The rising motion in opposition to Hollywood’s hypersexualization of Asian girls

Margaret Cho does not go outdoors anymore.

While that sentence could appear unsurprising for all times throughout a pandemic, Cho’s choice — and her worry — do not stem from the virus. Or, not less than, indirectly.

“I don’t leave,” the longtime comic and actor stated in an interview from her residence in Los Angeles. “I’m an older Asian-American woman. So this is like — all of the things that I’m seeing every day, it’s really us who are under attack.”

Cho was referring each to the current taking pictures in Atlanta where eight people — together with six Asian girls — have been killed, alongside with a current surge of anti-Asian racism and violence. As a outcome, s says she weighs the dangers of going out in public: asks herself if she’s keen to doc any assault she would possibly expertise, whether or not she feels she would — or ought to — struggle again.

“It’s a very real threat,” Cho stated. “So it’s very strange to actually wonder, like, ‘Oh, it’s cloudy with a chance of racism.'” 

WATCH | Re-examining anti-Asian racism within the media:

After an increase of attacks on Asian people, there’s a growing campaign to change their portrayal in the media and more people in the entertainment industry are vocalizing frustrations about stereotypical depictions. 2:11

Her fears aren’t isolated. In a recent Statistics Canada survey, Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian participants were the most likely groups to have experienced more incidents of harassment or attacks based on their race since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, an analysis by California State University’s Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism found hate crimes against Asian-Americans rose nearly 150 per cent in 2020, despite an overall decline in such crimes. 

Indeed, all three women interviewed for this story expressed fear about going outside specifically because of rising attacks against Asian women. And all three pointed to a likely culprit.

“Invisibility is the problem,” Cho said.

She was referring to how Asian people, particularly Asian women, from pop culture. Instead, they are replaced with overly sexualized caricatures, she said.

Margaret Cho hosts the Closing Ceremony of WorldPride NYC 2019 at Times Square on June 30, 2019 in New York City. Cho says she no longer goes outside due to fears around rising anti-Asian violence. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Cho says the lack of genuine depictions of Asian people in popular culture has contributed to the sexual objectification of Asian women, as for centuries “the characterization of Asian-ness has somehow been used as a form of dehumanization.”

That pattern, Cho and others have argued, has real-world implications. For example, the man accused of the shooting in Atlanta later told police the attack wasn’t a hate crime, but instead stemmed from his “sexual addiction.”

The hypersexualization of Asian women is not new, Cho said, and in fact directly contributes to the violence perpetrated against them. Cho explained Hollywood and the television industry have a history of portraying Asian women as sex objects, one-dimensional “model minorities,” or not at all. 

“We’ve gone from invisible to untouchable,” she said. “And those two combinations are adding to a dehumanizing effect, because either we’re superhuman, or we’re not there.” 

A history of hypersexualization

Film scholar Celine Parreñas Shimizu has been looking at that trend for years. In her book The Hypersexuality of Race, she documented how the trend of “servile submissives, suffering diminutive” Asian women took root in early mass culture through works such as Madame Chrysanthème and Madame Butterfly

Meanwhile, those stereotypes were also at work well beyond the stage. They occurred in the same era as the Page Act, which effectively barred Chinese women from immigrating to the United States over the racist perception that they were likely to be sex workers. Those ideas spread in ways that echoed for decades, Shimizu said. 

“We’ve heard these sayings that are attributed to Asian women that still resonates in popular culture today,” Shimizu said. “[Full Metal Jacket’s] ‘Me love you long time,’ or [The World of Suzie Wong‘s] ‘I stay with you until you tell me go away.’ This broken, chopped up English that asserts this servility and these words on screen get repeated in the scenes of everyday life for Asian women.”

WATCH | Celine Parreñas Shimizu on the historical representation of Asian women:

Film scholar and filmmaker Celine Parreñas Shimizu explains how racist tropes within the leisure business contribute to the hyper-sexualization of Asian girls. 1:03

These depictions pervade well-liked media, Shimizu stated — from Hollywood classics to extra on a regular basis examples like Austin Powers, Family Guy and The Office, which was recently criticized by visitor star Kat Ahn for the way in which her character was portrayed within the “A Benihana Christmas” episode. 

And till very lately, Shimizu stated, these examples have dominated popular culture. That’s left Asian people pressured to grapple with both refuting or embracing them, Shimizu defined. But both approach, the influence is not possible to disregard or keep away from.  

“Asian women — young, old, the various classes of various occupations — talk about how they feel hypersexualized,” Shimizu stated. “They feel this call, this definition being imposed upon them, which means that we must use media in order to define ourselves.”

Some progress, however a option to go

That state of affairs has improved considerably, paving the way in which for what Shimizu calls “the vast middle” between hypersexualized characters, and people handled as both one-dimensional props or who’re merely ignored of the narrative. 

Canadian actor and producer Amanda Joy, who created the collection Second Jen about two second era Asian-Canadian girls, agreed. She additionally stated there’s nonetheless extra to be finished. 

She’s seen the business begin to change firsthand. She described how early on in her profession within the 2000s she says an agent instructed her to cover the very fact that she was Filipino “unless all you want to do is play maids and nannies.”

Amanda Joy, proper, seems alongside her Second Jen co-star Samantha Wan. While the quantity of positive illustration of Asian actors is bettering, Joy stated it is nonetheless the minority. (Rogers)

A current spate of initiatives are beginning to reverse the pattern — from 2019’s The Farewell to The Bling Ring, to this 12 months’s Minari and even lately cancelled Kim’s Convenience.

But a lot of these examples depict characters of East Asian descent. Depictions of South and Southeast Asian characters have not mirrored that progress, Joy stated.

And even when we do see initiatives that break the custom of subservient or hypersexualized characters, she stated they’re exceptions as a substitute of the norm. Meanwhile, she says she and other Asian actors are sometimes referred to as in for characters who serve “white protagonists, white characters or white heroes.”

“The stereotypes that we see in media contribute to the way that we see the world,” Joy stated.

When Kim’s Convenience was cancelled, followers fought for its renewal — even beginning the hasthtag #SaveKimsConvenience to unfold the marketing campaign. Joy says the fervour proven for the sitcom now that it is ending is proof there are too few of its variety. (CBC / Kim’s Convenience)

She pointed to Kim‘s for instance: a well-liked present a couple of Korean-Canadian household that prompted a passionate outcry when it was lately cancelled. 

“When you have so few shows that are representing a community … when they end, the impact of that is felt in such a greater way,” Joy stated. 

“Of course, it’s sad when the show ends. But also, why is that the only show?”

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