When you think of Asian leading men in Hollywood, it’s kinda slim pickings. You’ve got your nerdy but loveable Asian dad on Fresh Off the Boat, the cute but unavailable boyfriend on Crazy Ex Girlfriend, a jovial doctor on Dr. Ken, and The Walking Dead‘s loyal and intelligent Glenn…erm, well, scratch that. Lest we forget John Cho‘s short lived stint in the starring role of the romantic sitcom Selfie, which got cancelled faster than the time it takes to take one.
Lucky for us Canadians, we do have the hot brother in Kim’s Convenience, so that’s something. But when you can count the number of leading Asian men with one hand, you gotta know something’s up.
If we delve deeper into the history of Asian men on film, it gets worse. Characters are basically one-dimensional tropes. There’s the ninja, the nerdy dude who’s good at math, the comic relief sidekick and the effeminate man who will never get the girl. Looking for specific examples? There’s a socially inept Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles (who doesn’t know how to use a fork), Mickey Rooney all up in that yellowface playing a grumpy Asian man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all the bad guys who are super evil but really good at martial arts. You get the point. And if they aren’t any of those characters, they simply don’t exist.
It’s Asian Men, a short film by NaRhee Ahn, attempts to debunk these myths in the best way she knows how: by objectifying the Asian men Magic Mike style. While the film isn’t exactly the greatest (it probably won’t be winning any Oscars any time soon), it is a step in the right direction. With so many talented, attractive Asian men out there (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Daniel Henney, anyone?), it’s sad to think that they’re usually relegated into the realm of mere caricatures (and unwanted ones at that).
With data from OkCupid reporting that Asian men have a rating of negative 7 per cent, compared to negative 2 per cent for black men, negative 1 per cent for Latino men, and positive 8 per cent for white men (wait, what?), we can’t help but think that representation and stereotypes must have something to do with it.
When you’re either a nerdy sidekick, perpetually the foreign ninja master or well, non-existent in pop culture, it’s not exactly difficult to see why these numbers exist. While we know these harmful stereotypes just aren’t true, it’s probably time for Hollywood to follow suit. In the meantime, we hope films like Ahn’s open doors to roles that Asian men have long deserved.