I’ve always been told that I’m blunt, rash, harsh, or bitter among other things when it came to my opinions. Granted, I haven’t disputed or denied having these ‘traits’ and I have done my best to curb my bad habits and possibly offending other people. However, I have found a benefit to my ‘rash bluntness’ – I’ve used it to create art. One of the first films I’ve ever made in film school was a forty-second black and white film portraying the lack of representation or misrepresentation of Asians in Western media. Being the only minority in my class at the time, my film garnered quite a response from a few of my classmates.
Strangely enough, soon after its first screening I was pelted with prejudice and stereotypical comments. It was definitely a difficult year for myself and after being told to ‘shut up and eat rice’ after asking a classmate to return my pencil, I finally reached my last straw. I retorted back, ‘you’re the reason I made the film!’ He returned my pencil and under his breath said, ‘I know…’
My first year of film school was without a doubt a harrowing and difficult period in my life, but I don’t regret having had the experience. Instead it has only made me more determined to become successful in the industry in hopes of elevating the media representation of Asians. Though I may say things that may be hard to take, I don’t believe that it means my opinions lack validity.
For as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been on the receiving end of offhand comments regarding my race, however speaking with many of my other friends of color, it is apparently a rare occurrence these days. Inevitably I question ‘why me?’ I’ve often felt that I haven’t done anything to incite such comments, but of course I’ve doubted myself knowing my opinions have a tendency to put people on edge. In the end, I’ve concluded that I really haven’t done anything to incite prejudice comments. Instead, I often say what people are afraid to say.
The Western culture has a tendency to ‘exotic-fy’ the non-white. In addition, other cultures are treated as a fad or a trend, adopting things such as a culture’s food or clothing just to make a frivolous fashion statement. Why is it that culture can be positively accepted, but not the person behind the culture? Why are all Asian characters in films and television obvious stereotypes? We’re all martial artists like Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Zhang Ziyi. Or we’re made into overachieving passive nerds such as Harold of Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle and Laine from Gilmore Girls. Specifically, we Asian women are also made into pieces of meat, such as Lucy Liu’s character in Payback, with our exotic eyes and ‘mysterious ways.’ The reoccurring skit entitled ‘Just Your Average Asian’ of Mad TV is one of the few mainstream outlets attempting to normalize Asians. But ultimately, the Asian is the butt of the joke, once again in his failure to meet the expectations of his non-Asian friends.
Is it just me that finds it incredibly difficult to pinpoint an Asian character that doesn’t know Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Ju Jitsu, Finite, Calculus, or Algebra? Or how about one that doesn’t wear glasses, is taller than 5’5″, and is not socially inept?
Or am I just jaded?