Cast more minorities as main characters in TV shows


Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Ella Atsavapranee

Growing up, I never saw people like me on TV. While I was aware of the lack of Asian Americans on TV, I never thought to question it. Only years later did I truly understand this problematic trend. Producers rarely cast Asian American actors in leading roles and instead relegate them to one-dimensional roles that perpetuate stereotypes.

It’s not just a perceived or manufactured problem. Statistically speaking, Asian Americans are underrepresented on the small screen: only one percent of leading roles go to Asians, despite Asian Americans making up five percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2015 report by the USC Annenberg School.

Even if writers create leading roles for minority actors, producers will often cast white actors instead, a process colloquially known as “whitewashing.” Producers justify whitewashing by arguing that it’s necessary to get projects approved or that a more famous actor would appeal to a wider audience. As a result, whitewashing has led to less opportunities for minority actors in Hollywood.

Only recently have shows featuring Asian Americans, like “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Master of None,” emerged on television. “Fresh Off the Boat” humorously depicts an Asian American family’s experience living in a predominantly white neighborhood. The show gives insight into their culture while still focusing on everyday issues like growing up.

The Netflix series “Master of None,” starring Aziz Ansari, directly addresses the lack of diversity on TV. When Ansari’s character auditions for a role as a taxi driver, the casting director asks him to fake an Indian accent. The scene tellingly reveals the microaggressions Asian American actors face when directors pressure, or even expect, them to conform to a stereotype.

But the fact remains that these shows, with their diverse and representative casts, are still the exception rather than the norm. Casting directors continue to overlook talented Asian American actors in favor of their white counterparts. Greater diversity in TV would support underrepresented minority communities while promoting acceptance of other races and cultures.

As an Asian American, I’m excited by the progress the entertainment industry has made to increase diversity on TV. Seeing Asian American characters I can identify with is inspiring. I can only hope that the entertainment industry will continue the trend towards a more diverse future.