Hannah grew up in Chicago and she fortunately had rarely experienced negative bias for being Asian American. She recalls observing few instances in which classmates would pull their eyes to sign squinty eyes, but these gestures were often ignored or dismissed as comical. Recently, this gesture made headlines after South Korea defeated Germany as part of the FIFA World Cup, allowing Mexico to progress in the tournament. BBC reports that while celebrating Mexico’s advancement, two hosts on US Spanish-language network, Telemundo, were seen making this gesture. Furthermore, several Mexican fans posted photos of them imitating the gesture on Twitter in “an attempt to thank South Korea.” The two hosts were suspended and many Mexicans have apologized, only after being called out for acting racially insensitive.
“My background is a large part of who I am but I don’t go around saying hi, I’m Hannah and I’m Asian.”
Hannah admits that she hadn’t registered how few Asian actors there were on television or in movies until she recently noticed Asian actors in Hawaii Five-O. In the television police action series, about a third of the sixteen main characters are of Asian descent. In August, we can expect to see an all-Asian cast in the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians. This will be the first all-Asian cast for a film produced in Hollywood in two and half decades, which Hannah acknowledges as a major milestone for Asian representation in Hollywood. Nevertheless, Hannah questions why there are not more Asians in roles that are not primarily defined by their Asian culture and appearance. She jokes, “My background is a large part of who I am but I don’t go around saying hi, I’m Hannah and I’m Asian.”
She would like to see more Asian actors in productions that don’t relegate them to stereotypical roles and jokes. And to make Asian actors more of a norm in Hollywood, it is essential to include more of them in roles relatable to viewers of all races. She commends characters like Christina Yang in the hit television show, Grey’s Anatomy. Played by Sandra Oh, Christina is obviously identifiable as an Asian female but her storyline is not (largely) dependent on her Asian heritage and therefore, her character is adored by various viewers, Asian and non-Asian. Oh was recently nominated for an Emmy in the lead actress in a drama series category for her role in Killing Eve. She is the first woman of Asian descent in the 69 years of Emmy history to be nominated for this award.
I asked Hannah why she thought there was a lack of representation of Asians in Hollywood. She responds, “It’s not like Asians don’t watch movies.” She believes people are simply comfortable with the status quo and either don’t want to or are afraid to take steps to attempt what has not been tried many times before. In addition, she realizes that people may be worried to create Asian-inclusive content because of the pressure of political correctness and cultural appropriation. She mentions the recent controversy featured on social media about a teenager who wore a Chinese-style dress to prom. Hannah acknowledges the blurry line between offensive and appreciative but she believes people shouldn’t be restricted from learning about and exploring other cultures.
“There is a lot of depth to Asian characters that hasn’t been explored yet.”
Hannah recounts an interaction with a white male manager who explained that he had not witnessed prejudice against women in the workplace since he personally saw all people as just, people. As much as Hannah and I would like to believe that is true, reality is that even if not consciously, the way that people perceive us is somewhat influenced by the fact we are females. Everyone holds unconscious biases, defined as social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside of their own conscious awareness. Because we are aware of these biases, females tend to doubt our qualifications. According to a 2015 study by Leanin.org and Mckinsey & Co, women ask for feedback as often as men do, but are less likely to receive it. Additionally, women negotiate just as often as men do, but face pushback and are then labeled aggressive.
Hannah identifies two strains of the Asian female stereotype. One represents the fetishized, docile, subservient female and the other represents the female who is aggressive and determined to succeed at all costs. She feels like people often judge Asian females as “too little or too much.” Hannah believes, “I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the two strains.” She references Lilly, the Asian female character in Pitch Perfect who is quiet and barely speaks. Hannah concludes, “There is a lot of depth to Asian characters that hasn’t been explored yet.”