Abstract: Asian Representation in American Film

For my research project, I plan to study Asian representation in American film at the top level. I want to see what it looks like when Asian actors and actresses are able to break into the mainstream. Specifically, do they have to resort to playing stereotyped roles in order to break into the mainstream or is possible for them to get by playing more well-rounded roles?  

Secondarily, I will also look to see if the portrayal of Asians in film has changed over time. If it has changed, is it a positive or negative change? Once I’ve found a trend I plan to investigate further to find out why that change is happening. If, for example, Asian characters are being portrayed with more emotional depth and are being stereotyped less, then I’d follow-up by looking at the catalyst for that change. Was there a growing demand by the Asian community for diverse characters? Was there pressure from civil rights groups? Or was there push-back from the actors and actresses themselves?

To answer these questions I plan to create a rubric to evaluate whether an Asian character’s portrayal is stereotypical or aims to add depth to the character. I will be looking at nine typical Asian stereotypes: The perpetual foreigner, the martial artist, the nerd/geek, the sexualized female (geisha girl)/asexual male, being inferior/subservient, the mystic, a yellow peril, and being physically caricatured. I plan to apply this rubric to Asian character roles that have been nominated for an Oscar as well as top-grossing movies in the past with Asian roles. I will then look through the data to determine trends in representation and will seek to explain them using various sociological lenses.

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