How Fetishism and Erasure Silence Asian-American Women in Hollywood

By Sameer Rao Feb 26, 2018

A group of Asian-American women in entertainment told Buzzfeed News on Saturday (February 24) how stereotypes of Asian women as sexualized and submissive influence the harassment they endure within the industry.

"Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." co-creator and showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen recounted a 2001 incident in which an unnamed executive who was working on one of her first film scripts sent her an unsolicited email showing an Asian pornographic actress engaged in graphic sex. The email’s subject line allegedly read, "Is this you?"

“Needless to say, my big break was completely taken away from me,” Tancharoen told BuzzFeed News. “Of course, I took all the appropriate steps and sent that email to my reps, but that will forever be what I remember about getting one of my first jobs.”

Tancharoen, like many of the women in entertainment who championed the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative against workplace sexual violence, said that such behavior is all too common in an industry largely run by White men. She added that the perceptions of Asian-American women, compounded by their lack of representation both on- and off-screen, made this abuse seem unexceptional for a long time. 

“With Asian-American or Asian women, there is that stereotype of [being] small, timid, soft and all those things that allow men to oversexualize us and feel like they have access to speaking to us in a certain way," she said. "We’ve normalized that as something we have to just let roll off our shoulders. And I’m just so relieved and grateful that the people are saying, ‘No, we don’t anymore.’”

Other Asian-American women shared similar stories. YouTube star Anna Akana ("Ant-Man") said that the lewd remarks she endures, both in person and online, typically draw on stereotypes. 

“It’s almost always, ‘Where are you from? Hey soy sauce. Omigod, I hear Asian girls are so good in bed,’" she recounted. “When you’re so used to being hypersexualized, [you] don’t even register it that much anymore as a violating thing.”

Actress and rapper Nora "Awkwafina" Lum ("Crazy Rich Asians"), who signed the Time’s Up pledge, said that fear of retribution and silencing of women of color make coming forward even more difficult. "The sad truth is that it doesn’t take a person of color to change things in America, as it’s always been," she said. "It takes a powerful White woman to change things in America. You don’t want to speak out because you’re not going to get invited to the Golden Globes anymore, you’re not gonna get hired for that movie.”

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