Asian Stereotypes In The Media

I am Asian, so I must be a poor English speaking-doctor aspiring-kung fu fighting-crazy driving-math whiz. Those are some of the stereotypes that are being portrayed in the media and in real life about Asians. For many years there are negative stereotypes that have been featured in films and TV shows about the Asian culture. Some of which are true and some exaggerated. However, since the Asians are going along with it and have accepted these “images” being placed upon them society has looked it as being all true and have expected all Asians to possess these “traits”. The media can be very unjustly. What ever is being portrayed in the media can be harmful when it is projecting the wrong idea. Asian Americans have been affected by these stereotypes for so long that there needs to be some knowledge of it to further prevent this problem from escalating. As we look into the popular negative stereotypes portrayed in the media we can educate people on why it is wrong in hopes of opening their minds to differentiating what is mere entertainment and what is actual culture.


First lets look at how Hollywood portrays Asian stereotypes. After reading an article by Zak Keith, he goes into great detail about the negative stereotypes that is featured in Hollywood films and shows. Negative Asian stereotypes are essentially the only Asian themes ever used in Hollywood and other media. They are casted as foreigners and not as acculturated Americans. Some almost exclusively used Asian stereotypes in Hollywood and the media; Perpetual foreigner, martial arts, model minority, nerd/geek, gendered racism- sexualized female, asexual male and sanctioned racial-gender coupling, inferior and subordinate. Asian males are yet to be cast in a leading Hollywood role, unless it is inseparable from their status as a foreigner with martial arts skills. What I found interesting, but not surprising is the stereotypically occupations that are put onto Asians. It can be frustrating because we (as an Asian person) will never be able to get out of that expectation of having those occupations. Ethno-specific occupations stereotypically assigned to Asians include doctors, lab assistants, restaurant worker, Japanese businessman (in a corporate meeting), laundry service, or grocery store.

Asians are portrayed as extremely uncool and having poor taste and the inability to grasp American culture and nuances. Hollywood’s rules for gendered racism: Asian female + White male = YES! Asian female + Black male = MAYBE. Asian male + White female = HELL NO! Asian male + Black female = HUH? Asian male + Asian female = ABUSIVE. Negative perceptions on the desirability of Asian men have real-life repercussions on relationships. Dating and marriage stats indicate that in the US- considered the biggest melting pot in the world- Asian males are far less desirable than Asian females. Asian males are among the least-preferred partners of all other ethnicities in the U.S. this might have to do with the negative portrayals of them in the media. This is very dissatisfying for the Asian males that are going through this.


Next let’s take a look at some films and TV shows that actually feature these stereotypes.

The movie Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (part of the Harold and Kumar series) is about the continuing of the story that the first movie leaves off, with Harold and Kumar flying to Amsterdam but is imprisoned after being mistaken for terrorists and go on some comical misadventures when escaping from the Guantanamo Bay jail. Even though this movie seems to be a well-liked comedy and included some scenes that defended the Asian stereotypes depicted in there, it still was hazy on the intention of the movie and it easily can still be mistaken to be true. During the scene of when the two guys Harold (Korean-American) and Kumar (Indian American) were thought to be terrorists on a plane and their parents were called in for interrogation by the FBI. The first stereotype in this scene was the fact that a Chinese interpreter was called in to translate even though 1. His parents clearly spoke English and 2. They were Korean not Chinese. The second stereotype was that just because Kumar was Indian American they saw him as a terrorist on a plane because of his bomb-shaped bong.

Of course these films were made to be funny and deal with racial issues, but for the individuals that don’t know or understand the historical background of these cultures they can be influenced by these media images and depictions about minority groups.

Now who remembers Miss Swan from MADtv?


Miss Swan is a reoccurring character of the then popular comedy show MADtv. She possesses the classic “traits” of the Asian stereotypes. She had a funny accent along with broken English, she works at a nail salon, and she has the chinky eyes and classic haircut. I personally found this to be very funny but that was before I knew how much it would affect my future image from other people. After this skit became so popular people would assume that that’s how we all talk, that we all did nails, and that we had the chinky eyes. The even more interesting thing about this is that this actress isn’t even of Asian descent! Alex Borstein is white and from Illinois. This is what the media calls “Yellowface” where Asian characters are portrayed by actors/actresses of other race using make-up. This actually cracks me up because wouldn’t it have been easier to just cast an already Asian actor? They may have done that for the effects though. This specific character in this show can almost be used as an “advertisement” of how Asian women are portrayed. Like the lesson about the influence of advertising in week 4 and the history of advertisement in week 3, it mentioned, “ … advertising, especially non-commercial public service announcement ads, had social and cultural value.” Although advertising can create social and cultural value it can also create false assumptions. Looking at this Miss Swan skit as a ad of how Asian women are portrayed it does in fact show negative stereotypes that is not true about Asian women. This lesson shows us how to look at advertisements and in this case character portrayal deeper than what is shown. We must analyze and ask questions on what the “ad” is trying to say or do and it is relevant or not. By doing that we have a higher chance of understanding the real intent of these characters, entertainment and not facts.

