The superhero genre is slowly expanding its insular universe with Wonder Woman and the highly anticipated Black Panther. Though just a drop in the bucket compared to white male superheroes, such images can significantly impact audiences who have never seen themselves portrayed as (s)heroes. Recently at Comic-Con in San Diego, one Asian American girl, Ashley Keller, teared up when she met Gal Gadot (aka Wonder Woman) in a video that went viral, demonstrating the real-life impact of on-screen role models:

Asian/Americans remain marginalized in superhero and science fiction/fantasy films and television shows. Hollywood prefers to whitewash Asian characters — Doctor Strange , Ghost in the Shell, Death Note — or culturally appropriate Asian culture with white savior storylines like in Iron Fist. Yet, the recent backlash from the Asian American community (and allies) has dented the success of such films.

#AACC2017 and #SDCC2017

This month, experts gathered to discuss Asian American representation in Hollywood at two events: “Asian American ComiCon Presents: A Summit on Art, Action and the Future” (#AACC2017) in Los Angeles (7/15), and “Super Asian America” at Comic-Con (#SDCC2017) in San Diego (7/23), where I participated as a panelist. The conversations went beyond a mere critique of whitewashing: many noted the rise of Asian American actors and audiences speaking out against injustice. Lewis Tan — who rose to fame as the Asian American actor that should have been cast as ‘Iron Fist’–has been a vocal opponent of cultural appropriation. At #AACC2017, he discussed the need to reclaim martial arts:

At #SDCC2017, Lewis Tan revealed how close he got to booking roles that were eventually whitewashed — and stressed the need to create our own content. Will S. Choi shared how he challenges whitewashing through original shows like “Scarlett Johansson Presents…” that feature Asian American actors/comedians. Behind the scenes, Angela Kang (co-executive producer of The Walking Dead) discussed how far we still have to go but that there is an increasing receptiveness to Asian Americans as leads in Hollywood. Deric A. Hughes (co-executive producer, The Flash) believed that it’ll “take a nation” to change the industry, encouraging Asian Americans to get involved in all aspects of entertainment. Based on personal experience, author C.B. Lee urged young Asian Americans — who face parental opposition to entering creative and cultural industries — to keep having conversations and not give up on their dreams.

Super Asian America panel, Comic-Con International, 2017
Super Asian America panel, Comic-Con San Diego, CA, July 23, 2017. From left to right: Michael Le, Will S. Choi, Angela Kang, C.B. Lee, Lewis Tan, Nancy Wang Yuen, Deric A. Hughes

I added that Asian Americans should leverage their power as the fastest growing racial group with the highest percentage of movie-goers and digital media usage to make their voices heard in Hollywood.

Representation matters

Rallying behind diverse projects that reflect our communities is one way to advocate for greater representation. As a life-long Star Trek fan, I bawled when I saw the Star Trek Discovery trailer with Michelle Yeoh starring as the first Asian female Starfleet Captain and Sonequa Martin-Green as the first African American woman to lead a Star Trek series.

Representation matters because members of marginalized groups need role models. The Star Trek Discovery cast may help young women of color imagine themselves as future leaders. In addition, audiences often need to see representations of marginalized groups in positive roles before they can imagine them occupying such roles in real life. Consequently, I end with inspirational images of two super women of color boldly going where no WoC have gone before:

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14 thoughts on “Representation Matters: Super Asian Americans

  1. dont know if you have kept up with this but crazy rich asians has wrapped filming but no one is talking about it. other than a rumor for constance wu to star there was no reports when it was cast and started filming. if it wasnt for fung bros on youtube i wouldnt even know this tea. hope you guys can cover this

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  2. My Trekkie husband is skeptical, but I think Discovery looks amazing.

    On representation – My brother’s wife is Asian, and the look on her face when I showed her Ms. Marvel was amazing. She wasn’t into comics because white dudes. She didn’t know such a thing as Ms. Marvel was possible, and was so excited to discover her. So yes, more please!!!!!

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      1. Ms Marvel is so good! It really showcases the importance of having Asian writers writing Asian characters, since a lot of the time I feel like Asian characters and characters of color in general are just written by white people in a way removed from any awareness of or relation to their race or culture.

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  3. This looks amazing. Love Star Trek it’s always been a vision of a future where we put our petty differences aside for the greater good. The Klingons hmmm going to be interesting what they do with them. Personally I thought they should have continued post Voyager but Discovery looks very good glad they’re giving Sarek a bigger role than in previous shows. I think scifi will be the next big genre after the superhero genre declines in popularity.

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    1. Yes! I’ve always loved scifi as a way to envision a more inclusive and just future. I think one way to invigorate the oversaturated superhero genre is to do projects w/WoC leads.

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  4. My name is Keone Young. Google my ass. How come you never ask Asian American who established themselves in this industry and fought for all those entitlements you take for granted. We fought David Carridine casting in Kung Fu, Ross Martin being cast as Charlie Chan, and so on and so on. Try talking to Asian Americans who have the knowledge and history of the racist industry.

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    1. Oh yeah I got Star Trek (Buck Bokai in DS9 and Hoshi’s father in S T Enterprise) and Star Wars cred as Commander Sato in Star Wars Rebel. Also Ellison Onizuka in Challenger the space shuttle disaster. Mr Wu on Deadwood. And Wu the alien on Men In Black 3. Just did the voice for Jei the major villain in the Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover and the new Batman video game. I know a thing or two.

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      1. Hi Keone! I don’t know if you remember me, but I interviewed you for my book, ‘Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,’ which was published in 2016. In the book, I interviewed an array of actors from veteran to newbies. I am a big fan of your work! As for this blog, I didn’t interview anyone, but just documented my experience attending and participating on panels, and my own thoughts on the new Star Trek. I didn’t organize the panels but you do point out something I’ve noticed too–that industry panels tend to skew young and ignore more veteran voices. Thanks for your comments!

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