Stereotypes Of Asian Americans In American Media

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Racism, stereotyping, and discrimination all remain prevalent matters in modern American society. This is especially evident looking into one of America’s most powerful outlets of information and entertainment, the media. Hollywood is one example that often sacrifices the accurate portrayal of race for the sake of money and ratings. Minorities lack proper representation and are marginalized in areas such as television and movies. The messages and images continuously perpetuated by the media can either have a direct or subtle effect on how people perceive other cultures, societies, and religions. Asian Americans are one of the many races that lack proper representation. According to the official 2010 United States Census, Asians comprised an estimated “5. 6 percent of the total population,” totaling roughly 17 million individuals. Despite their quickly growing presence, Asians only account for “1% to 3% of television characters” in America (Oxford Handbook). Whites hold an overwhelmingly large portion of lead roles compared to any other minorities. In the modern day, many believe Asian Americans are highly educated and employed, painting them to be a ‘model minority’. However, they were once seen as opium addicts and sources of cheap labor. Racism towards Asians has deep roots ingrained throughout American history. One such event was the Russo-Japanese War, where Americans developed the slur ‘yellow peril’. Historian John Dower explains how this was used a derogatory term towards Asians, and it was defined with being untrustworthy, primitive, and a threat to economic interests.

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One of the largest known intersections of racism and institutional power in the form of laws and regulations came with the forced internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. All individuals from elderly to infant were required to leave their homes with nothing. Fear and suspicion of Asians became widely accepted through the repeated use of negative propaganda. The same is done today with the oversaturation of negative traits and images used in televisions shows and movies. Whether it is showing Asians as villains, nerd, or ninjas, the media is a powerful influence in how people perceive different races’ cultures, societies, and religions.

Previous research focuses on isolated events in media such as news channels or talk shows. Events like these question if America has truly progressed with equality a significant focus on the model minority stereotype. Given how infrequently Asians appear in the media, little content analytical work has been performed or examined (Oxford Handbook). There have been a handful of studies done by Asian researchers that study how stereotypes play an active role in how Asian Americans are treated unfairly and disseminated against in the workplace, school, and other institutions. They go on to explain the how the significant lack of diversity in Hollywood in directly correlated with our country’s problem with historical racism. The consequences are ideas that negatively influence biases and prejudices towards Asian Americans being instilled within consumers’ heads. There has been growing research in the field; however, there have been few to none empirical studies focusing on the perception of Asian Americans in a socio-cognitive context. To what extent to people believe, actively think, and act on these stereotypes?


I faced a variety of interactions based on my race as I grew up, some good and some bad. I was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood that lacked diversity. Therefore, I was often a victim of bullying and shunned socially based on looks and attributes that were entirely out of my control. Not only was I held at a higher standard by teachers to perform well academically, but my peers saw me as someone who did not fit the definition of ‘normal’ which made it hard to make friends. There was one time when I was walking to my local park after school to play basketball when suddenly a white teenage girl screamed a racial slur at me out of her window as she drove by. “Hey Chink! Yeah, you! Go back to China!” Why? I have no idea. But its situations like these that made me question and open my eyes to the reality of the world. Aside from the countless math jokes and ‘small eyes’ comments, I mostly had a feeling that I simply did not have the same level of respect as others. I then began to notice trends of stereotypes in the shows and movies I watched. Wherever I looked, whether in commercials, sitcoms, or blockbuster movies, I saw little representation for my race. You could either be a nerd, ninja, or villain and that was all I had to look up to. I learned that these trends of Asians being portrayed as certain archetypes correlate to how people interact and perceive Asian Americans socially and culturally. I also eventually discovered that issues such as these do not only apply to me, but other minorities, and that it goes back deep within American history. By scouring personal blogs, videos, and articles created by Asian Americans that voice their feelings and opinions on how images in the media affects them personally, it allowed me to understand the immense influence that the entertainment industry alone has over the country. I also asked a number of questions to my Asian family and friends concerning their experience with watching television and movies, and how it affected them socially and institutionally. Lastly, I created a survey with a few simple questions that tested if the exposure to Asian stereotypes in television affected the way people viewed and interacted with people of the race. There was a total of 57 participants in the study, all of whom were varying races except for Asian. The average age of each participant was 23 years.


This study focused on analyzing the relationship between the portrayal of racial/ethnic minority groups in television and movies and how it affects attitudes and judgments towards Asian Americans.

