Fighting yellow-fever

As teenagers, we are easily influenced by the shows and movies we watch nearly every day. Thus, the media we consume should provide insight into the different kinds of people, cultures and experiences in the world around us. Otherwise, harmful stereotypes and lack of diversity are bound to negatively shape the image of already underrepresented groups in society.

Asian characters hardly ever star as protagonists and Asian actors are often left to be cast through the constraints of a stereotypical lens. Popular variations of the token Asian character in films range from the white lead’s emasculated, nerdy sidekick to the cunning Asian dragon lady trope—the oversexualized woman that mysteriously commands a room using her looks.

To begin, we were influenced by these film stereotypes earlier than we could fully understand. London Tipton in the children’s show “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” is portrayed as the spoiled kid of her Thai mom—who is never shown in the series—and her rich, white father—who is on his third marriage and uses money as affection for his daughter. 

This so-called “yellow fever,” racial fetishism toward Asian women from typically white men, reveals a larger issue in society’s fetishization of Asian women for sexual purposes. Only being taken at face value, Asian women are prone to be taken less seriously when expressing their interests or intelligence.

Ultimately, this show is just a snippet of the media’s inability to display a healthy, loving relationship as one that can be racially ambiguous, laying the groundwork for young Asian girls to question pure love outside of their own culture. This rejection may even give way to notions that Asians are undesirable as genuine love interests.

In the case that an Asian character is not a dumbed-down financial dependent of a white man, they are likely to be a hyper-independent character of academic rigor. It seems as though there is no middle ground, as these Asian characters push the extremes of stereotypes. Without appearing exotic like their Asian counterparts, non-Asian characters are essentially considered “normal.” 

Furthermore, if Asian characters don’t exhibit stereotypes, they are often of mixed race. For example, Lara Jean in the film series “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is integrated into her white father’s American lifestyle because her Korean mother is deceased. This narrow representation of Asians in media cannot possibly reflect the realities that Asian people face in real life. Whether it be homelife or beauty standards, a more eurocentric portrayal skews away from authenticity. 

Whether Asian characters exhibit stereotypes of brattiness or total misfortune, their roles end up doing so little for Asian representation anyway. The inclusion of Asian characters only becomes valuable once they get to shine without being the stepping stones for a plot curated to idealize non-Asian characters.