Asian/Pacific Islanders (APIs) in the media, or the lack thereof, for that matter, has been a relatively consistent sore spot for American entertainment since the very beginnings of the industry. One does not need to look far back in history to recognize that characters of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Vietnamese descent have either been minimal within television and film portrayals, or have been completely absent altogether (And Filipinos? Pacific Islanders? Pacific Who?)
The Screen Actors Guild’s most recent diversity report showed that in 2008, 3.8% of film and television roles went to Asian Americans, while the group made up 5% of the population, according to the United States Census Bureau. With a base population of this percentage, under-representation can have a sharp impact across multiple platforms – and this number continues to rise, with the Pew study citing 5.8% of the representation in 2011.
Recent progress is noted with the advent of stars such as Lucy Liu, Daniel Dae Kim and Maggie Q, among others, but it is clear that considering recent growth statistics within API populations, the pace of onscreen and media representation has some catching up to do to reflect current census numbers.
The Pew Research Center released their report this past June that revealed Asian American immigrants have surpassed Hispanics as the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. Asian Americans went from largely low-wage labor workers over a century ago to the highest income, best–educated in the country (a whopping 6 in 10 new arrivals have a bachelor’s degree!).
Television networks, studios, unions and advocacy groups have been addressing issues of under-representation for 15-plus years to varying success. Looking beyond traditional casting vehicles, the internet/social media has provided a new platform that is being employed with strategic focus by the Asian American entertainment community.
“The API community makes up 5% of the population, yet we account for 1/3 of the total consumption” said Jennifer Sanderson, Executive Director of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE). “We are voracious consumers of media.”
Indeed as Sanderson points out, most studies show that Asian Americans over-index their non-Asian counterparts in nearly every segment of online media usage.
Justin Lin, a Taiwanese American film director whose work includes “Better Luck Tomorrow”, “The Fast and the Furious” and the television show “Community” – founder of the popular YOMYOMF blog – from YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily.com (YOMYOMF) has partnered with Ryan Higa, a Japanese American YouTube sensation whose own channel Nigahiga (“niga” meaning rant and “higa”, his last name) has 5.4 million subscribers and boasts 1.2 billion views of its comedy material.
The YOMYOMF Network is the YouTube channel partnership that features the work of several Asian American collaborators and is seeing success being in or around the top 10 of original YouTube channels since its June 4th launch, according to Koream Journal.
With work from these Asian American artists ranging from 1 to 25 million hits apiece, they are true internet stars, and Hollywood executives are taking notice in film studios, film festivals and television casting arenas.
Higa’s other collective, YTF Legacy (Yesterday, Today, Forever) consists of seven YouTube entertainers, including Chester See, Victor Kim, Dominic Sandoval, JR Aquino and Andrew Garcia. Their individual videos have views from 13 million to well over 1 billion. Numbers of these types give normal broadcast and cable channels a run for their money, and indeed several of these artists, such as Kim (America’s Best Dance Crew Season 7) and See (Disney Channel’s “Disney 365 “) have found fan success in both worlds.
The proof of these numbers translating interchangeably throughout the media landscape has yet to be seen consistently, but Asian American leaders in entertainment, as well as those in the general market, are placing their bets on the platform:
“I don’t think Asians have been loud enough,” Sanderson said, whose own CAPE organization was awarded one of 25 coveted non-profit channels on YouTube. CAPE will launch their “I Am” campaign in November geared toward cultivating new writers in the interactive community.
Noting the fact that APIs are regularly regarded as tastemakers by marketing studies and experts, she added, “We don’t need anyone’s permission online.”
By Jerry Jacobsen