Roughly How Many Hours of Television Do You Watch per Day? Viewers watched an average of 3 hours of television per day. To compare with the study done with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was slightly over the average of 2 hours and 46 minutes of television per day, which alone amounted to over 55. 2 percent of the total time per day spent in leisure and sport activities (US Bureau).

To what extent would you say the following terms accurately describe Asians on television? (Nerdy, Smart, Professional) Participants were asked to what extent they say the terms nerdy, smart, and politeness describe Asians in the media. On a scale from 0 to 100, the average score was 74. In addition, Asians were believed the most likely to achieve academic success based on stereotypes seen in media. The depiction of a race shown in television and movies can influence an individual’s beliefs. When a certain culture, religion, or race dominates the screen, it can subconsciously establish people’s opinions on social norms. The results expose a trend that people internalize images as the truth and base their beliefs based on a model minority template shown in television and movies. This seems to support prior research on the subtle forms of racism and discrimination present in today’s media and audience.

Has something you’ve seen in media (television, movies, internet, etc. ) changed the way you’ve looked at Asians? Which race do you believe is most likely to achieve academic success? Do you believe that Asians have an unfair advantage in school selection? Roughly 43 percent of participants believe that media, especially in entertainment, has shaped how they look at Asians. In addition, a majority 73 percent of contributors voted that Asians were the most likely to achieve academic success compared to that of Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, and Native Americans. This relates to how 61 percent of people that took the survey considered Asians to have an unfair advantage in schooling due an unfair advantage in academic intelligence. This data suggests that many are aware that discrimination and stereotypes exist for Asian Americans, but do not let it influence their racial attitudes towards people of the race. Asians were most likely seen to achieve academic success, matching the model minority stereotypes have been around for decades and been passed around through the media for years. Although a majority of people do not let it affect their perception of Asians, television can subtly influence their perceptions over time. The data also suggests that the heavier the television consumption, the more likely make Asians fit a certain mold of characteristics changed the way they perceived the race in real life.

Which race would you most likely want to initiate a friendship with? Have you ever refrained from interacting with an Asian American based on preconceived stereotypes? (intelligence, social skill, athleticism, etc. ) The numbers were fairly evenly distributed across the board. The social construction of race has developed and changed throughout history through various political, economic, social, and other factors. The data demonstrates how in the modern era, we have made greats strides towards racial diversity within Hollywood; however, it still falls extremely short of where we should be in terms of equality. The portrayal of minorities in television and movies makes it difficult for individuals to find a social identity. Everyone wants to have friends, fit in, and be looked at by others in a positive way. Due to the fact that groups of people are painted to act, behave, and look a certain way, it can make it difficult for people in these crowds.

The Asian American Experience

The lack of diversity for Asian Americans in Hollywood makes it difficult for current and future generations to identify themselves within American culture. This problem especially affects newer generation of children that grow up integrating to American culture. For those that choose to accept and assimilate, it becomes difficult to find a social and cultural identity with a lack of role models. The varying portrayal of Asian stereotypes leave many teens and adults feeling as if they are victim to judgement and profiling as either a model minority or socially inferior. The movie industry has had new, yet rare occurrences of Asian-centric casts. Examples include the fully Asian cast and directed Warner Brothers hit Crazy Rich Asians which was a hit in the box office. It had a profound effect on Asian American identity, and many believed it was a first step towards breaking Asian tropes within the media. Data from UCLA’s Hollywood diversity report leads people imagine that it Whites to play a leading, majority role in society. This reinforces the idea that they are they have a sense superiority over other races. A prime example of where the lack of diversity and representation exposes itself is the casting of white actors for Asian roles. Some examples include leading roles for movies such as Avatar, The Last Airbender, and a film from one of the largest movie franchises in history, Marvel’s Doctor Strange.


By recognizing the effect that the media has on people’s identity, we can start to move towards a more diverse industry where there are accurate representations of people’s races and culture. People will often categorize others that do not fit within their bubble of norms to justify their self-proclaimed ideas of social group dominance. This justification of social hierarchies can find roots within the marginalization and stereotyping of minorities.

There should be additional research that further perpetuates discourse on what degree the media plays on shaping people’s thoughts towards Asian Americans. By showing racial minorities as socially normal people instead of villains or background characters, this will allow newer generations to identify and relate with these actors’ behaviors and personalities. It is importance to identify how one of the most powerful outlets of information and entertainment in American plays a role in what people believe and how they act on those beliefs.

By recognizing how television and movies can affect people’s identity and diversifying Hollywood, we can start to move towards a more diverse industry where there are accurate representations of people’s races and culture. This will have a positive effect on race relationships throughout the nation going forward.

31 October 2020

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