Analysis Of Joann Lee’s “Asian-American Actors In Film, Television, And Theater, An Ethnographic Case Study”

Art lives as a reflection of society: art exists as an outlet, allowing artists express their views on the world. When taking a closer look, however, history in the media paints a picture primarily bringing Caucasians into the forefront. Since Asians first immigrated into America in the early 1900s, Americans have consistently belittled, discriminated, and ostracized Asian Americans from assimilating into society, including taking away the opportunity of appearing in cinema and other forms of mainstream media. Research from professors such as Joann Lee explains how Asian-American actors have a higher chance of losing major television, film, and theater roles in favor of Caucasian actors.

Lee’s essay, “Asian-American Actors in Film, Television, and Theater, An Ethnographic Case Study” reveals the effectiveness of outlining the racism behind whitewashing from the perspective of Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry who strive to be represented with accurate, well-rounded representation. Lee’s organization of her research helps the reader understand how the lack of quality roles available for Asians affects them in the long run. She begins by introducing the history behind yellowface, the practice of employing white actors who portray Asian characters, often using makeup mimicking East Asian facial features, bringing up examples in mainstream television, film, and theater. She then explains the study behind her research where she interviewed and shared accounts from twenty Asian actors in the industry, referring personal experiences ranging from “stereotypical parts as Korean grocers, gangsters, immigrants, computer geeks, kung fu experts, and foreign businessmen” in motion pictures for roles “as professional business women, students, and mothers” and “as exotic and sexually available”.

Lee argues against the casting of Asians in smaller, background roles delegates minorities into the “other” group while also establishing white Americans into the majority. The practice of sidelining ethnic faces out of their own roles protects the influence of the Western province, maintaining the power of the white male by showing old, recycled Asian character tropes. In an essay exploring the negative effects of prejudice in casting, the tone starts off bleak and continues throughout most of the content. From the start of the first page, Lee looks back from Hollywood films in the past century reinforcing certain negative stereotypes. Examples detailed films where “the most well-known of Asian characters featured in Hollywood films have traditionally been played by White actors costumed to look Asian… throughout the 1950’s to 1980”.

In the beginning, Lee chooses to explore the root of the issue to prove how older films stand as foundational case studies of Asian representation on screen, that influenced future representations, the public’s perception of Asian Americans, and subsequent legislature aimed towards this population. However, the tone shifts in a more positive light as she describes how Asians can change the standard of beauty from white faces by developing “their own material as a way to showcase their abilities as well as for control and power” of their own stories and by capitalizing on “appearing more and more on screens” which “result as a recognition of market demand”. She expresses the hope of media publicity that will drive Asians toward fame, which will lead other Asian actors to pursue a future in the media. In turn, Asians would have big-name, staple actors, cementing their high status in Western Hollywood.

Lastly, Lee’s use of ethos, pathos, and logos expresses disappointment from the beginning as the countless examples Lee provides only adds onto a long list of excluding ethnic voices. Lee has her own personal experience of understanding how out-of-place Asians feel in Western communities since she grew up in an Asian household. In addition, sources from other credible authors who have written about the exclusion of Asian-Americans show evidence including statistics from programming detailing the control of the media in the unfavorable treatment of Asians by the public, including papers from acclaimed schools such as Oxford University. Along with her strong logos appeals, Lee effectively makes appeals to pathos throughout the text. Her case study evokes a sense of anger as actors who have worked in the industry recall how their appearance did not fit into the standard of beauty acceptable for big-scale parts in the media. She aimed “to examine the perspectives of Asian-American actors in the context of being a minority in an industry where physical appearance, in particular, racial features, plays a key role to success”, showing that skill alone does not secure a role but appearance and star power are also taken into consideration in the process of selecting actors. Their accounts explain how Asian Americans remain marginalized not only in the media but also in daily life, and when representation exists, the depiction supports the idea of Asians from an inaccurate and stereotyped lens. A progressive outlook becomes more apparent toward the end of her argument, as she explains how people have called out the film industry’s discriminatory practices, in a very large part resulting from the demand of equal representation for minorities. The support for equal opportunities for everyone gained traction primarily from the rest of the world’s population who long for more properties starring Asian faces as a way of receiving social acceptance not only from the public, but from themselves.

Joann Lee’s “Asian-American Actors in Film, Television, and Theater, An Ethnographic Case Study” is an eye-opening essay effectively capturing the reader’s attention by describing the tiresome struggle minorities face in their efforts of making a career in Hollywood. She organizes the essay by breaking down the history behind each form of media and describing how Asians remain affected by the limited opportunities given from real-life examples. Her tone also shapes the essay in exhibiting negativity toward the exclusivity of Caucasian actors in major roles, yet becomes more positive as she expresses hope of positive changes for the industry in the future. The use of strategies (ethos, pathos, logos) shows how false depictions of Asians affects how humanity treats minorities in everyday life. As new Asian-American actors enter the scene with the idea of breaking Hollywood norms, the community is left with the task of finding a separate area in which Asians will be allowed the freedom of openly performing as themselves. From these steps, Asian Americans can create a one-of-a-kind identity, breaking down the barriers that restrict the ability from reworking the true meaning of Asian culture.

13 January 2020
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