Archive for February, 2018

Top 10 Asian Characters of my Youth

Posted in About me, Nerdy Stuff on February 22, 2018 by yujinishuge

Media representation matters. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about black media representation, and there have been a lot of recent films that have been commended for making black stories their main narrative. Movies like Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Get Out and Black Panther (and the soon to be released A Wrinkle in Time) are showing that yes, in fact we can make films about black people that don’t reinforce stereotypes, that tell good stories and appeal to everyone. It got me to thinking about why there hasn’t yet been any similar surge in Asian-American narratives and stories.

Asian (and Asian-American) representation in media has been an important issue for me ever since I became politically inclined. While it’s no secret that I am disappointed with how Asians have been portrayed in film and TV over the years, it is fair to say that we are far past Mickey Rooney in yellowface or Asian buffoon characters like Long Duck Dong. The fact that we now have Glen Rhee or Harold and Kumar is a step in the right direction, but in both cases, these roles should not be considered groundbreaking, yet they are. They are groundbreaking for being different from the norm (or at least what the norm was). And what was that norm? Stereotypes. Characters that weren’t created to show us who they were as people, but what perceived racial traits they possessed. That’s how it was when I was growing up. If there was an Asian character in a story I was watching, they were either the villain, a token part of an ensemble, the resident nerd or martial artist or dragon lady, and they generally served to advance the narrative of the (usually white) protagonist.

But wasn’t there anything good among the slogs of awful? That’s what this post is all about. It is an exercise both to flex my nostalgic nerdy muscle, and to illustrate a point, that making a top 10 list of good Asian roles isn’t easy to do. If it were, then maybe there wouldn’t be so much discussion about the lack of good media representation.

While there are certainly other (more popular) blogs like that keep tabs on Asian-American representation, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a top 10 list, so I’ll try to take a stab at it. Before we get to the main list though, I’m going to give you examples of some characters that get disqualified, to kind of illustrate what we are doing here.

10. Glen Rhee (Walking Dead) – Disqualified for being too recent. This is about my youth. We’re going to draw the line at the year 2000.

9. The girl from Captain Planet (Gi) or that guy from M.A.S.K. (Bruce Sato) – Disqualified because they are animated characters voiced by non-Asian voice actors doing accents.

8. Puyi (The Last Emperor) – Disqualified for being a historical figure. I am somewhat on the fence in this regard, but I think I’ll limit it to fictional characters.

7. Ranma Saotome (Ranma 1/2) or Son Goku (Dragon Ball Z) (and every other character in anime)- Disqualified because we’re not talking about Asian characters in Asian media. This also unfortunately means that Trini, Adam and every subsequent Asian Power Ranger are also disqualified because the show is the whitewashed version of a show of Asian origin that actually wasn’t originally made for a western audience.  (Though I can certainly appreciate that there were lots of Asian-American girls who looked up to the first American Yellow Ranger.)

6. Master Splinter (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – Disqualified for being a rat, not a human.

5. Kato (Green Hornet) and Oddjob (Goldfinger) – Disqualified for being a sidekick or henchman.

4. Mr. Miyagi (Karate Kid) – Disqualified for being the wise mentor to guide the white protagonist. Also for reinforcing the Asians are martial arts experts stereotype.

3. Dr. Julius No (Dr. No) – Disqualified for reinforcing the Asians are smart stereotype. Also for personifying yellow peril…. Also for yellowface.

2. Lo Pan (Big Trouble in Little China) – Disqualified for being a villainous amalgamation of orientalist stereotypes.

1. Long Duk Dong (Sixteen Candles) – Disqualified because f you!

And since this is a personal list:

0. That character I didn’t put on this list that you really like (that film or show you remember) – Disqualified because I either didn’t see it or it didn’t have enough of an impact on me so I don’t remember it. This list is a blog post, not an academic study.

Just for giggles, I’m going to name each entry by what I call these characters in conversation, when I don’t have the time to look their names up. It also shows there’s a problem when most people can’t remember the character names. We remember Marty McFly. We remember Sarah Connor. Do you recall the name of James Bond’s CIA contact in a View to a Kill? Of course you don’t.

The character bios are also from my memory, in most cases without any research. So on to the top 10 after the jump!

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