Why Representation Matters

Writer: Leela Hasan 

Editor: Kay S. 

Visual: Thilak U. 

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The Golden Globe Awards were held earlier this January, but unlike previous years, this year there was a spotlight on Asians in Hollywood. Parasite, a South Korean film won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film. Bong Joon Ho’s dark comedy thriller centers on the class struggles between two Korean families, and how greed shapes the dangerous choices they make. And for the first time ever an Asian-American woman, Akwafina, has won Best Actress. 

The newfound success of Asians in Hollywood sheds light on the startling former lack of diversity on screen. A USC study discovered that Asians make up around only 1% of lead roles in Hollywood, despite the fact that Asians comprise some 6% of the US population, and 60% of the world (Force, Thessaly). However, movies like Parasite are part of an on-going movement, in which there has been an increasing emphasis on diversity and representation in media. While there are many who may dismiss the necessity of cultural diversity in Hollywood, a Western entertainment business, it is my belief that the importance of racial and cultural representation in Hollywood is of the utmost importance. 

The significance of an Asian film winning Best Foreign Language Film is that- historically- Hollywood has not been as culturally diverse as it could have been. Asians have endured the white-washing of established East Asian characters, like Ghost in a Shell: obscene caricatures as seen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; and have often been overlooked due to the negative stereotype that Asians lack emotion/the ability to express themselves. This has set Asian actors, writers, and directors at a serious disadvantage. Especially, since Hollywood is one of the biggest entertainment businesses in the world.

More importantly, Hollywood has remained one of the most consumed sources of media entertainment in the world. In 2015, the average American teenager consumed 9 hours of media per day (Forbes). That is an absurd amount of screen time, but more to the point due to the lack of interaction between minority groups and whites, like Asians in the US, this causes a reliance on popular media to create ideas about races outside of the majority. Media which will on some level always be at least somewhat inaccurate when written, acted, and directed by non-people of colors’. Thereby, perpetuating false stereotypes and contributing to the erasure of minorities. However, by nominating and awarding foreign films and minorities for accolades like the Golden Globes, Hollywood both celebrates and introduces Asian culture to the masses; who may not have otherwise seen media which accurately represents Asians. While simultaneously, breaking down negative stereotypes which are perpetuated to this day, like how asians aren’t expressive. Thus benefiting Asians who see their work and culture being celebrated. 

However, there is concern amongst those against Hollywood’s diversity spotlight that the academy may overlook talented entertainers in favor more racially diverse candidates. This however, seems unfounded due to the fact that a grand total of three out of twenty eight awards went to people of color. In addition, it insulting to suggest the academy would compromise themselves and insulting to the work of the nominees, that they reduce a competition to race politics.

To reiterate, the inclusion of Asians and other minorities in film is extremely valuable. Not only does it dismantle challenges for aspiring Asian entertainers, but it educates American viewers about Asian culture and celebrates fantastic work. Which is something that I, an Asian-American, am in favor of.

 

Sources:

Force, T. “Why Is Equal Representation In Media Important?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 May 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2019/05/22/why-is-equal-representation-in-media-important/#62fa22792a84.

Force, Thessaly La. “Why Do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen in Film and Television?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Nov. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/t-magazine/asian-american-actors-representation.html.