In my sophomore year, I read “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a book read by most teenagers sometime during their high school career. As you know, besides being a heartwarming coming of age story set in the 1930s, it told the politically charged story of treating all races equal and revealing the injustices placed against people of color, specifically black people. There are few who are impervious to the wit and charm of a certain Atticus Finch and the antics of his kids, Jem and Scout.
Of course, our teacher made sure to help us understand that while great strides have been made about increasing racial equality at a national level and global level, there is still work to be done.
While I don’t think I could write a great essay on TKAM as of right now, I do believe that it opened my eyes to how POC are portrayed in the media that I consume.
Last night was the Emmy Award show. Celebrating the best and brightest on television, it was also heralded as the “most diverse Emmys yet”. As quoted here, about 25% of nominations went to people of color which still falls below the actual national population for POC which is 39%.
One issue with celebrating this fact is not recognizing that many of these nominations are from a small number of shows. Aziz Ansari’s wonderful and touching Netflix series “Master of None” received four nominations. While certainly deserving on this recognition, it’s not like many shows are each showcasing the talents of non-white actors but rather a few shows attempting to break down these walls by themselves.
One of my favorite parts from last night was Alan Yang’s speech after accepting the award for Comedy Writing (really he and Ansari both won it) where he contrasted the difference between media made for different cultures. Comparing Italians with Asians, he pointed out the wealth of movies and media celebrating and mainstreaming aspects of Italian culture and noted that Asians only have Long Duk Dong.
Long Duk Dong is a character from “16 Candles” a movie that I haven’t seen (and I’m assuming you haven’t either). It, like so many Asian characters before it, is a conglomerate of stereotypical behaviors. Dong speaks in broken English, carries out bad attempts at flirting, and is first seen with the sound of a gong ringing.
Not to discredit Yang’s point but growing up my favorite Asian role model was Mulan. She was the ballsiest of the older princess, and most importantly to me: She didn’t need a man to have a happy ending. While I’m extremely thankful for her, it still stings that there were no other princess that looked like me. (What, do we need another invasion of the Huns in order to create a new heroine?)
I don’t want to get too off topic, but I’m going to let you know ahead of time that if they cast a single white person for the live action Mulan, I am going to be LIVID.
I realize that this is not the first time I’ve written to you on this topic. And at a certain point, I feel that I’m writing the same thing over and over again. I’m sure some of my friends are sick of me asking them if their favorite tv series passes the Bechdel test or portrays POC as round characters rather than stereotypes. I’m wary to stop bringing it up though. I’m glad that Hollywood is beginning to understand that diversity is not just a trend, but I hope that we don’t grow complacent.