In the past 50 years, Asian characters in television and film have made small strides towards an honest interpretation of real APAs, but the clichés are not behind us.
By Jeffrey Ledesma
Gold: Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), “Grey’s Anatomy”
Hands down and scalpels up, I had to give the gold medal to the fictional surgeon on ABC’s hit television series the number one spot. Yang is a bad-to-the-bone doctor who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She goes against the grain and defies the subservient Asian woman stereotype.
Silver: Michael “Mike” Chang, Jr. (Harry Shum, Jr.), “Glee”
Mike moonwalks onto the number two spot because he’s a football player who can dance like nobody’s business. While it isn’t hard to find an APA on the football team and busting a move on the dance floor, it’s rare to see one doing both on television.
Bronze: Kumar (Kal Penn), Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Although Penn’s character is extreme, the portrayal is extremely funny and not what’s expected in East Indian roles. Unlike Dr. Rajesh Ramayan “Raj” Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) of “The Big Bang Theory,” Kumar can talk to girls without drowning himself in alcohol (although alcohol isn’t prohibited) and that is worth a medal in my book.
Gold: Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), The Hangover
Mr. Chow highlights the stereotypical emasculation of Asian men. When the three Caucasian protagonists find Chow’s shoe in their car, they comment on how unusual that it is “a men’s size six.” This is later followed by Chow jumping out of the trunk, naked and yelling in a cookie-cutter Asian accent, “You gonna f*** on me?” Overall, it’s distasteful portrait of Asians.
Silver: Ms. Swan (Alex Borstein), MADtv
While Ms. Swan makes me laugh every time, she gets the laughs and the silver medal by pulling from a bunch of stereotypes: slow speech, hard to understand, distrusting, and cheap. My mom would get mad if people saw her this way – so this is for her.
Bronze: Tricia Takanawa (voiced by Alex Borstein), “Family Guy”
Takanawa speaks in a nasal monotone cadence that Borstein has described as “all presentation and no substance.” She was revealed to be Japanese in “Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story,” but will always be know as “Asian reporter Tricia Takanawa.”
Don’t agree with the ranking? Think another APA character should be thrown into the mix? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.