Asian-American People's Stereotypes

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1. Introduction

Over 17 million Asian or Asian-American people have classified themselves in the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, yet this flourishing population has been rendered unseen and unapparent in Hollywood films (,). Today, only a handful of Asians invisibly comprise Hollywood’s leading roles. Since the endless beginning of Hollywood, Asians have been specifically tyrannized with discriminating under-representation as well as prejudicial stereotyping in films and in the industry. When Asians are given roles, they are often characterized as “nerds donning glasses with farfetched Chinese accents, or as merciless assassins and acrobatic Kung Fu masters”, not to mention they are repeatedly associated with the notorious “minority model” stereotype of being the most intelligent, hard-working, and upright student which has done far more sabotage, than good (,). This has enforced the idea that Asians are without importance – undeserving of well-balanced portrayals and story-telling (,). Stereotypical representations of Asians do not only stay fixed on the screen, instead, they also instil permanent perceptions of how Asians are seen outside of media which can leave detrimental consequences and feelings of inferiority by the Asian population. If Asians are not depicted by over-used stereotypes, then they are given no appearances at all – undetectable and invisible in films. Their ongoing marginalization in the industry has caused ravaging disturbance towards the viewpoint of Asians. Through the recent production of the novelty romantic comedy film, Crazy Rich Asians, it identifies and emphasizes societal consequences that emerge from Asian portrayals as well as the impact on Asians in the entertainment industry. Crazy Rich Asians highlight the primary problems and concerns plaguing the population of Asian-Americans by presenting the Asian actors and actresses positively to the Asian and non-Asian public.

2. Changing Stereotypes:

All minorities, regardless of gender, suffer from the absence of non-stereotyped portrayals, as well as prejudice in media and society. Especially in mainstream movies, women of Asian-American descent are typically oversexualized through the representation of a submissive exotic companion for caucasian men with yellow-fever, or an Asian fetish. Asian-American men, on the other hand, are desexualized as unmasculine geeks who are undesirable partners for anyone, even Asian women or homosexual men (,). In the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu counteracts against these destructive views through her romantic relationship with Nick Young. Unlike the typical romantic comedy, the Asian man here is illustrated as the lead love interest, instead of an oppressed assistant, intelligent doctor, or tech nerd hacking computer systems. Nick Young and his high-class male relatives and friends are all worthy Southeast Asian bachelors who speak with their natural native accent, not with the forged Hollywood Asian accent that is stereotyped. In fact, they speak in a British accent which reflects the actual existing amount of Diaspora Chinese members who have immigrated to Britain (,). Another phenomenon that was noted from the film was the active perseverance displayed by the male characters’ reactions. Nick Young’s determination to marry Rachel Chu, transformed the Asian unmasculine stereotype of being passive into a contemporary, manly romantic hero who respects and tends to the prominent women in his life.

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Like the eligible bachelors of this film, the female casts are equally or much more dynamic in driving the film’s plot. To counteract the concept of women being “objects of fetish”, the film creates roles that range to be obnoxious or comedic, one of them is played by Awkwafina as Rachel’s sidekick. Without the appearance of Nick’s father and the continuous introductions of different women, the movie places great importance by asserting the role of matrons. Nick’s mother, as well as grandmother, plays powerful figures in the Young family, on the other hand, the beautiful bond shared between Rachel and her mother emphasizes the importance of motherly existence. These women all defy against the regularly seen submissive and feminine character roles that are found in mainstream Hollywood. Rachel’s character is one to especially challenge this mainstream prospect. All power that is balanced is shifted to the hands of Rachel, the female lead, not Nick. She is the one who determines the result of their relationship – choosing to either wed with Nick or leave him to sustain his relations with his admired mother. Her fluent New York English mocks the ordinary Asian “broken English” portrayed, and her English-accented Chinese represents the barrier that many Asian-Americans encounter in the present day. This gives non-Asian Americans the opportunity to view Asian-Americans in the right light.

3. Distinct:

The Asian ethnic background inhabits a huge diversity of cultures; however, Hollywood has enforced the belief that all Asians are no different, and “all look the same” (,). This is due to the media and entertainment perpetuating these stereotypes. To promote Asian characters as more palatable for the Caucasian audience, Hollywood had preferred the selection of white actors to take on Asians roles (,). This problem of whitewashing will continually persist and resonate by altering the views of the audience. It is assumed by Western society that there is a characteristic common to all Asians – no difference between “Asians in Asia or Asian-Americans in America” (Peng, 2019). A Thai actor may be played a Chinese character, or a Korean character can be portrayed by a Japanese actor. Hollywood’s habit of casually casting actors for any roles, without regarding the idea that there are countless countries with different values and traditions, encourages the idea that the continent of Asia is uniform throughout. Not only does this render disrespect for Asians, but it also brutalizes their individuality and distinctions. Through the uses of entertaining details and comical lines, Crazy Rich Asians have outlined the specificity that “Asians are not the same” particularly for the non-Asian Americans to understand the differences between “Indonesian Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Chinese Singaporeans, Hong Kongese, Chinese from Mainland, and American Chinese”(,). An extensive case of secondary and minor characters that were not Chinese was also cast to be a part of the film to prove the differences between Asians. Through the royal wedding and other significant scenes, appearances of recognizable ethnic groups such as Singaporean Indians, Thai, Japanese, Malaysians and etc, are all represented in positive non-stereotypical portrayals.

Crazy Rich Asians also constructed a storyline to depict the various types of American Chinese. There are American Born Chinese (ABCs) who are outlined in the movie as “new money” from past underprivileged backgrounds that has self-made their own wealth in China or America. Another group is the Chinese noble from the Southeast of Asia and Hong Kong and is determined as the old money. These two groups are clearly distinct in the movie where the Young family is established as a well-known old money family; however, Nick, despite his family’s affluent background, wishes to not just rely on his family’s wealth. He hopes to prove his own abilities in America without the pressures of his family to return home and take over the business. Contrarily, Rachel is belittled by the elite class of Singaporean Chinese because she is considered to be too American to be accepted in their standards (,). This surprisingly illustrates the struggle of identity for Asians is accurately real. Asian-Americans struggle to be accepted by their American identity, but they also struggle to be accepted by their native descent which subverts the stereotypes that were consistently portrayed.

Conclusion:

Crazy Rich Asians, as it is hinted in the name of the title, overrules the repeatedly worn stereotypes of portraying Asians in Hollywood, as characters with characteristics of being reserved, persistent, and underprivileged. For the longest time, Asians, as one of the minorities in Hollywood films and the industry, has been confronted with this type of racism which has brutalized the image of Asians. Instead, this movie illustrates the characters with personalities of being charismatically outspoken, memorably dynamic, and proudly representing, especially their high-socialite lifestyles which blew minds. Through Rachel, the audience is able to view the “crazy” lives of different types of Asians and understand their difference. Everybody is uniquely different, “Asians are not all the same”, just as people all have distinct characteristics that define themselves, Asians have features which makes them special, and the movie emphasizes this particular point using the relationship between Rachel and Nick (,). And since the movie was made to disprove the harmful stereotypes forged by Hollywood, Crazy Rich Asians have provided the cultural and societal solution to counter and improve the manner Asian-American is regarded by non-Asian Americans, as well as the way they perceive themselves. This means that Crazy Rich Asians is not only the moment for Asian-Americans to be accurately viewed, by themselves and by non-Asians, but this is also the opportunity for Americans of Asian descent to be reflected positively and clearly on screen in a more illustrious light that is rightfully deserved. 

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