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Distortion of Asian American Images in Media


Asians have started coming to the United States in the 1800s, and since then, the media portrayal of Asians has struggled to deliver accuracy and objectivity. Much of the Asian appearance in American films and television can be labeled as a product of racism and discrimination. A rich and diverse culture of Asian nationalities cannot be accumulated in a single character or a single movie.

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However, the American cinematographers have been incorporating the image of Asians into their films for decades. They are usually not given lead roles, and even if a protagonist character is Asian, it is often played by a white actor using yellowface. There are many reasons why stereotypes have been dominating Asian American portrayal in media. Some of them are hostile relationships between the US and Asian countries in the past. Asians should promote their cultures to build public awareness of their diverse nature.

Media Stereotypes

Media has a significant influence on how the public perceives certain nationalities. Therefore, many of the stereotypes the Americans have had about Asians are due to the impact of television and cinematography. Asian actors and moviemakers are underrepresented in the United States cinema. Less than 1% of Academy Awards nominations have included Asian Americans since the award’s inception in 1929 (Yang 1). Besides, the voters that decide the outcome of the Awards are 94% comprised of whites (Yang 7). These statistics tell us that white culture dominates the American media, and minorities like Asians have no influence over whether or not their portrayals are accurate and realistic.

One common stereotype against Asians, both male and female, is the notion of yellow peril, which originated because of the fear that Asian immigrants will undermine the American culture. This stereotype suggests that Asians are intellectually and physically weak, violent, and uncivilized (Cheung 6). For instance, Chinese American fictional characters like Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan have these characteristics (Cheung 6).

The contrasting attitude toward Asian Americans is the stereotype of the model minority. According to this belief, Asian Americans are intelligent, prosperous, and rational and effective in their economic choices. Despite this positive image, many scholars believe that this stereotype is also deceptive and may result in unfavorable outcomes (Cheung 7). The reason is that Americans still see Asians as a threat, not because of their inferiority but economic competitiveness (Cheung 7). There are also stereotypes that are unique to Asians’ gender.

Other representations include the depiction of Asians as if all of them are masters at martial arts, the image of a store-owner, and a nerd child in the classroom. Among the most common stereotypes is the belief that all Asians look the same, and all of them have similar cultures and languages (Shrake and Chen 185). This image is inaccurate because Asian nationalities differ significantly in their way of living and communication (Shrake and Chen 186). For instance, Chinese and Japanese are fundamentally different and have no similarities.

There are several characteristics that are attributed to Asian men. Often, Asian male characters are portrayed as asexual, tactless, and as a person who is not able to attract an American woman (Yang 8). For instance, the same Charlie Chan possesses these inferior qualities (Yang 8). Women, on the other hand, have two stereotypes – the image of a Lady Dragon and a Lotus Blossom. The former stereotype portrays Asian women as people who are not worthy of trust, are deceitful, violent, and use their sexuality to seduce and manipulate men (Shrake and Chen 187). Lotus Blossom, on the contrary, suggests that Asian women are characterless, obedient, have no ambitions and desires (Shrake and Chen 187). Wisdom and intelligence are seldom attributed to Asian women, although such a depiction would often be correct.

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Ways for Improvement

In order to lessen the influence of stereotypes on the public perception of Asian Americans, there should be a collective approach to action. Asians in schools may conduct presentations about their cultures and explain how their customs differ from other Asian nationalities. For instance, Chinese and Japanese students may come together and present how Chinese culture differs from the Japanese. There is an organization called Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) that promotes the interests of Asian Americans in the United States. The primary goal of AAJC is to represent Asian Americans in political conversations that make decisions on public policies. To change how Asians are portrayed in media, AAJC should also get involved in related events.


Television, news, and other forms of media are the primary way of how people receive information and build their opinions today. Therefore, media is vital, and it should try to provide the audience with accurate information. However, for many decades, American cinematography and television have annihilated the image of Asians. Stereotypes about inferior culture have dominated the minds of American viewers. The collective approach should be taken to lessen the influence of such inaccurate representations. Support of organizations such as AAJC is also necessary to mend the portrayal of Asian Americans.

Works Cited

Cheung, Pricilla. Asian American Representation and Stereotypes on Mainstream American Television: A Case Study of Fresh off the Boat. ResearchGate, 2019. Web.

Shrake, Eunai Kim, and Edith Wen-Chu Chen, editors. Asian Pacific American Experiences: Past, Present, and Future. Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2012.

Yang, Hellen. White Washed out: Asian American Representation in Media. Duke University, 2017. Duke University. Web.

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