Where can we find ourselves in film and TV?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
“The Donut King,” “Free Chol Soo Lee,” “In Search of Bengali Harlem,” “Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres,” and “Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story.” These Asian American Pacific Islander films, among others, are streaming and showing at theaters across the nation, including the Los Angeles Pacific American Film Festival, the Center for Asian American Media CAAMFest in San Francisco, the Freep Film Festival in Detroit, and more. I am looking forward to sitting in the darkened hall and letting these stories wash over me. Happy AANHPI Heritage Month!
I think back to the very few Asians and Asian Americans I saw in film and television as a child. “The King and I,” “The Last Emperor,” Arnold from “Happy Days,” and, of course, Connie Chung.
Where was I in any of these depictions?
It was not until college that I saw a documentary film about the representation of Asian women in film and television that I began to understand the impact that lack of representation had on me and the way other people saw me. Since then, I have searched for Asian Americans in film, television, books, and art.
A new study conducted by Committee of 100 and Columbia University School of Social Work looked at the health, economic, and sociopolitical conditions of Chinese Americans, and also analyzed how our community is perceived. Researchers gathered information from nearly 6,500 Chinese Americans in 46 states.
The study found that although most Chinese Americans see themselves as an accepted part of American society, culturally blended between American and Chinese traditions, they also experience racism and discrimination. Researchers found that 74 percent of the Chinese Americans surveyed reported experiencing racial discrimination in the past 12 months, 55 percent worried about hate crimes and harassment, and 46 percent reported experiencing being treated with less respect in the past year.
At the same time, 83 percent of Chinese American citizens are registered voters, and 91 percent of registered voters voted in the 2020 presidential election. Racism, crime, gun control, and the economy ranked as the top four concerns.
Regarding U.S.-China relations, 82 percent feel that the U.S. should build a collaborative economic relationship with China, and economy and trade were identified as the top two areas for mutual benefit and collaboration.
Finally, the study also found that despite model minority stereotypes, Chinese Americans face hardships. Almost a quarter of Chinese Americans surveyed were at moderate to severe risk of mental illness and psychological distress, and almost a quarter reported fair to poor physical or mental health. Ten percent reported a household income below $15,000, and 9 percent reported experiencing hardship purchasing food or paying bills in the past 12 months.
“The Chinese American population is one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, yet it remains underrepresented in politics and policy, and underserved in healthcare, education, and social services,” said Gary Locke, Chair of Committee of 100, former U.S. Ambassador to China, and current President of Bellevue College in Washington. “This is a group that is both politically active and engaged. These findings are certain to influence economic, social, and political policies to help improve the well-being of the entire Chinese American community.”
This May, check out an AANHPI film near you!