Other startling revelations to have come to light in the wake of the study were that over 25 per cent of API characters in top 2019 films died by the end of the movie, and over 41 per cent experienced disparagement (six of which were racist/sexist slurs). All of the deaths but one ended violently. When you look at gender, just six of the 44 total API leads/co-leads were women. In contrast, 22 individual actors worked one or more times as a protagonist for the roles. As the study’s authors noted: “white male actors named Ben, Chris, Daniel, James, Jason, John, Josh, Michael, Robert, Sean, or Tom were more likely to be hired as the top actor in a film than any API female actor with any name auditioning in all of Hollywood.”
When it comes to API directors, just 3.5 per cent of all directors behind the 1,300 films were of API descent. Not one API woman received sole directing credit of a live-action film across the top-grossing movies from 2007-2019.
In mainstream movies, API characters are largely absent. Just 5.9 per cent of the characters in 1,300 total films analysed in the study were of Asian or Pacific Islander descent which is deeply troubling. For young people growing up, not being able to see themselves depicted on the screen is an issue that needs to be addressed with greater urgency. As the researchers concluded, even despite the fact that the number increased to 8.4 per cent in 2019, “There has been no meaningful change over time.”
Most of the roles tended to highlight API characters as the perpetual foreigner, a trope that has been exhausted in Hollywood. As EW reports, “Nearly a fifth of API primary and secondary characters either spoke English with a non-American accent or in a non-English language.” THe publication went on to add, “In the 13-year-span that the researchers examined, 39 per cent of the top films had no API speaking characters, rendering them invisible.”
As the study was quick to recommend, the need to cast API actors is essential, but Hollywood needs to do more. Their characters need to be multidimensional and go beyond the exhausted stereotypes we’ve seen before. “Humour that is rooted in racial/ethnic slurs…must be examined closely. Laughter may reinforce problematic portrayals and obscure the harmful nature of language use,” they added.
“In this way, films reflect the worst impulses of an environment in which hate crimes, harassment, and violence face the API community daily. In contrast, research shows that humanisation can reduce aggression,” the study’s authors noted. “These steps are necessary to address the concerning way in which the API community has been depicted in film. The privilege of telling stories to mass audiences also carries with it a responsibility to recognise the power such narratives can have in concert.”