Films reflect the worst impulses of an environment in which hate crimes, harassment, and violence face the API community daily:
A Look at the Recent Study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
AAPI, Entertainment, Entertainment, Equity
The work of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative underscores the importance of having data to drive the much-needed conversations that lead to transformational change.
As discrimination, hate, and violent attacks against Asians and Asian Americans continue in this country, the University of Southern California has released a study on how the film industry has contributed to the erasure, silencing, and stereotyping of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community — fueling discrimination and prejudice against an already marginalized group.
Our origin story is connected to the entertainment industry, but at TIME’S UP, we call for an end to discrimination in all industries by changing companies, culture, and laws to center inclusion and meaningful visibility. The work of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative underscores the importance of having data to drive the much-needed conversations that lead to transformational change.
The study included an assessment of API leads and characters in more than 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2019. Worth noting is the extreme rarity of API actors playing the lead or co-lead in American films across the board — a representation issue in and of itself.
Many representational stereotypes were pinpointed in the analysis done as a part of this study such as: sexualization, tokenism, social behaviors, wardrobe, violence, immigration and language. The findings were troublesome to say the least, as outlined in the following illustration:
As TIME’S UP has driven home since its inception: representation matters. These key findings support our continued efforts to increase awareness about the importance of accurate representation in order to shift culture, promote equity, and level-set power dynamics for BIPOC communities.
- According to one article cited in the study, in a survey of more than 2,000 Americans, 42% responded “don’t know” when asked to name a well-known Asian American.
- White males with popular names were more likely to be hired as a top actor in any film as opposed to any API woman with any name auditioning in Hollywood.
- API film characters tend to be stripped of romantic relationships and friendships — subjected to emasculation, hypersexualization, and even death — reflecting on the “worst impulses of an environment in which hate crimes, harassment, and violence face the API community daily.”
- Representation by way of gender, age, LGBTQ+, disability, parental status, and orientation was low. Out of API speaking and named characters, 63% were males and far outnumbered 37% of females across the 1,300 popular films. API with disabilities were only 26 characters in 500 films from 2015 — with a modified ADA definition.
Behind the scenes, 1,447 directors were credited across the 1,300 top-grossing movies from 2007 to 2019. Of these, 3.5% were API. Out of these, 47 were men and 3 were women. We know that Hollywood is a white, male-dominated industry; however, it is sobering to learn that, even among executives belonging to senior leadership in the major streaming companies, only 6.4% were API and none were in positions of power to create change.
The lack of API decision-makers in positions of power in Hollywood contributes to problematic depictions of on-screen characters promoting stereotypes like the “perpetual foreigner,” racist and/or sexist slurs, and emasculation. These dangerous trends are rooted in historical stereotypes — and the findings provide empirical evidence to prove the biases and practices that are damaging to the API community in Hollywood and beyond.
These numbers are proof that institutional changes are vital for this industry to make progress toward true diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; not just for accurate portrayals and representation of API individuals, but also for fairness and inclusion for all workers throughout the entertainment industry.
When filmmakers and the companies that support them harness this power, they can create real impact that opens up possibilities not only for the API community but for audiences at large.
The full study is available here.
If you’d like to learn more about our work to raise awareness, and collaborate on solutions, take a look here.