A new study found that Hollywood is moving beyond stereotypical Asian characters but overall cultural authenticity is still not improving.
The study was conducted by Gold House, a non-profit organization dedicated to uplifting AANHPI storytelling, and the University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Center. Together, the two organizations created the “Gold Story Test,” inspired by the Bechdel-Wallace test, which is used to measure gender representation in the industry.
The “Gold Story Test” analyzed 99 prominent Asian characters from 73 titles on streaming platforms in 2022.
“This study was an opportunity to take a deep dive into the quality of prominent Asian roles, and our results underscore the importance of nuance in the discussions we have around representation,” Soraya Giaccardi, Senior Researcher at USC’s Norman Lear Center, said in a press release. “Avoiding tropes and stereotypes by simply erasing cultural specificity only continues to obscure the full breadth and diversity of the Asian diaspora.”
Traditionally, Asian characters were pigeonholed into stereotypical archetypes like the “dragon lady,” “perpetual foreigner” or “lotus blossom.” The “Gold Story Test” found that the industry has made some improvements in this regard.
After analyzing the most prominent Asian characters, the study found that race was central to the storyline of only 18% of the characters analyzed.
Asian American actors want to move beyond stereotypes but also want to ensure their roles are culturally authentic. A character’s arc does not have to center solely on their race but the role should not be “colorblind” either.
“We hear from many actors who express a strong desire to move beyond roles and storylines only centered on their race — to play multidimensional characters that can be just as funny, flawed, or inspirational as anyone else and just so happen to be Asian,” explains Tiffany Chao, VP of Entertainment and Media at Gold House. “That said, race-agnostic roles should not come at the expense of cultural authenticity. That is a false binary. We hope to see more stories that feature the full range of the Asian diaspora’s experiences.”
“The Gold Story Test” found that only 24% of the characters “were explicitly identified as having heritage associated with a particular Asian country” and only 10% spoke a foreign language. The portrayals also still fed into the model minority stereotype with a majority of the characters being middle class and only 11% being working class.
The storylines favored Asian characters with proximity to whiteness. Around 90% of the most visible Asian characters had light or medium skin tones. More than half of the Asian women characters in romantic relationships were with white men and not a character of any other racial background.
Despite an average of four Asian characters per title, only two in three characters spoke with another Asian character. Additionally, only four of the 73 titles had an Asian ensemble cast.
There is also a lack of intersectionality. The study found only one character that identified as queer and none of the 99 characters were transgender or non-binary.
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