Students applaud increasing Asian representation but acknowledge need for improvements

The rise of films starring Asian actors is sparking a growing conversation on why representation is essential to Asian-Americans. Asian Americans have been historically underrepresented in American films with overused stereotypes and the exclusion of Asian actors for Asian roles. However, with the recent releases of “Crazy Rich Asians”, “Searching”, and “To All the Boys I Loved Before", there is a sudden upsurge of Asian roles in American film.

Kristina Nghe. Photo courtesy of Kristina Nghe

Kristina Nghe. Photo courtesy of Kristina Nghe

“Now with “Crazy Rich Asians” being out along with other films like “Searching” I think the representation is greater than it was from when we were younger,” Kristina Nghe said, secretary of the Asian Pacific American Association.

The film “Crazy Rich Asians” received 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes prior to public release. However since the release, the film has since maintained a 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time this article was written. It was nominated for two Golden Globe awards, four Critics’ Choice Awards—winning the Best Comedy of the year.

While celebrating the accomplishments of “Crazy Rich Asians” for its all-Asian cast, Asian Americans acknowledge that there remains a disparity in diversity. Discussions revolve around what Asian representation looks like. While there are successes in media for East and Southeast Asian-American audience members, The dialogue often excludes South Asians.

Nazifa Wazirzada. Photo courtesy Nazifa Wazirzada

Nazifa Wazirzada. Photo courtesy Nazifa Wazirzada

Nazfia Wazirzada, an Asian American from Pakistan, said there is a need for including South Asians in the dialogue of representation.

“I don’t think we are doing enough as a society to bring to light the true voice, ideas, values, cultures of South Asians,” Wazirzada said. “Don’t get me wrong, I was in love with ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, because I could connect to a lot of what was going on and the issues people were facing in the movie are things I have grappled with as well, but the only South Asian representation in the entire movie were either hotel workers or guards. We are often given the stereotypical roles of the submissive brown woman that has no opinion, or the nerdy, shy brown boy, or a terrorist, or someone against America.”

Asian representation is essential and makes both positive and negative impacts on the Asian-American experience. More realistic representation of Asians can be empowering, while stereotypical roles can be harmful. Asian actors and accurately portrayed Asian roles have the potential of reforming the way Asians are seen in the United States.

“When I was growing up, I was bullied because of where I came from,” Wazirzada said. “This stemmed not only from ignorance, and the rhetoric that was being taught at home, but also because across media in our society, they were fed stereotypes of who my people were. They didn’t know all the great things I knew about Pakistan and South Asia, because nobody was sharing those stories accurately.”

Being able to see someone with similar appearances and experiences is validating. When casting is done based on reality as a priority, films can empower those who watch it.

Sara Guymon. Photo courtesy Sara Guymon

Sara Guymon. Photo courtesy Sara Guymon

Sara Guymon is a South Korean adoptee from New Ulm, Minnesota, which has an Asian population of less than 1 percent. She said being able to see someone that looks like her gives her a sense of belonging as an Asian-America.

“Growing up, I really wanted to be more like everyone else, and I think that affected me for a really long time,” Guymon said. “It was hard being different because people also didn’t know how to interact with me as much.”

Through Korean pop culture, Guymon felt more connected to her Asian identity. With the increasing popularity of Kpop and Korean dramas, Guymon became more interested in learning more about her heritage.

“It was weird growing up in a primarily white city. My parents were super into [my brother and I] learning our culture,” Guymon said. “I went to a camp for Korean culture for a little bit. That was super cool because then I felt more comfortable because everyone around me was either adopted or Korean.”

Nghe also struggled with the cultural clashes between her American upbringing and her Asian heritage. She had the mindset that accepting her Asian identity would make her an outsider.

“I started to hate speaking Vietnamese and showing people my culture in fear of being ridiculed and felt like I had to try hard in school to fit the stereotype placed upon me,” said Nghe. “If I did things that I thought were normal some friends would say it was me being ‘too Asian’ it was a constant struggle trying to balance the two worlds. But as I grow and see this representation, I kind of have embraced both worlds and have let them mesh together.”

There is a lack of Asian representation in American media—Asian actors are just not getting enough roles that don’t focus on stereotypes. However, Nghe, Wazirzada, and Guymon are all optimistic Asian visibility will continue to increase and give more Asian-Americans a sense of self-acceptance, belonging, and empowerment.

CultureSuenary Philavanh