Hollywood is one of the biggest staples of American culture. It acts as a mirror that reflects whatever our current society aspires to be. We look at the beautiful faces of the glamorous stars and want to be just like them. Not only does its advertising determine how we alter ourselves to fit society’s standards, its promotion shapes the fundamental development of our children.
So, in all of my childhood drawings, I drew myself as white, and in all of my middle school stories, I wrote from the perspective of white characters.
A lack of representation in media perpetuates a point that is made over and over again in our country to foreigners: you are not welcome here. It has rung in my ear throughout my entire life in several different ways: a constant throbbing heartbeat sewn into my golden skin that becomes a mantra and persists to eventually become a truth. The glittering gold fades, and all that’s left is a pale, sickly yellow.
When people of color grow up seeing white faces glamorized and praised in every aspect of the media, they havethe message drilled into their minds that this is who they should be.
A little white girl and a little Asian girl watch Sleeping Beauty and the same dream crosses both their minds: “I want to be pretty like her.” The only difference is, one of these girls never will be.
She can buy all the skin bleach, hair dye, colored contacts, and double eyelid surgery that she wants, but she will never be her. She will look in a magazine and look on TV and look at her Instagram and then look in the mirror and tell herself, “I am not pretty.”
To racially biased executives, Asian faces aren’t “marketable,” so they label us “inexpressive” to justify why they choose not to present us in their products. But how can Asians ever get a chance to express themselves when Hollywood shoves 4.5 billion people, 48 countries, and all the thousands upon thousands of different cultures into four stereotypes: exotically docile Madame Butterfly, geeky weirdo, edgy samurai girl, and stone-cold kung fu master?
Hollywood is reluctant to cast an Asian face because to them, Asian means no profit. At the same time, though, they are so quick to steal Asian culture and bleach it of its unique colors to mass produce it on the American market—a luxurious silken qipao stripped of all meaning and worn as a robe by a woman who calls it a kimono. Hollywood, claiming that it is too difficult to find suitable Asian actors to fill their roles, goes out of their way to actively change scripts to cast white actors, sometimes writing in completely new characters just to have them.
Netflix makes Death Note, a Japanese anime, into a live-action series starring an all white cast, erasing the “Yagamini” from the main character’s name. Scarlett Johansson’s character in Ghost in the Shell, also of Japanese origin, is conveniently renamed “The Major” from “Motoko Kusanagi.” Emma Stone with a bad spray tan is passed off as part-Chinese and Hawaiian. Matt Damon stars as the hero of China in the movie The Great Wall. Tilda Swinton with a shaved head and orange robe is cast as a Tibetan mystic.
More white actresses have won Emmys for playing Asian characters than Asian actresses have ever won—only one Asian actress has ever won an Emmy. When Asian culture isn’t represented by Asians, it gives the green light for shameless casual racism. We are the “model minority,” America’s punching bag, and always the butt of the joke. We are a novelty to be used and discarded at will. We are not worthy of attention.
Lack of representation for Asians is often seen as a trivial problem, too; after all, Asian Americans only make up a small percentage of the population, so it makes sense that there aren’t a lot in the media, right? But when our voices are silenced and our faces erased, we are not just affected in the entertainment industry. We are silenced and erased in our everyday lives, subdued and helpless, floundering to find ourselves, find a voice, find anyone who will listen. Hollywood is one of the biggest staples of American culture. It acts as a mirror that reflects whatever our current society aspires to be. My face is not in that picture. In the ideal America, I do not exist.