Home / World News / Opinion | ‘Turning Red’ Is Not a Credit to the Asian Race. That’s Why It’s Good.

Opinion | ‘Turning Red’ Is Not a Credit to the Asian Race. That’s Why It’s Good.

I don’t really care that Sean O’Connell didn’t like Shi’s film. “Turning Red” was a Pixar film with a huge budget and songs written by Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas. Shi is not an independent filmmaker who is just trying earnestly to tell her truth to a small festival audience. Shi and the people who want more Asian representation in big Hollywood films have won.

The main beneficiaries of a diversified Hollywood, as far as I can tell, are the minorities who make and star in films and television shows. This is great for them, but I don’t really understand why I, as an Asian American, am expected to cheer for a film like “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is about a wealthy Singaporean family. I’ve never been to Singapore, I did not grow up in luxury and I don’t feel understood because millions of my fellow citizens watched a movie about people who are more or less foreign to me.

There’s also a quant-like quality to the focus on Hollywood representation that has always seemed a bit too clinical for my tastes. Last May, the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism released a paper about Asians and Pacific Islanders in the film industry. Here’s a quote from a news release about the report: “Across 51,159 speaking characters in 1,300 top-grossing movies, 5.9 percent were A.P.I. This percentage did not meaningfully differ by year and falls short of the 7.1 percent of the U.S. population that identifies as A.P.I.”

One of the report’s authors, Nancy Wang Yuen, whose work I broadly admire, went deeper into the data and noted that many of the jobs Asian and Pacific Islander actors got were in token roles. “In 2019, 30 percent of A.P.I. primary and secondary characters were either the only one or interacted with no other A.P.I. characters onscreen. We need to see more than one A.P.I. character onscreen interacting with one another in meaningful ways.”

There are a lot of assumptions at play here. The first and most obvious is that there is some moral right for a minority group to have a number of film and television roles that falls in line with its percentage of the U.S. population. Perhaps this isn’t Yuen’s intent, but if we follow this logic, films with Black actors should make up only about 12 percent of what Hollywood produces. And only three out of every 500 or so roles should be either of trans characters or given to trans actors.

I’m also not sure what it would accomplish to have Asian American acting roles go from 5.9 percent to 7.1 percent. Do Asian American children suddenly start feeling like they’re more a part of this country when they realize they’re proportionately represented in film and television?

The most confusing part of Yuen’s quote is the pronoun “we.” Who is the “we” that needs to see more than one A.P.I. character onscreen interacting with another in meaningful ways? Is it professional, well-educated Asian Americans like me, or is the “we” just shorthand for America at large? If it’s the former, I can announce that I don’t really need to see Asian people interacting with one another on my television because I already know that Asian people talk to one another. If it’s the latter, then I wonder, again, who our target audience might be: Are we making art for ourselves, or are we turning every film, book and painting into some spectacle that shows everyone else just how human and normal we all can be?

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