How Various Ethnicities are Misrepresented In Hollywood
Sat, April 10, 2021

How Various Ethnicities are Misrepresented In Hollywood

Racism in the Hollywood film industry is very apparent the way ethnic minorities are portrayed in the big screen. / Photo credits by tupungato via 123rf



People are now more mindful of racism and sexism in Hollywood films, writes Kira Schacht of German state-owned international broadcaster DW. Racism and sexism are reflected on screen depending on who acts in front of the camera, who directs the film, or how the characters are depicted. The history of Hollywood contains a plethora of cases of racism. 

For example, Mr. Yunioshi from the 1961 film “Breakfast at TIffany’s” was portrayed by white American actor Mickey Rooney with the stereotypical “Engrish accent” that was often used to mock the Japanese. According to Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist, in her book “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” “Racism, in the form of job exclusion and racially stereotyped roles, has defined the Hollywood film industry since its birth in the early 1900s.”


The Kung Fu-Loving Asians 

Asian communities are marginalized in the United States. Kent Ono, who studies media representations of race at the University of Utah, explained, “Even today, most images of Asians and Asian Americans on screen weren't created by Asians or Asian Americans but by people who don't know much about them.” Hence, this creates an “estranged relationship” between Asians and Asian Americans to Hollywood, as they can’t identify with Hollywood’s “bizarre representation” of them.

In 2012, the movie “Cloud Atlas” was slammed for making the film’s non-Asian actors play as Asian characters. Other notable examples include “Ghost In The Shell,” a Japanese manga series, starring Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton’s role in “Doctor Strange,” where she played as the Ancient One, an originally Asian character. 

Chinese-American filmmaker and author Arthur Dong noticed that films in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s feature Chinese characters on screen. However, they always played the role of servants, coolies, or laundrymen—and if they were women— prostitutes or servants.

In the 1960s and 70s, movies featured a powerful white male character with a submissive Asian love interest. In the second half of the century, the popularity of Bruce Lee and martial arts movies led to the stereotype that “all Asians know kung fu.” However, the most common representation of Asians in contemporary film is the “model minority” trope. According to Ono, the trope focuses on Asian characters as people who have careers in the technical field like being a doctor or a scientist. They are also written as good students or come from good families without the burden of facing economic problems. 



Scary or Sassy African-Americans

In the past, African-American characters were not played by African-Americans, as they barely appeared in Hollywood. If they did, white actors appeared in blackface so they could play black characters. This originated from minstrelsy, an American theater tradition, in which stereotypes about the American-African community “were a staple.” Blackface is less practiced now after it received a “long period of criticism.” 

In the film and Netflix series “Dear White People,” college fraternity members hold a blackface party, using the practice as a foundation for discussing racism at colleges all over the United States. Sadly, new stereotypes were born as Hollywood featured more African-American characters and actors. Until now, black men are depicted as scary or angry while black women are sassy and loudmouthed. It also promotes the stereotype of the black best friend if the film features “one token black character.” They are also the first character to die in a Hollywood film. There is a growing awareness of racial stereotypes but unfortunately, the industry still persists with the tropes. 


The Sex Appeal of Latinos

They are the largest ethnic minority (18 percent) in the United States and they are always known for their sex appeal. Women are depicted as the “Spicy Latina,” someone who looks sexy all the time while holding her own. The men, on the other hand, are often used as flings or as a “Latin lover” to a white woman. In movies, Latinos are portrayed with brown skin and black hair, ignoring the ethnicity’s diversity. 


Germans often plays the role of a villain, specifically as Nazi soldiers or just plain bad guys. / Photo credits by Kamila Koziol via 123rf


Germans Are Nazis or Scientists 

The German scientist trope was probably influenced by scientists who fled to the United States during the Nazi era like Albert Einstein. There is also the stereotype that all Germans love “Baywatch” and “Knight Rider” star David Hasselhoff. And of course, Germans in movies tend to be Nazis or just the bad guy.


The Villainous British Accent

Characters with British accents symbolize villainy in animated movies such as the Egyptians in “The Prince of Egypt,” a Dreamworks-produced animated film. The villains in “Cars 2,” “The Lion King,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Rise of the Guardians” have British-sounding accents too. 


The Tough and Rough Russians 

Russians in movies are played by non-Russians. To illustrate, Dolph Lundgren, a Swede, started his career as Russian boxer Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” Historically speaking, there was a shortage of Russian actors in Hollywood during the Cold War.



Hollywood Needs to Improve

There’s still a long way to go for Hollywood to feature a more diverse cast. White people are overrepresented in movies, which also influences how stereotypes are perpetuated. Ono noted, “We're still facing huge challenges, and there are always going to be people that go back to the historical trove of representation.” On the bright side, there are people who deviate from the stereotypes, and Hollywood listens sometimes, One said.