Remember Ned from Spider-Man: Homecoming? He is the character worried for Peter Parker’s safety throughout the movie. No? Alright, what if I describe him as the Asian best friend who is nerdy, hilarious and computer savvy. Does that ring a bell?
In North American movies, it is common to see Asian actors used as the comic relief — the sidekick, the geek or the one who knows martial arts. Ned from Spider-Man: Homecoming is an example of the subtle but inaccurate portrayals of Asian men in the Western world.
Ned was hilarious, and he owned it. Even if he was just a sidekick, he worked it to his advantage, and without him, Parker wouldn’t have been able to save the day. So if you’re a geeky Asian man like Ned, own it because North American Asians are just as hot as other men in more ways than just their appearance.
In the movie Crazy Rich Asians, which premiered last year, leading Asian men got to show off their saucy abs, sizzling bods, and most importantly, their sexy brains. This movie turned the conversation around, going against Hollywood’s stained reputation for portraying Asian men as undesirable.
Sadly, because of Hollywood stereotypes, even other Asians think Asian men are unattractive.
This portrayal of Asian men has been ongoing for decades. The 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s with leading actress Audrey Hepburn included a supposedly Asian character named Mr. Yunioshi played by Mickey Rooney, a white New Yorker. This film set a precedent for actors that it’s okay to play a coloured character when they are of another race. Newsflash, it’s not okay.
Stereotyping and whitewashing also occurred in movies such as Green Hornet, the live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kill Bill, The Hangover, the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell and yes — even though I love the movie — Spider-Man: Homecoming. These movies perpetuate the idea that Asian men are unattractive and that we are only good at math or martial arts.
Television is guilty of the same stereotyping. The show 2 Broke Girls — thank god, it’s cancelled — featured Han Lee, the Asian-American restaurant boss who was routinely emasculated, stereotyped and caricatured. To illustrate the point, here is one of the show’s famous lines: “You can’t tell an Asian he made a mistake. He’ll go in back and throw himself on a sword.”
These inaccurate representations in Hollywood are harmful to North American Asians in their personal and romantic relationships. A study about young adult relationships showed that Asian men are indeed at the bottom of the dating hierarchy. Researchers found that 35 per cent of the Asian men in the study reported that they were not involved in a romantic relationship — two times as many as the number of Asian women who were not romantically involved.
Despite the unfair representation that Asian men have received in the past, we now seem to be moving away from the negative depictions in media. Positive Asian representation is appearing in media, and it seems like accurate portrayals of Asian men in the Western world are finally on the rise. Asian men, it is time to stop being discouraged by these false representations and own yourself for who you are.
Own your humour like Ken Jeong, an Asian-American actor, comedian and physician famous for acting in movies like The Hangover. Own your nerdy side like Jacob Batalon, the Filipino-Hawaiian actor who played Ned in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Own your self-confidence like Henry Golding, a British-Malaysian actor and model who played Nick Young in the movie Crazy Rich Asians.
Let’s face it, in the end, looks matter, but personality matters more. People aren’t just attracted to your appearance — it’s the whole package that individuals gravitate towards. Don’t be discouraged by mainstream media. Hollywood may kick Asian men to the ground with each stereotypical role, but remember that we are just as sexy as other men. You just need to own it.
J.C. Balicanta Narag / Outreach Editor
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Supplied