API Actors Mostly ‘Invisible’ With Only 5.9% Landing Speaking Roles in Hollywood, Study Finds

API Actors Mostly ‘Invisible’ With Only 5.9% Landing Speaking Roles in Hollywood, Study Finds
Thy Nguyen
May 18, 2021
Sociologist Dr. Nancy Wang Yuen, Amazon Studios and the UTA Foundation conducted a study about the lack of API representation in Hollywood.
About the report: The Prevalence and Portrayal of Asian and Pacific Islanders Across 1,300 Popular Films is part of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that “uncovers the limited portrayal” of the API community, according to Variety
  • Dr. Nancy Wang Yuen, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper, Marc Choueiti, Kevin Yao and Dana Dinh collaborated on this report. 
  • The study was funded by Amazon Studios and the UTA Foundation. 
  • “This study is an opportunity for all content creators and media companies to examine and root cause decisions that contributed to our current state, but more importantly drive ongoing accountability into our work,” Amazon Studios Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Latasha Gillespie said. 
What the studies show: Research shows the majority of API characters in most popular films were either invisible, spoke five lines or less, played into a stereotype, were isolated, played a sidekick or villain or were not fully human.
  • Only 5.9% of the top 1300 films, from 2007-2019, included an API character. There were 51,159 speaking characters but only 3,034 were of API descent.
  • 44 films cast an API lead or co-lead, but 14 of those films starred Dwayne Johnson as the lead. Only six movies had a female API lead. There were 10.5 times as many anthropomorphized animals as leads as there were API women. 
  • Of all the top-grossing films in 2019 and the 79 API characters portrayed, a little over a quarter of them died by the end of the film. All of those deaths were violent except for one.
  • In 2019, of the 79 characters, six experienced racist or sexist slurs and 12.5% of the female characters were hypersexualized.
What the report aims to achieve: Dr. Yuen stated Hollywood needs “more than one API character on screen interacting with one another in meaningful ways.” 
  • The authors recommended increasing API representation in Hollywood and addressing the report’s concerns by casting more API talent, portraying API characters more authentically, hiring more API storytellers and distributing more films by API creators, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

  • Daniel Dae Kim said in a press release that if anything was to improve, the “decision makers toward increased Asian American representation” need to “go beyond the usual performative rhetoric to actual, demonstrable change.”

  • The study will be presented at the upcoming Amazon Studios event VOICES: API Representation in Film & Media on May 20, featuring Dr. Nancy Wang Yuen, Daniel Dae Kim, Nina Yang Bongjobi, Stephanie Hsu and Sophia Ali.

Featured Image Screenshot via Wyatt21x (left) and Movieclips (right)
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