By Ed Diokno
There’s a chance an Asian/American actor will win an Emmy today (Sept. 16) but based on the history of the awards show, the odds would be against it occurring. It would be only the second Emmy awarded to an AAPI actor.
The last couple of years, it looked like the AAPI community was turning the corner in terms of representation on television, still perhaps the greatest means of reaching millions of American households and getting into the heads of hundreds of millions of viewers.
Perhaps we began celebrating too soont. It looks that turn might be only a slight detour instead of the cultural shift we hope it would create.
Dr. Ken cancelled, The Mindy Project’s last season, Master of None’s 3rd season up in the air and the continued narrow perspective shared by casting directors and networks that don’t give AAPI talent the access to more prominent roles.
There are only four shows out of the hundreds produced that feature AAPI actors in the lead: Fresh Off the Boat, Master of None, Into the Badlands, and Quantico. Four! Four out of the hundreds produced where AAPI actors are reduced to playing the best friend, the guy at the computer or the smart assistant.
Because of the dearth of meaningful roles offered AAPI thespians, only one Emmy has been awarded to an AAPI actor in the award show’s 68 year history. Archie Panjabi won the award in 2010 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role on CBS’s The Good Wife.
This year, only three AAPI actors have been nominated for TV’s top award. Aziz Ansari was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Dev Shah on Netflix’s Master of None; Riz Ahmed for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie for playing Nasir Khan on HBO’s The Night Of; B.D. Wong for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his part as Whiterose on USA’s Mr. Robot.
A report, “Tokens on the Small Screen,”
released Tuesday, just in time for the Emmy’s. The study is a follow-up to broadcast TV studies done in 2005 and 2006, found increasing opportunities for Asian-American actors but concluded they are still underrepresented and “their characters remain marginalized and tokenized on screen.”
Even on TV series set in highly diverse cities such as New York City or Los Angeles, AAPI actors are rarely seen onscreen, must less cast in significant roles, says the study.
The report by six professors and scholars from California universities. also found:
TV SO WHITE: Whites dominate the television landscape, making up nearly 70% of television series regulars compared to monoracial Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who comprise only 4%. Pacific Islanders make up only 0.2% of series regulars, which is half of their U.S. population.
MISSING: A full 64% of all shows do not feature a single AAPI series regular. In contrast, 96% of TV shows have at least one White series regular. Furthermore, the majority of shows set in AAPI-dense cities including New York and Los Angeles have no AAPI series regulars.
ISOLATED: Intimate relationships add to a character’s depth and draw an audience into that character’s development. Three times as many White series regulars as AAPIs have romantic and/or familial relationships on shows featuring AAPI series regulars.
LOW VISIBILITY: 87% of AAPI series regulars are on-screen for less than half an episode and 17% of AAPI series regulars have the lowest screen time on their show. Audiences also see white series regulars on-screen 3 times longer than AAPI series regulars.
TOKENS: 68% of TV shows featuring AAPI series regulars have ONLY 1.
SEGREGATED & ENDANGERED: Over one-third of all AAPI series regulars appear on just 11 shows, over half of which have been cancelled.
STEREOTYPED: The television landscape continues to be littered with problematic racial stereotypes, including forever foreigner, yellow peril, model minority, emasculated men, exoticized women, sidekicks to White characters, whitewashed characters, and white experts.
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