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Why Are Asian American Women Still Inaccurately Portrayed on TV?

March 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Francis Kai-Hwa Wang, Women's Media Center

We are more complex than that.

“Hollywood always wants a white co-lead,” said Nancy Yuen, associate professor at Biola University and one of the principal authors of a new study about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in prime time and streaming television. “We need Asian American women to not be seen as tokens or missing from a white man’s story.”

Ten years after two studies of AAPIs in prime-time broadcast television in 2005 and 2006, the same group of researchers have conducted a new study examining broadcast, cable, and digital platform television shows in the 2015-2016 season. “Tokens on the Small Screen: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Prime Time and Streaming Television” measures the number of AAPI series regulars (the main cast of a show) and how they fare in terms of settings, screen time, relationships, stereotypes, and storylines.

2015 is the year that ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat premiered — the first American sitcom featuring an Asian American family since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl 20 years ago — as well as Netflix’s Master of None and ABC’s Dr. Ken.

Out of 242 television shows and 2,052 series regulars examined, the researchers found that although there has been some improvement over the past decade, AAPIs are still underrepresented on television compared to their population and compared to whites on television. Ten years ago, AAPIs comprised 2.6 percent of broadcast series regulars, and now 4.3 percent of series regulars are AAPI — compared with 5.9 percent of the population. Pacific Islanders make up only 0.2 percent of series regulars, which represents half their representation in the U.S. population. In contrast, whites comprise 69.5 percent of series regulars, while they are 61.3 percent of the population.

Uneven Landscape

Sixty-four percent of all shows do not feature any AAPI series regulars at all. This is especially disconcerting for shows set in cities with large AAPI populations. Of the 46 shows set in New York, 70 percent have no AAPIs; and of the 45 shows set in Los Angeles, 53 percent have no AAPIs. In contrast, 96 percent of television shows have at least one white series regular. “It is not realistic,” …read more


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