An article was written by Justin Chan titled “Where Are All the Asian Americans in Hollywood?” exhibits how tough it is for Asian Americans to land a led role in Hollywood. Keanu Reeves, who is of Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry, and Will Smith are the only two that have landed many lead roles. Although Asian Americans are now the nation’s fastest-growing demographic, their presence in films have gotten smaller since 2008. A direct quote from RaceBending’s Marissa Lee wrote in an email “American History is pretty racist and sexist, and Hollywood is reflection of our culture.” She also adds “Hollywood doesn’t put minorities in lead roles because our society rarely lets minorities take the lead.” This all makes very much sense. The lead roles offered to Asian Americans have decreased over the years. Directors and producers seem to have just ignored them and whitewashed films that were centered on Asian culture. In order for Asian Americans to pop up in the Hollywood scene, there needs to be more writers willing to step up and write more Asian-American parts.

However there is a slow turn to this discovery. A couple of college buddies created their own independent film production Wong Fu Productions that are trying to turn the Hollywood media around by shedding positive light to Asian Americans. They have been a top-hit in the YouTube community producing short films and videos featuring Asian individuals without portraying ANY Asian stereotypes. This article supports my theory that a difference can be made to the restriction of Asian American lead roles in Hollywood. As an Asian community, something more needs to be done to take back our culture. The media has put out this view, negative view on Asian Stereotypes and that’s how they identify Asian Americans today. By changing that view and perspective, respect can be gained back for the Asian community. Asian Americans should be looked upon like everyone else not belittled or judged by the stereotypes that have been trending throughout the years. A stance needs to be taken.

Along side from this is the new sitcom Fresh Off The Boat (a Fox TV series created by Nahnatchka Khan) that does include Asian main characters. This show tries to capture the true struggles that most Asian Americans had to face when first entering the states. Although they do use a lot of the negative stereotypes it is hopeful that they are using to teach the world.


To sum up, this 4 out of 60 minute video about “Asians In The Media” Q&A diversity workshop at Trinity College in CT given by Eliot Chang explains a lot about this identity.

In order for society to understand the Asian culture and how these images and stereotypes affect them, there needs to more discretion when using these tactics for entertainment. Sure they are all very entertaining and fun to watch, but there needs to be understanding that it IS just done for entertainment and that this isn’t how the Asian culture should be seen or treated. Taking from what I learned about communities in this class it has helped to enhance the understanding that the Asian community or anybody that fits the practices of this community should stand together and teach other communities about the impact of negative stereotypes on Asian Americans, a community will work better than an individual.


Work Cited

Chan, Justin. “Where Are All the Asian Americans in Hollywood?” Complex. Complex, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Chang, Eliot. “The Real Damn Truth About Asians In The Media.” YouTube. YouTube,8 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2015

Keith, Zak. “Hollywood Asian Stereotypes.” Asian Stereotypes in Hollywood and Other Media. Zakkeith, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Kim, Eunyoung. “Gender & Race.” : Asian Stereotypes in Harold and Kumar Series. Blogspot. 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015

Qiang, Ashley. “Slant.” When Asians Americans Appear On TV, It’s usually As One of These Racist Stereotypes. Slantnews, 22 Aug. Web. 15 Nov. 2015



4 thoughts on “Asian Stereotypes In The Media

  1. At the very beginning of this post, you said you are a poor English speaker.. After reading this post, I thought you are not. Your writing is very fluent and I think your speaking must be good. I’m an Asian, too. In my opinion, Asian prefer working alone than working with others. They trust themselves more. But now it should be changed because there are more and more group projects come out in college, and students have to get used to it. 🙂

  2. Hello Thi, I agree with you that the Asian stereotypes are influenced the image of an Asian. People would automatic assume Asians are poor English speaker, great mathematicians, and knows Kung Fu. These are all the stereotype that been portrayed for the past decade in popular culture where it had major influence in people’s view towards Asians. But I could see this be changing in the future because popular culture are slowly reviewing the Asian portrayal.

  3. Hello Thi, I enjoyed reading your essay. Your portion on the character Ms. Swan was incredibly interesting. I agree the media needs to take more care in how it portrays cultural stereo types, and entertainment often operates with reckless abandon. It would be interesting to further study to see if these portrayals help us or hurt us as a society. I think “entertainment” like that is one of the biggest reason we need to promote media literacy education and disucssion.

  4. Very good job on this essay! Your sources were great and it is clear that you put a lot of time and thought into this. I definitely agree with your thoughts on how the media portrays cultural stereotypes and how this is often done without a second thought to how it might impact those who are affected by it. You did a great job on this essay and its nice to see how much effort you put into it! Good job 🙂

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