Portrayals of Asian male in Hollywood films

Growing up watch Hollywood films was one of mine happiest memory, seeing people with superpowers, cars racing, action fighting, Disney cartoon, and horror films. When I was a kid, I never thought of racial of diversity. Until now I start to recognize there aren’t many movies that have Asian leading role. Asian are being stereotyped in movies and TV shows.   My family moved to the U.S from China in 2006, school experiences was quite different and interesting. What I meant for “interesting” is nothing in a positive way that you think, it was fill with stereotyping jokes that makes you feel uncomfortable. Going to school in the United States, kids often make fun of my appearance by saying things like “Chinky eyes”, or ask me “how do you blindfold a Chinese person? Put floss over their eyes.”

Here some questions that I have:

  1. How are Asian males portrayed in TV shows, ads, and movies?
  2. What are the stereotypes that the media has on Asian males?
  3. Why aren’t many leading roles for Asian?
  4. How come in Hollywood films, they often desexualized Asian?


For my research, I was able to find some very helpful resources; a Documentary films ‘The Slanted Screen: Asian Men in Film and Television’, an article called ‘Why Hollywood Won’t cast Asian Actors’, a section of ‘I Am Bruce Lee’ that talks about his thought of Hollywood stereotyping and discriminatory practices, and others that supports my topic.


Asian American are the fastest growing racial group in America, but in Hollywood films there is still discrimination against Asian by desexualized them in the movies or stereotyping about their appearance and the way we speak . In the documentary films ‘The Slanted Screen: Asian Men in Film and Television’, actors, film producers, and writers were expressing how they felt about what Hollywood did and how they tried to fight against it. During the silent era of Hollywood in the 1910s and 1920s, Sessue Hayakaw was of the biggest starts. He played the leading romantic roles, or villains. “Many people know Rudolph Valentino, He was a sex symbol of earlier Hollywood. But don’t forget, Sessue Hayakawa was prior to him, and according to some researcher Sessue Hayakawa was the first sex symbol of Hollywood.” — Mako Iwamatsu. According to Mako Iwamatsu, Asian did have successful romantic roles in the history. How come later on Hollywood decide to take it away from Asian actress? In the films, it addressed that “Hayakwa would not only be the first but one of the last Asian leading men to star in a Hollywood production,

Mako Iwamatsu recall one of his memory meeting with the executives of Warner Brothers and the Vice president about why did they use David Carradine, A Caucasian actor playing the Chinese Character in “Kung Fu.” And he told us that the Vice president said “If we put a yellow man on the tube the audience would turn the switch off in less than five minutes”.

At the time, caricatures of the inscrutable oriental dominated the big screen. Hollywood would usually cast non-Asian actors to play these nefarious roles. Even up till now, Hollywood still doing that to the movies that supposedly have Asian actor playing the leading role. Casting Caucasians actor to play the role of the Asian character. In the movie of “Ghost in the Shell”, a movie that base on the Japanese manga comics. They decided to use Scarlett Johansoon to play the main Asian character.

Back to the documentary films “The Slanted Screen: Asian Men in Film and Television”, James Scott lee talks about the movies that he casted as the famous marital art master Bruce Lee, ‘Dragon: The Brucee Lee story’. In one part of the movies, Bruce Lee( James) and his wife (Lauren Holly) are sitting in the theater and they are watching the ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ He describe the character with big buck teeth and big glasses, portraying what’s supposed to be a Japanese old man. He said “He’s playing somewhat of a caricatrue on that person.” Asian actors was desexualized, giving a stereotyping role. What’s the reason for doing this? Is so, the Whites can consolidate their position in the America? Mako Iwamatsu decribe Bruce Lee the “New phenomenon”. Bruce Lee changed the way that other American people think of Asian. It make them proud to be Asian. Because of Bruce Lee, martial art fight movies became a popular genre at the 90’s time. But that didn’t stop the discrimination in the film industry, Bruce Lee was unfortunally just end up being a another stereotype. Bobby Lee was saying “Bruce lee definitely made it harder for Asian men, in terms of the bar of what people saw you as.” He told us there was once people came up to him and asked him do you Kung fu.

