Uploaded: The Asian American Movement (Feature Documentary)
The struggle for fair representation of racial minorities in American television is a long and continuing one (Kim, 1). Despite living in America for so long, immigrants and their descendants still struggle to see diversity represented in media whether it be in text or digital sources. Entertainment sources such as radio, television and movies have new content nearly every day, month, and year but there is a very low percentage of these productions that will star or even feature an Asian American. Above is a documentary video directed by Kane Diep, featuring over 40 Asian Americans that can be found in media. Included in this list are many Asian Americans who have found their voice on Youtube. Mike Song, of the KINJAZ, said in this documentary “Once I found out about Youtube, Oh! It’s free!”
Before the free platform of Youtube, entertainment was primarily movies and television. These were the times where Asian Americans in particular had very little representation. For many years Asians in American media weren’t even depicted by actual Asian American actors. Yellow facing was a common practice from the early ages of the film industry as a White persons portrayal of what Asian person should appear and act. Even when sin mericans were casted in Asian roles, they were mostly depicted as stereotypes such as a the funny/Fu Manchu Asian man or the dragon lady/lotus blossom Asian woman. Shilpa Davé wrote on the impact of accents for Asian Americans in Hollywood. Davé writes that “The accent is representative of stereotypical roles that have enjoyed longevity and commercial success in Hollywood.”
The proliferation of Asian American and South Asian American leading roles and characters who are identified as racial minorities and who address their race and ethnic background in the narrative arc of the story appear primarily in comedic genres (Davé, 4). As years passed, more Asian Americans were found on screen playing roles that did not play into the traditionally stereotypical ones. Comedian Danny Cho applied his insight in Diep’s video about this shift in visual media:
For us to be viewed as “normal”. Like we have doctors and lawyers but we also have drug dealers and criminals and everything in between. And that way they’ll be like ‘Oh they’re not just all dorks or gangsters’ To show every bit of the spectrum is something we need to do.
However in part of these roles of “gangsters” , Elaine Chun correlates this as an “Ironic Blackness” that develops into the definition of what is masculine and cool for Asian men. Styles commonly found in African American hip-hop culture is strongly reflected into the cool or physical masculinity found in many Asian American Youtubers. In Chun’s study in particular was in focus of Kevin Wu or known online as KevJumba where he had intersected the realms of hip-hop culture and Asian culture in multiple videos.
One possible reason as to why Asian Americans would branch off and add in aspects of other popular cultures is that those cultures already have a voice in media. Bart Kwan of JustKiddingFilms was also featured in the documentary where he addresses the freedom in comedy of other races, “Every single other race, their threshold for comedy and the boundaries you can push is very very high.” In mainstream media Asians/Asian American people are commonly represented as a group of silent peaceful people who do not rebel against the norm (Guo & Lee, 1). Other ethnic groups had already fought back against the ideals of Hollywood and popular culture but the efforts of Asian Americans had been overlooked for quite some time. Actors of television series and movies are continuing the fight to earn proper roles for Asian American talents. Amanda Hess of the NYTimes addresses this fight with the help of Asian American actors. The article included the insight of many popular actors including Aziz Ansari who expressed his views on Hollywood and their casting methods, “The mainstream Hollywood thinking still seems to be that movies and stories about straight white people are universal, and that anyone else is more niche.” In Hollywood the battle is still ongoing and more Asian American roles need to be created in order to find it in the “norm” of the writing process of shows/movies. There is more hope in creating this sense of normality with the help of Youtube, were a younger generation of Asian Americans had found their own voices (Considine).
One hurdle of being a Youtuber is that they must remain consistent in their video content and how frequently videos are uploaded onto the website. Christine Gambito, commonly known as HappySlip on Youtube, shared in Diep’s documentary ”If you were to start now you have to have that consistency. People are very spoiled with their...almost, it’s not like watch a movie ‘Oh that was a great movie. Now we’ll wait a year or two for the sequel to come out’ I mean it’s like ‘What happened to you, where’s your new video?’” Even if this is very pressuring for these content creators, it is the close relations that they can make with their viewers that make Youtube into an impactful stage for Asian Americans to stand on.
With the freedom to put whatever they want online, Youtubers struggle to be their own critics on what should be posted. This freedom creates a home where “not only to promote their talents, but also to create an intimate connection with fans.” (Guo & Lee, 2). Viewers support but also critique what was good and what was bad. With this kind of relationship the fans are closer to their idols compared to the distance that they may feel towards big named actors who they cannot personally contact. Despite certain viewers giving harsh comments, KevJumba appreciates them and shows his gratitude in the documentary, “Youtube comments at the end of the day. Like you just have to embrace them, because it’s people responding to you.”
The freedom to create. This is what is helping the younger generation grow and understand. With Youtube as a public stage where all eyes can see, Asian Americans can create their own voice and show off their talents without limitations. With the power of Youtube, the underrepresented group of Asians/Asian Americans can step up into eyes of mainstream media where people can no longer ignore them.