When you watch an American TV show or movie that has an Asian male character in it, he’s usually portrayed as the nerdy, scrawny and socially awkward guy who doesn’t say much. In turn, that has created a stereotype that many Americans associate with Asian men, branding them as weak, lacking personality and the center of slapstick comedy.
If you’ve seen the John Hughes classic “Sixteen Candles,” you’ll recall Long Duk Dong, the Chinese exchange student. “The Donger,” as he is nicknamed, is goofy — introduced into scenes with the sound of a gong — and much smaller in stature and build compared to his girlfriend. Even 30 years later, portrayals haven’t changed much. Ken Jeong’s character in “The Hangover” was an angry, eccentric Chinese gangster with a little-man complex.
However, 2015 has been a minor breakthrough year for Asian-Americans on screen. With the releases of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and the Netflix original series “Master of None,” more accurate portrayals of Asians and Asian-Americans are coming to the limelight.
Kelvin Yu, known as Brian Cheng on “Master of None,” plays Aziz Ansari’s “hot friend” in the show. In a recent interview with Vulture, Yu explained he’d spent years playing the “Asian nerd” and “jilted Asian men who were angry because they’d been dishonored.” What sets “Master of None” apart from most TV shows is that an Indian-American is the main character, and his best friend is Taiwanese-American. The show mostly documents the life of Ansari’s character, Dev Shah, who goes through the same things as any American: figuring out what career he wants to pursue, maintaining a good relationship with his parents and dating.
Shows like “Master of None” and “Fresh Off the Boat” are so important for the Asian-American community — especially the Asian male community — because they portray the struggle we go through to fit in with our peers. “Fresh Off the Boat,” which is based on Taiwanese-American celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s childhood, shows how hard Huang had to try to fit in with his mostly white classmates and how he has to validate his “Americanness” through his love of hip-hop and rap music and throwing away the Chinese lunches his mother makes for him so kids won’t make fun of him for his pungent food. These shows are relatable because they tell true stories instead of absurd stereotypes.
It’s the end of 2015, and it’s about time that writers are portraying Asians — Asian men in this case — in a much more accurate light, not just the stereotypical nerd.