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Asian Representation in Movies: Best and Worst Examples Through the Years

Asian Representation in Movies Best and
Star Trek:Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection; Sixteen Candles:Screenshot Courtesy of Youtube/Universal; Aloha: Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Co / Everett Collection

Film and TV have cemented their fare share of East Asian stereotypes over the years, thanks to decades of yellow face, racist scripts and a lack of roles for nuanced Asian characters. Stereotypical Asian tropes written and played by Caucasians have persisted from the dawn of movie-making, starting with D.W. Griffith’s 1910 short “The Chink at Golden Gulch,” to Mickey Rooney’s unforgettable “Japanese” Mr. Yunioshi character in 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In recent years, viewers still encountered portrayals like the horrible 2014 “How I Met Your Mother” episode where three white principals dress in silk robes and Fu Manchu mustaches to dispense sage kung fu advice in fake Chinese accents.

The U.S. industry has tried to recover lost ground in recent years with works like “The Farewell” and “Always Be My Maybe.” It can feel like changes are afoot in a year when the Academy has nominated an Asian American best actor in Steven Yeun for the first time ever and put Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao in the spotlight as the first woman of color ever given a nod for best director. But for many, such recognition is still too little too late.

Here’s a look at some different ways East Asian American characters have appeared in our pre- and post-“Crazy Rich Asians” world.