The Rise of the Asians in the Entertainment Equation

From “Parasite” to BTS to “Crazy Rich Asians” and more, the Asians are finally parading triumphantly into the American entertainment world.

February 8, 2020


Leena Shin

Asian representation has been severely lacking in the American entertainment world for many years.

It’s no mystery that a certain presence has always been rare in America’s entertainment spectrum. 


And whether it is music, movies or television shows, it is always quite uncommon to see these certain kinds of people.


Where are the Asians? 


For many years, Asians have been severely underrepresented in the entertainment world of America, despite the fact that the country is a largely diverse population. University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism reports that “Asian-Americans represent only 1 percent of all leading roles in Hollywood.” 


The New York Times Style Magazine also reports that only “one actor of Asian heritage has ever won an Academy Award for best actor,” which was Ben Kingsley, and that only “twelve actors of Asian descent have ever received nominations from the academy,” of which the majority were supporting roles. 


And statistics aside, I cannot say that I have personally seen many Asians in the entertainment world either. Truthfully, many people in America seem closed off to cultures or entertainment that are not in English. All that Asians seemed to be associated with in the past were martial arts movies like the animated movie “Kung Fu Panda” or martial arts masters Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. 


Despite the long years of near absence, Asians have been pushing forward recently to gain a more prominent presence in the Western media world. 


Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons
Crazy Rich Asians is the first all-Asian cast in Hollywood in 25 years, marking a significant moment for Asian representation in American media.

In 2018, the cast of the Hollywood movie Crazy Rich Asians became the first “all-Asian Hollywood film in 25 years,” according to The Guardian. It signaled the start of something monumental. The Guardian reports that Hollywood movie casts have almost always faced white-washing. But an all-Asian cast for a Hollywood film is incredibly tremendous, as it is something extremely rare. Many Asian Americans across the country flocked to the movie theaters to see the all-Asian casted movie, proud to finally have their heritage and culture displayed on the screen of a movie theater. 


In addition, the Korean thriller film, “Parasite,” has recently gained massive attention from the Western entertainment world in 2019. 


The film has been nominated and won awards from Western entertainment award shows such as the Oscars and the Golden Globes, making history. Parasite won the prize for the best “foreign language” film at the Golden Globes. When accepting the award, the director of the movie, Bong Joon Ho, spoke resonating words. 


He said, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”


And he is absolutely correct. 


Once you surge forward over the barrier of subtitles, you are able to be introduced to endless worlds of art and entertainment. 


For example, another surge of Asian entertainment that has existed for so long but recently became a Western sensation in the past decade is Japanese animation shows, or more known as anime. 


With anime rising on the fame in America such as “My Hero Academia,” “Naruto,” “Attack on Titan” and more, numerous people are being fascinated by the eye-catching animations and unique storytelling of all these Japanese animation series. 


Of course, these anime shows are in Japanese. But if one simply leaps over the barrier of subtitles, one can be introduced to never-ending expressions of entrancing and dazzling art, stories and characters.


A great example of Japanese animations gaining a prominent presence in America is the emerging popularity of Studio Ghibli films. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio that is well known for producing anime feature films. 


Familiar titles such as “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away,” “Ponyo” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” tend to be somewhat known among the American audience. Many are attracted by the films’ vivid colors, heart-warming stories and emotions of nostalgia and fantasy. 


In 2019, Studio Ghibli films have been gaining a more prominent presence in America by coming to American movie theaters across the country in both the original Japanese version and English dubbed versions as well. 


The recent film that Studio Ghibli released in 2020, “Weathering With You,” garnered massive attention and received immense positive feedback with 90% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and 94% ratings on Fandango. 


Once leaping over the small barrier of subtitles or even finding another work-around like dubbed films, one is able to be introduced to so many more forms of art and entertainment.


But why is it that many Americans tend to have a prejudice against foreign entertainment? But more specifically, Asian entertainment? Many people seem to have no problem with singing along to songs like “Despacito” and “Taki Taki,” which are primarily in Spanish, but turn their noses at K-Pop. 


K-Pop has recently garnered massive amounts of attention globally and from the American audience, specifically a boy band named Bangtan Sonyeondan (Beyond the Scenes in English), or more well known as BTS. 


The group started on their rise to American fame in 2017, attending smaller music award shows such as the American Music Awards (AMA) and later went on to attend the Billboard Music Awards (BBMA). However, many fans and general audiences went on to question the possibly discriminatory treatment of the Korean boy band by the American media. 


BTS were mostly nominated for the Top Social Artist awards and not considered for awards for their music, despite charting incredibly high on charts such as the Billboard Top 100 Artists. The controversy heightened even more after the boys were invited to The Grammys, but were not nominated for any awards and simply given a small performance in which they were basically back-up singers for other artists. 


USA Today comments that The Grammys have been “criticized in recent years for the lack of representation in the nominations and winners.” 


But despite the controversy, BTS has gone on to secure a global fanbase, especially in America, and continuously is recognized for their music and performances, and their message of “loving yourself.” They have garnered massive amounts of popularity in America, performing in the 90,000 seat Rose Bowl Stadium for several days and breaking records on YouTube for “most views in 24 hours” for their music video, “Boy With Luv.” BTS are significant artists for pushing forward with the Asian movement in American entertainment.


Asians are slowly but steadily announcing their presence in the Western entertainment world and breaking through the racial stereotypes and boundaries that American media sets up. 


Ultimately, there is an entire world of endless possibilities and beautiful arts of entertainment out there. Sure, the language may be different and foreign. But music, storytelling and art transcends all language barriers. 


They are beautiful languages themselves. 


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