Asian-Amer­i­cans just ‘to­kens’ on TV, study says

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - ENTERTAINMENT - LYNN ELBER

LOS AN­GE­LES — TV’s Asian-Amer­i­can char­ac­ters are so fre­quently slighted that even pro­grams set in the big­gest, most di­verse cities leave them out of the pic­ture, a new study has found.

For To­kens on the Small Screen, pro­fes­sors and schol­ars at six Cal­i­for­nia uni­ver­si­ties looked at 242 broad­cast, ca­ble and dig­i­tal plat­form shows that aired dur­ing the 2015-16 sea­son and tal­lied the num­bers, screen time and por­tray­als of char­ac­ters of Asian or Pa­cific Is­lan­der de­scent among 2,000 TV char­ac­ters.

The re­port re­leased Tues­day, a fol­lowup to broad­cast TV stud­ies done in 2005 and 2006, found in­creas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for Asian-Amer­i­can ac­tors but con­cluded they are still un­der­rep­re­sented and “their char­ac­ters re­main marginal­ized and to­k­enized on screen.”

There was a sense of op­ti­mism with the emer­gence of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken and Net­flix’s Mas­ter of None, all star­ring and fo­cused on Asian-Amer­i­cans, said Nancy Wong Yuen, a Bi­ola Univer­sity as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and one of the study’s au­thors.

“It felt like, ‘Oh, we’re fi­nally mak­ing it,’ ” Yuen said. “But even (Dr. Ken star) Ken Jeong said, “Of this many shows, we only have three?’ ”

The can­cel­la­tions of Jeong’s sit­com and the Net­flix his­tor­i­cal drama Marco Polo, which fea­tured a hefty num­ber of Asian char­ac­ters, show how ten­u­ous the hold on rep­re­sen­ta­tion is, the study says.

A third (34.5 per cent) of all Asian or Asian-Amer­i­can char­ac­ters were found to be on just 11 shows — with the 14 char­ac­ters on Marco Polo alone mak­ing up 10 per cent of the to­tal — which sets up a “risk of greater dec­i­ma­tion when net­works de­cide to can­cel even one show,” the re­port says.

The con­cen­tra­tion of char­ac­ters on a few shows also means many view­ers never see an Asian-Amer­i­can on screen, which the study says “ef­fec­tively erases” them from a large part of the TV land­scape.

There are 155 shows that lack a sin­gle Asian-Amer­i­can char­ac­ter, in­clud­ing 63 of broad­cast and ba­sic ca­ble se­ries and 74 per cent of pre­mium ca­ble shows, the study says.

The ex­clu­sion is star­tling on shows set in ur­ban ar­eas. Among all shows set in New York, which has an Asian-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion of 13 per cent, 70 per cent of shows lacked a sin­gle se­ries reg­u­lar of that eth­nic­ity. More than 50 per cent of shows set in Los An­ge­les, with a pop­u­la­tion that’s 14 per cent Asian, lacked any such char­ac­ters.


Aziz An­sari in a scene from, Mas­ter of None. An­sari is nom­i­nated for an Emmy Award for out­stand­ing lead ac­tor in a com­edy se­ries, the sole Asian-Amer­i­can act­ing nom­i­nee.

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