US

Why do so many Asians have highlights in movies?

Hollywood and the comic book world often depict East Asian women with highlights or dyed hair to signify a rebellious nature. It is called the “Asian hair streak,” and it is an overused trope that symbolises a greater problem in Hollywood. Following is a transcript of the video.

Kara Chin:Notice any similarities about these East Asian women on screen? They all have what is referred to as the “Asian hair streak.”It’s a shortcut used by Hollywood and the comic book world to signal that a character is rebellious or edgy. There are a lot of examples. Back in 2014, the Tumblr blogWriting with Colour found 12. And there have been more since. And for the most part, it’s just a boring, racist trope.

Annie Shi:The overwhelming amount of Asian girls with purple hair streaks is justlikekind of ridiculous.

Chin:This is Annie Shi. In 2017, she tweeted about the trend and there were thousands of retweets.

Shi:It’s just like a symptom of altogether, the non-diversity of Hollywood and popular media.

Elaine Kim:Representations of Asians in American popular culture are very shallow. And so, if you only have a few Asians ever appearing, then if you have something like streaks,thenof course, it’sgoing totake on a significance of bad or good. It wouldn’t happen with a white character, becausethere are so many white characters.

Chin:Kim examined the roles and stereotypes of Asian women in film andTVin a 1988 documentary, and revisited the topic in 2011.Twenty-threeyears later, she didn’t find that much had changed. The same archetypes still exist today.

Kim:The most common representationsof Asian women were of them as docile, sex objects. Or as kind of sinister, dragon lady typeswho would stab you in the back.The Dragon Lady was sometimes sexytoo. Or as completely deracinated, or sort of honorary white characters. The deracinated ones that I mentioned are usually helping the white folks, or being a foil to the white folks in the film. They’re asidekick.

It’s been an issue that’s gone through 50 years, and it never really has gotten a whole lot better. Mainly, there were just no central characters.

Chin:So, how do we solve the problem? It starts by giving Asian Americans control of their own narrative.

Kim:If you give Asian Americans the ability to do the representation, to write the story, it will come out completely different from the usual stereotypes. There was one person who was the lead, and that was in the silent film era in the earlytalkies, and that was Anna May Wong. Although she played mostlyDragon Ladies,she was in some B movies that she had a voice in producing. She was a central character. She was not aDragon Lady. She was not aMadame Butterfly. She was usually like an adventuresome doctor or some businessperson, or something like that. And what we want is just somebody who’s a complicated human being, the way we know ourselves to be. We could deal withthe Dragon Ladies andthe Madame Butterflies if we had lots of other things there, too.

Chin:In the 100 top films of 2017, 65 films did not have a single female Asian speaking character. By comparison, white females were only missing from 7 films. More East Asian women are needed on screen. And there needs to be more diverse characters. They don’t need to be oversexualized. Maybe some of them are coming-of-age. Maybe some of them are leads. And if they’re rebellious, they don’t need streaks in their hair.

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