In its roughly century-long history, Hollywood (and its resulting offspring) haven’t exactly done a great job portraying racial minorities. Not least among those groups are Asian Americans, who’ve been poorly characterized in the media for several decades. Though things are improving – marginally – historically speaking, films and subsequently television have attempted to put Asian characters on the screen relying solely on broad stereotypes to inform their characterization. These ridiculous stereotypes were once so pervasive, that films and television didn’t always feel the need to hire actual Asian people to play the parts. The examples of this trend are myriad, but here are some of the worst offenders.
1. Long Duk Dong, ‘Sixteen Candles’
One of modern movie history’s most enduring teen films, Sixteen Candles, is also a showcase for one of its most offensive Asian stereotypes. At the beginning of the film, Long Duk Dong is a repressed nerd living with the lead character’s grandparents as an exchange student. Of course, he’s just a few beers away from being a sex-crazed deviant who shouts silliness in broken English.
2. Lilly, ‘Pitch Perfect’
Can she beat box with the best of them? Sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that Lilly spends most of Pitch Perfect remaining so quiet that she’s essentially inaudible. Beyond that, she’s got nothing more to do than stand around being quietly dominated, one of the more pervasive stereotypes of Asian women.
3. Han Lee, ‘2 Broke Girls’
The man who plays the boss of the titular poor ladies, Han Lee is an Asian immigrant who is constantly portrayed as too straight-laced and exhaustively out of touch. He perpetuates the popular Asian American stereotype of being constantly unable to integrate into, or even understand American culture.
4. Mr. Yunioshi, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s
They don’t come much whiter than Oscar winner Mickey Rooney. Yet, when the producers were adapting Truman Capote’s novella for the screen, they decided to cast the Irishman as a boisterous Japanese caricature. His skin was tinted yellow and he wore a prosthetic mouthpiece, in addition to adopting an over-the-top accent. For several years his “comedic turn” was praised by audiences. Since the 1990s though, the portrayal has drawn increasing criticism.
5. The Punchline to ‘A Christmas Story’
After the neighbor’s unruly dogs destroy the family’s Christmas turkey, the central characters in 1983’s A Christmas Story, head to the only open restaurant in town, a Chinese place. That in itself isn’t necessarily offensive, what’s offensive is that the proprietors serve the family duck without asking, and then regale them with some horrible “Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra” carols.
6. Kwai Chang Caine, ‘Kung Fu’
The protagonist of the cult classic martial arts series is supposed to be a half-Chinese, half-American who was orphaned at a Shaolin monastery, but there’s nothing Asian about the series’ star David Carradine, who still pretended to prowl the West squinting his eyes and praying as he (slowly) kicked the crap out of pseudo outlaws.
7. The Bad Guys in ‘The Last Airbender’
The special effects in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender may have been cool, but the casting was total suspect. Essentially, if one disregards the elemental gang designations in the film, the whole conflict is between a bunch of vaguely Nordic gingers, combating the evil menace of a bunch of Asian people played by Dev Patel and Aasif Mandvi.
8. Mrs. Kim, ‘Gilmore Girls’
Okay, it’s entirely possible that there are several Asian Americans with parents who are as stereotypically rigid (and morally upright) as Lane’s mom on Gilmore Girls. However, Mrs. Kim’s need to be pulled kicking and screaming into the modern world is downright questionable, and her constant urging to Lane that she needs to marry a nice Korean boy (who’s preferably pre-med) is so rote, it’s worth several eye rolls.
9. Allison Ng, ‘Aloha’
This one is extra-offensive because it just happened in 2015. Ultra-white Emma Stone was cast to play a mixed-race Asian woman in the Cameron Crowe self-indulgence fest that was Aloha. The casting decision and subsequent portrayal drew tons of criticism from both Asian American groups, and critics, (because the movie sucked in addition to being racist).
10. The Thuggee Cult in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’
Though Temple of Doom (which is easily the worst Indiana Jones film) takes place in the mid-1900s, the principle bad guys are the Thuggee, a cult of Kali worshipping tribal stereotypes. Though the Thuggee cult did exist (and they had a bad reputation), they were mostly just thieves and murderers. There was not a heart pulled out of anyone’s chest, nor was there any fanatical in sync chanting to speak of.
11. Rob Schneider is Not Asian, No Matter How Much Adam Sandler Wishes He Was
Schneider is Adam Sandler’s go-to guy when the comedic icon wants to take a cheap shot at immigrants of every stripe. Rob Schneider has adopted facial prosthetics, and a variety of terrible accents to play everything from a Native Hawaiian in 50 First Dates and an Asian minister in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, to a Palestinian taxi driver in You Don’t Mess With Zohan.
12. Fu Manchu, ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’
London born Boris Karloff was beautifully cast in such iconic roles as Frankenstein’s monster, and the titular character in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His 1932 performance as the very Chinese Fu Manchu however, was a total misfire. Karloff’s portrayal as a man trying to eradicate the white race — “Kill the white man and take his women!” is an actual line from the film — immediately drew the ire of everyone from Japanese and Chinese communities, as well as the Chinese government.
13. Charlie Chan in Lots of Stuff
Originally, Charlie Chan was intended as a means to shy away from the growing “Yellow Peril” portrayal of Asian characters as evil. In print, Earl Derr Biggers character wasn’t so bad. The detective was intelligent, kind, and always one step ahead of the criminals. When that message was translated faithfully to the screen however, it met with little success. It wasn’t until the title role was recast with a white actor in yellow face who played up Chan’s subservience and unwavering adherence to tradition, that the character became truly popular (and truly offensive). More than 20 films were made starring the character.
14. The Love Guru, ‘The Love Guru’
Not content to slowly ruin campy English spy movies one step at a time, Canadian Mike Myers once wrote and starred in a film in which he played an Indian man, complete with vomit-worthy accent and clasped thumb and forefinger. Audiences hated it, not just because it was terribly racist, but because it was terribly unfunny.
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