Slaying the Dragon: Reloaded is the 2011 sequel to the 1988 documentary, Slaying the Dragon, and takes on the task of analyzing the contemporary status of popular representations of Asian women in the years since the original documentary was produced. Both films were created by Asian Women United, an organization founded by director and producer Elaine Kim. The 2011 film pays particularly close attention to the emergence of Asian American male filmmakers and their own conflicted portrayals of Asian women.
At the age of 16, Karen Lum created, directed, and starred in this award-winning film about gender, race, and unrealistic beauty standards. She and William Tsang are featured visually portraying the spoken word poem written and performed by Adriel Luis, whose voice is heard throughout the video. The poem starts with a young man hitting on a young woman with several unsuccessful pickup lines, ultimately eliciting an unexpected response when he blurts out, “girl, what is your ethnic makeup?” Through artful word play with makeup words such as foundation, lipstick, and eye shadow, the poem and video tells the story about how she proceeds to educate him about topics such as the commodification of beauty, unrealistic and unattainable Anglicized beauty standards, how women are measured and valued for their appearance, and the importance of learning the histories of your people within social and historical context. The film was shot in 2005 in Lum’s hometown of Oakland, CA. The full text of the poem can be found here.
TBS’ 2012 sitcom Sullivan and Son follows a young, cosmopolitan man of Asian and white descent who returns to his hometown to take over the family bar. The title seems to anticipate the surprise that viewers might experience once they realize that Sullivan’s son is not, in fact, of Irish descent but is indeed half-Asian. In addition to offering footage of the series, this trailer uses a documentary-style interview approach to showcase the actors discussing their opinions on the show.
The Last Airbender is a live-action adaptation of the popular animated cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The film quickly gained negative publicity due to the controversial casting of the film’s main characters - white actors were cast in the roles of characters who were Asian in the original animated series. There was a significant backlash among members of the Asian American community and others concerned about the marginalization of Asians in media. The fact that the director of the film, M. Knight Shyamalan, comes from a South Asian heritage, provided an additional layer of complexity to the controversy.
This 2015 video from Aisha Harris at online news, politics, and culture magazine Slate.com uses scenes from popular U.S. television shows to illustrate how people of color continue to be represented stereotypically and as peripheral minor characters in television shows because the roles and characters written for them are created by predominantly White writers. The video points out a range of stereotypical tropes such as the token minor or first to get killed off Black characters (such as T-Dog in The Walking Dead), or one-dimensional token Black, Latino, or Asian sidekicks (such as Winston in New Girl, or George from Law & Order: SVU), or servants (such as Rosario in Will & Grace, or Sum in Sex and the City) in contrast with complexly portrayed White characters in the same shows. There are also the exotic, sexy Latinas with a foreign accent (such as Gloria in Modern Family), or emasculated Asian male foreigners (such as Raj in The Big Bang Theory or Han in Two Broke Girls) who serve as the comedic relief because of their foreignness, which in turn makes the White characters look better and reinforces that they are what is “normal.” The video also connects these limited and damaging representations with how they affect viewers’ perceptions and behaviors in everyday life. At the end, the video creators argue that while some shows are now getting better at depicting people of color in leading roles (such as Grey’s Anatomy), it is because the writers and producers behind the show reflect diversity and include people who actually know what it’s like to live as a multi-dimensional person of color.