White male actors called Ben, Chris, Daniel, James, or Tom are more likely to be hired for a lead role in a movie than an Asian and Pacific Islander woman with any name in all of Hollywood.
That’s one of the startling statistics revealed in a new report, titled “The Prevalence and Portrayal of Asian and Pacific Islanders Across 1,300 Popular Movies,” which reveals the limited cinematic representations of the API community.
The study – led by Dr Nancy Wang Yuen, Dr Stacy L. Smith, and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, with funding from Amazon Studios and the UTA Foundation – assessed the main characters and talking characters from Asia and the Pacific Islands in 1,300 highest grossing films from 2007 to 2019.
Of 51,159 talking characters in the films reviewed, 5.9% were APIs. This is below the 7.1% of the US population who identify as API. What’s more, the report reveals that 39% of all movies don’t even show a single API character. Broken down separately, the results are even more glaring; 40.2% of the films did not have a single Asian character and 94.2% did not feature a Pacific Islander.
The study findings come amid an increase in violence against the Asian community in the United States. The report argues that popular films can perpetuate a group’s erasure and stereotypes, which can fuel discrimination and psychological damage.
“These results offer more evidence that the invisibility epidemic continues to persist and with serious consequences,” said Dr Smith. “Mass media is a factor that can contribute to aggression against this community. When representations erase, dehumanize, or demean the API community, the consequences can be dire. Without intention or intervention, the trends we have seen will continue. “
When it comes to lead roles, only 44 (or 3.4%) of the 1,300 films had a 13-year lead or co-star API, with just six of them starring a female API in one. main role. By comparison, 336 distinct white male actors were cast in lead roles during the same time period. As for the 44 API actor-directed films, Dwayne Johnson made up one-third of those roles, having appeared in 14 of the highest-grossing films between 2007 and 2019. After Johnson, the API actors with the top roles more important were Keanu Reeves. (with five), Jon Cho (with three), Constance Wu (with two) and Dev Patel (with two).
In the few films that featured API actors, the study argues that these characters tended to be stereotypical or symbolized. Women were under-represented, as were members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. Only 13% of the roles performed by API actors were fully fleshed out and complex pieces, without being reduced to villains, strangers, or sidekicks. Some of the positive portrayals, according to the study, include Himesh Patel’s Jack Malik in the Universal romantic comedy “Yesterday” and Dwayne Johnson’s Bravestone in “Jumanji: The Next Level”.
“People often ask me if the representations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are improving,” Dr. Yuen said. “Unfortunately, when the performance looks like tokenism, Hollywood does the bare minimum for inclusion. In 2019, 30% of main and supporting API characters were either one of the only ones or not interacting with any other API character on screen. We need to see more than one onscreen API character interacting with each other in meaningful ways. “
Behind the camera, the statistics were even more dire. A total of 1,447 filmmakers have been credited with making the top 100 films of the past 13 years. Of this sample, only 3.5% of admins were APIs – including Ang Lee, Bong Joon Ho, Jon M. Chu, M. Night Shyamalan, and Taika Waititi – and only three were female. The study indicates that no female API was credited as the sole director of a top-grossing live-action feature between 2007 and 2019. At the same time, 2.5% of producers were APIs. and 3.3% were casting directors.
“No female API has received the only directing credit for a live-action, highest-grossing feature film in the past 13 years,” said Dr. Smith. “So far, including the API community has been lip service. Opening up opportunities behind the camera for the API community and in particular, API women, is essential to see more authentic and humanized representations on screen.
Actor Daniel Dae Kim called the study’s results “sobering.”
“The numbers speak for themselves – again,” he said. “They give food for thought about how far the industry has yet to go to counter the invisibility of our on-screen community. If anything is to improve, the historic indifference on the part of policymakers to increased representation of Asian Americans must go beyond the usual performative rhetoric for real and demonstrable change. “
Amazon Studios Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Latasha Gillespie says confronting “the hard truths and the data” is the only way to “reconcile the wrongs of the past, invisibility and stereotypes on screen ”.
“This study is an opportunity for all content creators and media companies to examine and determine the root causes of decisions that have contributed to our current state, but more importantly, to drive continued accountability in our work.” said Gillespie.