New-age media sparks Asian-American pride


Robert Wilson

Anime Club poses for a picture at their annual “Cosplayween” event. Many students dressed up Japanese anime characters for the party.

Have you or any of your friends recently watched the show “Squid Game?” Listened to BTS? Seen the movie “Shang-Chi?”

Asian media has prominently expanded into American pop culture for decades, but it’s more noticeable now than ever before. Numerous actors, directors, producers and artists of all ethnicities have consistently been leading the mainstream, especially this year.

“It is interesting to see it on Netflix now. Some of the Korean movies and Korean shows are in the top ten and last for a bit. You get the Asian Pride,” said Yon Choi, a science teacher and sponsor for the Asian Student Association at VHHS.

Asian representation has made great strides this year. The Korean drama “Squid Game” became the number one show on Netflix. Asian artists like BTS and Olivia Rodrigo slammed the top of the charts. The first Chinese Marvel superhero movie, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” surpassed $200 million in the box office.

Marvel-ous Representation

The huge buzz surrounding “Shang-Chi” among Marvel fans and Asian-Americans alike was clearly shown by its success in the box office. It is one of the highest grossing movies of 2020 and 2021 so far, which Hary Jun (11), a Korean-American student, emphasized as a unique accomplishment for an all-minority cast. 

“‘Shang-Chi,’ in my opinion, is one of the best Marvel movies,” said Jun. “The [Marvel Cinematic Universe] mostly includes white people. Implementing ‘Shang-Chi’ into the timeline is really huge for Asians and Asian Americans.”

Tyler Park (10), a Korean-American student, explained why ‘Shang-Chi’ was such a timely and groundbreaking movie. 

“Because of the Stop Asian Hate movement, there’s been a really big push to represent Asian culture. That’s why ‘Shang-Chi’ was a really well-timed movie: because it came after COVID and all the racism that came out of it,” he said.

The movement was a big step for Asian-Americans everywhere, and Jun highlighted the importance of this representation. 

“Growing up, I never really had a lot of Asian figures to look up to in the movie industry and media in general,” she said. “I feel like getting the representation not only proves that Asians are capable of pursuing those roles, but that they should be featured like everyone else because they do it so well.”

Negative Stereotyping

Although this representation can bring on Asian-American pride, it also inspires a consideration of how popular media can negatively affect Asian people and their cultures.

When Mrs. Choi encounters Asian stereotypes in the media, she can only think, “Here we go again.” 

Irene Yoo (10), another Korean-American student at VHHS, described why misrepresentation could be forced in modern media. She used the example of Crazy Rich Asians, another movie noted for its all-Asian cast. 

“Right now, diversity is a selling point. Like in “Crazy Rich Asians,” it’s more of an extreme representation, it’s not an accurate representation,” she said.

Generalized portrayals of Asian culture in pop culture could lead to things like cultural appropriation and negative stereotyping. It is common and clearly irritating to many Asian-Americans. 

“When there’s a truly inaccurate portrayal, that really bothers me because when something like that is on the Internet and other people see it and attach it to me, they’ll have a preconceived notion about what kind of person I am,” said Park 

 Yoo described the offensive stereotypes she had seen when she was younger. 

“In older movies, there was always an Asian girl or woman who needed to be saved by a white person who’s learned karate or some kind of martial arts,” she said. 

Yoo agreed that this type of “white-savior” plot and the generalizations made with it leads to implicit biases and incorrect assumptions about a person’s race or culture. 

Loss of Culture?

Sometimes there’s even a forced integration of Asian media into American popular culture that can obscure its traditionality. Park explained one example of BTS, an extremely popular K-Pop boy band who is slowly and subtly Americanizing their lyrics. 

“[BTS’s] songs have slowly [had] a lot less Korean in them,” said Park. “They used to be all Korean, now they’re all English, and that really shows how their audience is the Western world, and they’re changing their art to match the needs of the audience.” 

Sometimes Asian culture is assimilated into the mainstream to gain popularity, which could ultimately lead to the confusing inaccuracies and assumptions that harm a community.

“I think some [Asian cultures] are misrepresented and some are just lost in translation,” said Mrs. Choi.

And they are lost in translation. Literally.

“The original message, which is written in Korean, is lost when they switch [the lyrics] using some Korean writer who doesn’t translate the Korean to English very well,” said Park. “There’s a little bit of culture that’s lost there because they have to cater to the Western audience.”

Progress is Progress

Despite the constant struggle with misleading portrayals and stereotyping, there is no dead end for the progress in Asian representation. Jun stated that not all representations are inaccurate, and positive representation can encourage the conversation on inclusivity and diversity in pop culture. 

“It gives an insight into other cultures and their histories, it kind of enlightens people,” said Jun. “If we have different cultures represented in new media, people would be able to respect their peers or classmates or co-workers that they see every day more and understand where they came from.”

Mrs. Choi described how television and movies can be extremely influential, and not everything is a completely accurate portrayal. She mentioned how accurate representation can help us learn to be more accepting and understanding about any culture, not just Asian cultures. 

“[Positive representation] is just eye opening to people,” said Mrs. Choi. “Nowadays people watch more than they read so if we can actually promote things in a positive way, or in an accurate way, it becomes a learning process.”

Jun stated her hopes for Asian representation in the future of the movie and TV industry. 

“Hopefully we come to a point where it’s not like, ‘Oh my god they’re in it,’ and instead it’s like, ‘Of course they’re in it,’” she said.