Why Asians are not underrepresented in Media

There has been a lot of anger spewed around on the grounds of Scarlett Johnson playing Major Motoko Kusanagi(A fictional Japanese Character) in the new Ghost in the Shell film, due for release sometime next year. My interest here is not to defend the producers choice in casting, but to examine it in a different mindset.

First, let’s address the issue regarding Asians being under-represented in the media. As of the 2010 U.S census, Asians represent  4.8% of the U.S populace. The term ‘Asian’ doesn’t do well to convey the diversity of this population, that adheres many different religions, speak many different languages, are culturally quite diverse, as well as being quite phenotypically different from each other. The largest ethnicities counted for among ‘Asians’ are Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Koreans, and Japanese. Each group standing alone would barely make up 1% of the U.S populace. Why do I bring this to bare is because, when arguing that a group is underrepresented in something we need to understand what percentage that group is of the populace. Because Asians make up a relatively small minority of the United States it seems logical they would also make up a small percentage of who we see in the media.

The second point I would like to bare is that people argue why filmmakers would cast a Caucasian lead in a film based on a Japanese property. It is important to understand just because a film is based on works from another culture doesn’t automatically mean the film is going to be set in that setting. Keep in mind that this is an American adaptation of Japanese fictional story, so casting actors that fit the American standards(which according to us Census is still 60% white) isn’t that absurd. There are many instances when for example Japanese producers adapt American properties for their own market, casting Japanese actors in roles played by traditionally white actors, I think of the Japanese 1970s live-action Spider-Man TV show.

Finally, quite comically, is how the Japanese view this situation themselves. In an article by Kotaku, internet comments by Japanese fans seem to convey that Japanese themselves don’t see this a big deal. In fact, comments reflect how ironic it is that White people in the United States are bothered by this issue more so than are Japanese people. I have attached the link to this article here…http://kotaku.com/the-japanese-internet-reacts-to-scarlet-johansson-in-gh-1771544034

5 thoughts on “Why Asians are not underrepresented in Media

  1. I do find it odd that just because the source material is from Japan people feel it should still have Japanese actors in it. That said, I think it is also important that mainstream media in all countries try to diversify a little bit and try to avoid type-casting of different groups. It’s an interesting discussion and I’m sure we’ll see more of this. Thanks for sharing your views.

  2. Hey! On my site I posted an article on my opinion on this topic. Maybe we can discuss and share each other’s sites? I would really appreciate if you checked it out, thank you!

  3. Chinese Sociology minor here, with an emphasis on African American studies!

    It’s not so much underrepresented as misrepresentation. Asian men don’t want to be see their kind portrayed as that stereotypical virginal math wiz, super hacker nerd, or fresh-off-the-boat bumpkin on-screen and would like to be given the chance for a normal lead role. Asian females, same coin, but as a dragon lady or super submissive geisha type. These depictions stem from ingrained racism from the last century of anti-Asian xenophobia during the Yellow Peril scare (when, after the railroads were built, there were tons of virile Asian men hanging around). The Peril caused a riptide of anti-Chinese sentiment that culminated in miscegenation laws, blacklisting from most “masculine” jobs, mass deportation, an immigration ban, and a culture of hyper- and de-sexualizing the Chinese (basically, they didn’t want Chinese folks taking the Caucasian woman). While we can now do most of those things, Hollywood still loves depicting these tropes. You can see why Asian Americans would like a break from that, even if they don’t know the history.

    So with the Ghost in the Shell scenario, it’s upsetting to see a strong Asian female role given to a Caucasian actress. There actually has been a history of white-washing in the MSM when it comes to main characters who happen to be Asian in either real life or in the source material. Blackface is never okay, but Asians don’t get that same privilege.

    Speaking of Asian Americans– the Japanese wouldn’t care as much because they’re the hegemonic ethnicity in Japan. They are exposed to their own in the own media daily, and are not subjected to the same depictions and undertones as Asian Americans are when we view Western media, just like how Africans do not experience the same repercussive effects of the slave trade as African Americans.

    So, to drive the point home, it’s misrepresentation, not underrepresentation–that’s the main pain point here. Can you imagine if all black characters were supporting ones that are depicted as either ghetto thugs or jive talking exploitative roles? Fuck that, right?

    • Vic I appreciate your constructive comment. And yes, I agree that there is a legitament argument for misrepresentation but not under-representation.

    • Hi Vic. I especially agree with your point about the opinions of the Japanese as opposed to Japanese Americans and Asian Americans. I think this is also relevant for the recent controversy over Matt Damon playing a lead role in a story set in Ancient China. There appears to be these opposing views about the film from Asian Americans, especially Chinese, and people in China.

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