• Simply GenZ

The Marginalization and Stereotyping of Asians in American Film

Asians in Hollywood films and the industry have been subjected to unfair stereotyping and under-representation since the twentieth century and up to the present. Historically, if Asians are not portrayed in a stereotypical role, then they are given no role at all, rendered invisible by Hollywood and mass audiences. Their marginalization in the film industry has damaging effects on the perception of Asians in society. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, over 17 million people identify as Asian or Asian-American, but this growing population is not reflected in Hollywood. Asian-Americans are almost as invisible in Hollywood as they were fifty years ago, as studies show only 5.3 percent of roles in 2014 films were Asian (Smith et al., 2015). As Rajgopal (2010) points out in her study of Asian women in the film when Asians are given roles in Hollywood, they are often stereotyped; men are stripped of their masculinity, and women are unfairly painted as either a “dragon lady” or a “china doll.” Asians are also stereotyped as “nerds,” donning glasses and an exaggerated accent, or as Kung Fu masters and killers (Rajgopal, 2010). Indeed, the infamous “model minority” stereotype that portrays Asians as intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious, does more harm than good. It boxes Asians into an “othered” role, deeming them as passive foreigners without dimension.

Racial Vocalization and Undermining Ethnicity Racial

vocalization serves to ostracize and stereotype Brown actors because it has become a common trope depicted on the big screen, and it abuses their ethnicity to make an example of how a person’s voice separates them from others. In Hollywood, depictions of Asians through racial vocalization of one’s character create an image that is unrealistic for their culture. The voice of one’s character is confined by a person’s physical appearance as a character played by a minority character stands out from the usual Caucasian actor or actress. Commonly, “Brown voice” is used to set up a negative connotation for Brown actors, as it is often associated with people who often will speak English poorly. According to Shilpa Davé, Brown voice “is the act of speaking in accented English associated with Indian nationals and immigrants and is a combination of linguistic and phonetic markers that include stress points on particular words, cultural references, and words out of order” (Davé 143). As a result of the overuse of Brown voice for Asian actors, audiences associate seeing an actor with a Brown complexion as someone who will also use Brown voice for their character. Typically this role is played by an actor if Brown complexion, whether they were born or associated with India at all. Brown voice stunts the growth of Brown actors as the intent of its use in movies and television is to show the poor English speaking skills for an Asian American.

Character Development in Asian Roles

Racial characterizations of Asian American characters stunt the growth of the roles offered to them are fixated on play stereotypes to being able to garner the most profit. Stereotypes of Asian characters in film and television are profitable due to their overuse as seen by Brown voice for Brown actors, or as martial arts experts as was the case after Bruce Lee’s rise to stardom (Walzem 3). Without another breakout character, Asian American actors will be stuck in a continuous loop of playing up to stereotypes or a minor role in television and movies. A lack of diversity is a huge problem as the public will be more likely to make movies with an Asian lead less seriously than other movies due to the lack of precedent before. Joann Lee notes the striking reason for the lack of Asian superstars in Hollywood “the cultural message is determined by what will sell in the marketplace. In this environment, the choice is limited by what the cultural image-makers deem is commercially viable” is that Asians do not seem as marketable as other races (Lee 182). Profitability is a leading reason for the lack of diversity in major roles as casting minorities in these roles is deemed as non-profitable and not viable at all in the media market. Exploring the idea of Asian actors forming different identities than what is already established in the market seems futile as Hollywood is more focused on the marketability of Asians.


While the number of Asian Americans in the U.S. continues to grow and media use increases, misrepresentations of this group remain common in U.S. films. Examining the representation of Asian Americans in the media is important because media can positively and negatively impact identity development, which is a fundamental cognitive, social, and developmental task related to understanding one’s place in the social world. Misrepresentations can also shape intergroup interactions by influencing how out-group members view and interact with Asian Americans. Result do suggest that the frequency of lead roles have increased over the last 25 years, with more diverse genres emerging in recent years. Stereotype-resisting representations were present (e.g., brave, loyal, mischievous), especially in more recent films. However, stereotype-confirming representations remained prevalent (e.g., emasculate, timid, nerdy), which affirms the historic trend of misrepresentation of Asian Americans in film. The discussion centers on how Asian American representations in media may affect identity development in Asian American adolescents and young adults and influence intergroup interactions.

Writing and Research - Hrishita Dev

Editor - Avani Sood

Illustrations and Graphics - Akshaya