From the documentary films ‘I am Bruce Lee’, it talks about how Bruce had a disdain for Caucasians playing the part of Asian characters. He also said how the old movies are always being stereotyping, making fun of the Asian peoples’ eyes, and making the sound “CHOP CHOP”. Bruce Lee’s widow Linda Emery talked lot of how Bruce was struggling in Hollywood, because racial factors. Racism was mention many times later in this documentary. Bruce Lee tried to fight against this, and wanted to make change of all Asian. In his whole life in America, he wanted to prove himself, to others that Asian is good as the White people. One of his famous quote “You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being. Because, I mean I don’t want to sound like ask Confucius, sayyyyyy–(joking) but under the sky, under the heaven, man, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different.”I think he meant that all human being are created equally, but just different color. It was such a tragic of Bruce Lee’s death, if not I would for sure that he would change the racism problem in Hollywood. Maybe because of him there will be more Asian actors in the films industry.

In a conclusion, racism in Hollywood it is still happening. As a new generation, we can fix this and make it better. I think Hollywood should consider giving Asian Americans more leading roles, more chance to shine on the screen and take away those stereotypes.






Works Cited


Chow, Keith. “Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2016. Web. 21 May 2017.


I Am Bruce Lee Documentary. Dir. Pete McCormack. N.p., 07 July 2014. Web. 17 May 2017.


The Slanted Screen: Asian Men in Film and Television. Prod. Jeff Adachi. Infobase. N.p., 02 Dec. 2010. Web. 17 May 2017.






8 thoughts on “Portrayals of Asian male in Hollywood films

  1. Hi, Jianliang. Your post is a fascinating read. I think you did great on your research and bring up the stereotypes of that are brought in Hollywood. I also see that you talked about Bruce Lee and how he felt about Hollywood, which was a great move since he is an icon for martial arts movies. Your post also taught me that Asians were very sexualized back in the old days. Which also made me question why Hollywood stopped doing that? We might not ever get to know and your guess might be the closest to the truth. Good job on your post

  2. This is exactly the topic I spoke of in my post: Hollywood whitewashing and using Caucasian actors in ethnic roles. It’s ridiculous that they don’t see a problem with it, but it must somehow be easier for them, and they don’t care enough about equality or diversity to feel the need to change. Interesting how even Bruce Lee and other big names had such controversy with the issue even back then. Goes to show how corrupt Hollywood really is, and how little they care about anyone other than themselves and their Caucasian counterparts.

  3. Hi Jianliang,
    Good job and an interesting read. I was shocked to find out how often a Caucasian or non-Asian played the role of the Asian character. Even Scarlet Johnson played a female Asian character. Like why? I’m sure there is enough good Asian actors in the world. It s seems like Hollywood does want to give Asians meaningful screen time when it comes to movies. Interesting that when it comes to shows It seems that Asian characters are prevalent even though mainly playing support roles, while when it comes to movies only Kung Fu movies have Asian characters. I wonder why?

  4. Hey!
    I found your post to be very relevant and intriguing. More often than not, I have seen many Hollywood movies and even series white washed specifically in the realm of Asian experience and culture. This shocks me that the industry has made it so easy and normal to silence and appropriate cultures of all kinds. However, in the past few years alone we have seen a multitude of movies white washed, Argo, The Last Airbender, Dragonball, Death Note, The Forest, etc. It is madness. I loved your evidence. Great job!

  5. Hi Ken,
    You did a really nice job with your research. I also notice that a lot of Hollywood films don’t cast many Asian actors. It’s upsetting to me that they typically cast White actors and actresses instead of people of color. As many mentioned before, there are a lot of Asian films that are being white washed. I’ve seen many of those movies, but now that they plan on making an “American” version of it makes me not want to watch. How do you feel about white washing?

  6. Nice work Ken,
    First, I’d like to say Mako was one of my favorite voice actors. His work as Iroh in Avatar and Aku in Samurai Jack were fantastic.While Bruce Lee may have made it harder for other Asian men to match his level, you have to agree that he was one of the key people who helped bring together the East and the West. His acting, martial arts, and philosophy bridged the gap.

  7. Hi Ken, I enjoyed reading your post.

    I think that Hollywood should bring more diversity in films. As shown in the article about the USC study in our required readings, diversity isn’t prominent in the United States. However, I think that every country does have bias in their films by having most of their actors be a part of the prominent ethnicity in their country. So overall diversity in films should be universal.

  8. Hey Ken
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I wrote my essay on the Asian female aspect, so it’s kind of the opposite of yours and it’s interesting to see how stark the differences are between how they stereotype Asians of each gender. You mentioned often how Hollywood tends to “desexualize” Asian men, I wrote about how often Hollywood overtly sexualize Asian women. I think you did a great job with your research, and I definitely agree: there needs to be more Asians on-screen. It’s unfortunate that even today we still deal with the blatant whitewashing of Asian movies and stories.


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