Asian American representation in Hollywood has seen a major shift since Grey’s Anatomy actress Sandra Oh became the first Asian American to be nominated for an Emmy Award in a leading role for Killing Eve on this day in 2018. In three short years, numerous films and television series have debuted and received some accolades in hopes of shifting the depiction of Asian American representation onscreen to America’s reality.
Sandra Oh may have opened the door for her community, but it was award-winning films like Crazy Rich Asians and Parasite in more recent years that demanded a permanent seat at Hollywood’s table. Crazy Rich Asians became a global phenomenon, cashing in $238 million at the box office and impacting the careers of the talent involved onscreen and off. Critically-acclaimed film Parasite won four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film, making history as the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Once upon a time, Asian Americans roles in film and television were scarce and rarely reflected their actual experiences. Yet, the roles offered to the community strongly catered to White stories and heavily relied on tired stereotypes.
In a time where Asian Americans are being targeted due to hate crimes throughout major cities in America, representation is a necessity across the board. According to Time Magazine, a report showed that while Asian Americans made up 5.4% of the U.S. population, they represented just 1.4% of lead characters in studio films in 2014. This issue concerns the cast and crew in film. In 2018, another study discovered only 12% of show runner positions were held by people of color.
Fortunately, as Time noted, the shift that Hollywood has seen stretches beyond its gatekeepers finally allowing Asian Americans to reach the box office. Instead, it’s a change in the gatekeepers all together. Over the years, Asian Americans have reclaimed their time as show runners, studio executives, producers, casting agents and began unionizing to champion each other and control their narratives.
There are several stories representing the vastness of life for Asian Americans from the Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, 2019 dramedy The Farewell, the Eddie Huang-directed film Boogie, and Japanese-American internment-camp horror series The Terror.
A study showed that 64% of television writers of color reported experiencing bias, discrimination or harassment in the workplace, which caused many writers collectives to form. One female Asian-American writers’ collective began meetings where they would share job opportunities and similar workplace horror stories. Writers unifying has led to them creating and pushing for the passion projects they never would have pitched a decade ago.
Fresh Off the Boat Writer Cindy Fang said to Time, “I don’t care what people think they want. I’m just going to write what I want.”
Now that there are more Asian American power players leading the charge behind the scenes, it is important that the focus is to ensure their stories are continuously uplifted after being ignored and often tokenized for many years. They are working to make their voices and integral part of the film and television industries.
The years of their resilience and hard work has resulted in a surplus of Asian-led projects. Hollywood began to see films like Minari and Nomadland, which fared extremely well proving that these stories are impactful. Disney also released a live-action remake of Mulan, understanding the importance of more Asian representation in entertainment.
Crazy Rich Asians actress Awkwafina and other Asian-American creators continue to push the door open for those following closely behind them. “You don’t understand how important representation is,” Awkwafina shares, “until you see it and realize you’ve been missing it your whole life.”
Because of Sandra Oh, Awkwafina, Eddie Huang and the countless Asian Americans contributions to Hollywood, more stories are starting to unfold.