The video above tells the story of a “lola” (Tagalog term for grandmother) passing on their family’s Filipino Christmas traditions to her “apo” (Tagalog term for grandchild). The heart-wrenching story was enough for viewers to shed a few tears. The racial background of the characters and their cultural practices hit a soft spot in the hearts of Filipinos worldwide. From the “mano” or “pagmamano” (Filipino gesture symbolizing an honorable greeting to elders) to the traditional “parol” (Filipino ornamental lantern), many have spoken out about the pride they felt seeing such an accurate representation of the Filipino culture. The Filipino community has flooded social media with their feelings of nostalgia and gratification; I’m proud to say that I’m one of them.
For the masses, including myself, this was more than just an ad. A sense of joy warmed my heart, feeling a familiarity with the actions depicted in the video. The Easter eggs and cultural traditions made the film relatable to Filipinos, who unfortunately don’t get much representation in mainstream Hollywood media. Nevertheless, they aren’t the only marginalized group that is commonly underrepresented (or misrepresented). One such community is the Asian community as a whole.
The Model Minority Myth
The misrepresentation of the Asian community has been an ongoing conflict within the film and television industry. The model minority myth has been commonly defined as “a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving”. It’s a continuous problem the Asian community has faced.
However, many have questioned why it’s so terrible to be labeled as “successful”. The answer is that this myth creates a racial wedge that further promotes a form of racism worldwide. Not only does this myth erase differences amongst individuals, but it also creates no room for the diversity of Asian cultures.
The media has created this unattainable image for Asian people to uphold. It is detrimental, not only to the Asian community but to the public. When they see these false images and harmful stereotypes, it normalizes the misrepresentation of Asian people. They will believe that these people are all awkward brainiacs, mysterious and menacing villains, or a form of comic relief. Race is not a character nor is it a personality trait. The Asian community is more than just their ethnic background. They are multi-dimensional. Therefore, if we don’t call out this conflict as it is – a form of racism – it will further perpetuate within the media.
Pushing For Progress
The offensive tropes and stereotypes have been broken multiple times in film and television. There are a number of characters in media that have been portrayed in an honest and genuine way. Therefore, their race was not a contributing factor to their character’s background. A few examples follow:
- Hannah Simone as CeCe Parekh in the TV show New Girl (2011): Model, bartender, turned CEO, Cece is a series regular and best friend to the protagonist. She embraces her Indian culture despite adjusting to American customs. She even rebels against her parents’ wishes and ends up marrying a Jewish man.
- Ashley Park as Mindy Chen in the Netflix series Emily in Paris (2020): Working as a nanny in Paris, Mindy becomes the protagonists’ first real friend. She separates herself from her traditional Singaporean parents to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional singer.
- Randall Park as Marcus in the Netflix film Always Be My Maybe (2019): Marcus, the main protagonist, is the lead singer of a band while helping his father in their family plumbing business. Taking place in San Francisco, Marcus and his best friend Sasha, reconnect and bond over Marcus’ mother’s traditional Korean recipes, even going as far as to make her new restaurant revolving around his late mother’s cooking.
The characters listed above are just a few examples of genuine and truthful-Asian characters. In order to become more progressive, these characters shouldn’t be looked at by their racial backgrounds. They should be created the same way as any other character, and are all just people at the end of the day. They should not be defined by the image society paints of us.
Diversity & Accurate Representation For The Win
As a child, when I watched The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, seeing the character London Tipton brought me nothing but joy; Not because of her comical personality or incredulous shenanigans, but because she simply looked like me. Seeing a person on the big screen resemble one’s physical features gives a sense of gratitude and pleasure. There is a form of pride that builds when you see someone with brown, tan, yellow skin on the big screen. It makes you feel like you’re not the only one who looks “different” according to society’s standards.
However, if they are a stereotypical character following the model minority myth, it takes away the authenticity of the character. It’s something the public has seen before. Writing a character that is relatable and genuine is not only a benefit to the show/film but to the audience. It normalizes that not all Asian people are the same. They’re all different in their own ways and they do not have to conform to what society thinks of them. Asian representation is definitely essential, but an accurate portrayal is just as important.