized groups into the dominant culture.

Angry Asian Man, Disgrasian and 8Asians are blogs that regularly point out the stereotypes associated with Asian men that are paired with hyper-sexual interpretations of Asian women. YouTube sensation Wong Fu Productions was started by a group of East Asian-American students to make short films featuring Asian men in leading roles.

These writers and filmmakers, through Disgrasian’s “hot Asian man” tag or Wong Fu Productions’ romantic music videos, attempt to portray an underrepresented aspect of Asian masculinity. Whether these attempts are effective or accurate is debatable, but two things are certain: they encourage discussion, and Wong Fu actor Philip Wang’s rendition of Babyface’s “What If” gets me every time.

As these media challenge North American conceptions of Asian masculinities, our role is to find a way to respond that doesn’t fetishize or tokenize Asian men.

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