There has been a lot of talk about the media being Yellowfaced, and a lack of legitimate roles for Asians. When they are, they play the nerd or the Kung Fu guy, never getting the girl. The media has even gotten to a point they pick whites to play Asians such as “The last Air Bender”, ’21”, and last year’s “Cloud Atlas”. But, there is hope in where Asians play roles that challenge the norm and break stereotypes.
Here are ten Asians playing Non-Stereotypical roles, re-defining what it is to be an Asian American.
11. Steven Yuen on “The Walking Dead”
Steven Yuen on “Glenn” is just a regular member of the cast, fighting zombies side by side with the others. He’s not a computer whiz, scientist, or anything techy altogether, just a pizza boy from Michigan before the zombie apocalypse. He’s not a foreigner or a villain, but simply another member of Rick Grimes’ band of survivors. Even Daryl corrects his older brother that Glenn is Korean, not just a Chinaman. To top it off, he is paired up with a fantastic Southern Belle “Maggie Green” played by Lauren Cohan.
10. and 9. John Cho and Kal Penn in “Harold and Kumar”
The plot of the story revolves around two middle-class suburban yuppies that happen to be Asian. The story may be crude, but this was the first movie where two Asian American males starred in a lead role in a major American Movie. They break out the model minority role by toking it up with weed, stealing, and even being arrested. “Harold” stands up for himself to his co-workers at the end of the movie, showing audiences that Asians aren’t all meek and subservient people. They both even have non-Asian girlfriends in the movie series as well, expanding the roles of Asian Men.
8. Bobby Lee on “Saturday Night Live”
Bobby Lee plays dynamic roles, showing that Asians can be funny. He can’t fix your computer or do your math homework, but he can make you laugh with the skits that he does on SNL. Because of his roles on the show, the comedic relief, with no need to break boards or do a Karate chop. He constantly satires Asian roles, showing audiences how limited their view of Asian Americans are. His “Average Asian” skits show audiences that we don’t all look alike, and present them as just another American.
7. Justin Chon in “21 and Over”
Justin Chon breaks stereotypes by toting that his family has been in American for 5 generations, just as established as any of his white co-stars. There are several scenes on the movie that de-mystifies the stereotypes with instances such as being on the verge of failing out of college, needing a tutor and not the other way around. He shows the side effects of being an Asian studying machine by going into a mental hospital in a university. He is naked, showing his sexuality, no different from anyone else. He is not the quiet little Asian bookworm, but a regular person that mentally breaks down and wants to party.
6. and 5. Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park on “Hawaii 5-0”
Daniel along with Grace Park continues to change the perception of Asian Americans on the show Hawaii 5-0. They are tough cops, not just a techy lab geeks or doctors on other TV shows. They are noted for athletic ability in sports, something not noted before in Asian roles besides Kung Fu. Grace Park’s character “Kona Kalakaua” was mentioned to be a former professional surfer for 3 years before she blew out her knee, and Daniel Dae Kim’s character “Chin Ho Kelly” was noted to be a former football star in high school before his records were shattered.
4. CS LEE as Masuka on Dexter
CS LEE plays “Masuka” on the show Dexter, the other blood splatter analyst besides Dexter, with a very perverted mind. He is the relief in the world on homicides and killings. Instead of being a quiet Asian man, he is brash, and speaks his mind. His role could be anybody or any race, even actor Michael C Hall who plays “Dexter” on the show said that if he could play any other character, it would “Masuka’s”. And he’s not just another techy lab geek. His donated sperm was even used by a white female noted in Season 8, signifying that the receiver accepted Asian traits for her baby.
3. and 2. Harry Shum Jr as Mike Chang and Jenna Ushkowitz on “Glee”
Jenna Ushkowitz and Harry Shum Jr changes things for the Asian image because they play average high school students on Glee. Although they are still portrayed as studious Asian with high grades, Harry’s character “Mike Chang” is displayed as athletic on their football team, created amazing dance pieces on the show, and he started to sing as well. Jenna Ushkowitz “Tina Cheng” had a very edgy appeal with chains around her waist in season 1, without the nerdy glasses, and is not afraid to be vocal or fight for what she believes in. The two were even paired as a couple on the show, showing that Asian women and men can be together, not just having a white male fill in.
1. George Takei
George Takei changed everything in 1965, when he played “Mr. Sulu” on the sci-fi series “Star Trek.” It broke stereotypes because he is Japanese-American and he was a main cast on the show. Asians can’t drive? George Takei was the best helmsman in the galaxy, breaking the Asian driver stereotypes decades ago. He is the opposite of the expressionless-stone-faced Asian people are used to seeing. He is also an openly gay activist, reaching out to the underrepresented Asian LGBT community as someone to look up to.
Despite the change, white actors are still being casted for the lead roles in upcoming movies such as “Tommy Zhou” in “The Weapon” and the great Mongolian leader himself in “Genghis Khan”. There is still a great deal of change and progress to be made, especially for Asian males to break out to the geeky nerd role for to be regular guys that have hopes, dreams, sex appeal, and the desire to date just like anyone else. But change is slowly coming and there are more roles are out there than ever before for Asian actors in mainstream America. The general population is slowly, but surely accepting us as regular American-born citizens, not just people from some distant land from the Far East.
1. “Disney’s David Henrie Is ‘The Weapon’ For Platinum Studios.” AOL Moviefone . Elisabeth Rappe, Sept.-Oct. 2009. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.
2. ” Mickey Rourke to Play Genghis Khan .” Comingsoon.net, 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.
3. “Web Extra: George Takei on Breaking down Stereotypes.” CBSNews . CBS Interactive, 04 Aug. 2013. Web. 03 Sept. 2013. .
4. Saria, Oliver. “October Cover Story: Into the Deep End With The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun « KoreAm Journal – Korean America’s Premier Magazine.” 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.
5. “Michael C. Hall: “C.S.Lee Is Vince Masuka At This Point”.” Dexter TV Show Weekly News . N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Sept. 2013. .
6. Sailor, Craig. “George Takei Finds New Success in Activism, Social Media.” McClatchy . The Olympian, 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.
7. Habacon, Alden. “Alden Habacon: Yellowface In ‘Cloud Atlas’ Continues Hollywood Tradition of Racism.” The Huffington Post . 02 Nov. 2012. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.
8. Voyner, Kim. “Racial Issues Raised by the Casting of The Last Airbender.” Movie City News Yellowfacing and Whitewashing The Racial Issues Raised by the Casting of The Last Airbender Comments . Motion City News, 22 Apr. 2009. Web. 03 Sept. 2013. .
9. Shako. “8 Asians.” 8Questions: Justin Chon on His New Movie ’21 and Over’ . 8asians, 4 Mar. 2013. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.
10. Beal, Lewis. “With ‘Harold & Kumar,’ Asian Americans Break Stereotypes.” Washington Post . N.p., 27 Oct. 2011. Web. 03 Sept. 2013.