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Alison Yeh Cheung and Kent A. Ono

For the vast majority of TV history, Asian Americans have played a minimal yet nevertheless infamous role. From the “yellow peril” to the “model minority,” racial stereotypes have been used to characterize Asians and Asian Americans on the television screen. In the rare instances when Asian American actors did appear, they either were in minor roles or as figures from a bad racist dream. Research on Asian Americans on TV comes from many disciplines and cuts across multiple fields such as media studies and Asian American studies. This article discusses the early history of Asian Americans on TV, traces notable figures in contemporary television, and concludes with the role of digital convergence and the development of delivery and recovery platforms. It also provides an overview of scholarly literature written about Asian Americans on TV, including articles and books written about Asian American TV shows, the history of Asian American TV representation, and research on TV and digital media, including YouTube and other transmedia convergence cultural materials.

Article

Koreans have been represented in North American film and television for almost a century. However, in the early part of the 20th century most representations took place only through the actual bodies of Korean American actors who were portraying Chinese or Japanese characters in American films. The practice of crossethnic, and even crossracial, casting was common for Asian characters in these earlier productions. It was not until the mid-20th century that Korean American actors began to portray ethnically Korean characters. However, these roles often required them to speak, dress, and act as if they were not assimilated to American culture, contributing to the stereotype of Asians as perpetual foreigners to Western society. Since the turn of the 21st century there have been more opportunities for Korean Americans and Korean Canadians to draw from their own lived experiences in their portrayals of characters who speak unaccented English and whose cultural backgrounds are not necessarily their most distinguishing features. Consciously challenging discriminatory practices and countering stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans led to shifts in media representations and more fully developed portrayals of Korean North American characters.

Article

From the dawn of cinema in 1895 to the coming of World War II, the representation of Asian immigrants on the American screen shifted from unwanted aliens to accepted, if exotic, citizens—in other words, from Asian immigrants to Asian Americans. Since World War II, American race relations have been defined mainly through the comparison of white and black experiences; however, in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, white American fears about racial and cultural purity focused on Asian immigration. Although there was immigration from other Asian countries, at the time, the vast majority of Asian immigrants were arriving from China. In newspaper articles and popular fiction, writers exploited and extended Yellow Peril fears about Chinese immigration through tales of Chinese immorality and criminality. American filmmakers then capitalized on these familiar stories and repeated the stereotypes of the evil “Oriental villain” such as Dr. Fu Manchu and the benign “model minority” such as detective Charlie Chan. American culture more broadly, and American film more specifically, conflated different Asian peoples and cultures and represented Asian immigration, for the most part, through white American attitudes toward Chinese immigrants. In film, this resulted in Japanese and Korean American actors playing Chinese and Chinese American characters before the war, and Chinese and Korean American actors playing Japanese characters during and after the war. More notoriously, however, American films often cast white actors in Chinese roles, especially when those characters were more prominent in the narrative. This practice of “yellowface” contributed to the continuance of stereotyped representations of Chinese characters in film and exposed the systemic racism of a film industry that rarely allowed Asian Americans to represent themselves. With World War II, the Japanese replaced the Chinese as America’s Yellow Peril villain, and American race relations turned from the question of Asian immigration to that of African American civil rights.