I Am Not a Fetish or Model Minority: Redefining What it Means to Be API in the Entertainment Industry

LOS ANGELES, CA – 3 August 2021: The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, in partnership with the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) and Gold House, released a groundbreaking study entitled, I Am Not a Fetish or Model Minority: Redefining What it Means to Be API in the Entertainment Industry. With the rise of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to consider how the film industry contributes to negative attitudes about Asian communities and whether Asian and Pacific Islanders in the industry feel represented. This is the first study of its kind to combine content analyses of mainstream films with a survey of the personal experiences and perceptions of representation of API people working within the entertainment industry. The study also includes a content analysis of two datasets: 100 films (the top 10 domestic grossing films from 2010-2019) to assess API inclusion, and all films from 2017-2020 featuring API actors in the main title cast to measure the quality of API representation.

The Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) co-hosted a robust panel discussion earlier today featuring leading content creators and thought leaders, including panel moderator Craig Robinson | EVP and Chief Diversity Officer, NBCUniversal. Esteemed panelists included Margaret Cho | Comedian, Actor, Musician, Advocate and Entrepreneur, Christopher Kahunahana | Filmmaker and Award-Winning Artist, Christina M. Kim | Executive Producer & Co-Showrunner, Kung Fu, Jane Lee | Manager of Original Animated Series, Netflix and Fawzia Mirza | Writer/Creator/Director. Opening remarks were provided by Geena Davis | Founder and Chair, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Michelle Sugihara | Executive Director, CAPE and Bing Chen | President and Co-Founder, Gold House. 

Geena Davis, Academy Award-winning actor, founder and chair of the Institute, and BFF Festival Chair, said: “Our study provides unique insights into the lived experiences of APIs working in Hollywood and the negative stereotypes that have existed onscreen for decades. There is an enormous gap between how the APIs surveyed and those in the broader Hollywood community perceive the meaning of the word representation. Having the data and these critical insights from the API community will allow us to drive systemic change in entertainment and media.”

Key Survey Findings:

  • The surveyed members of API communities in the entertainment industry believe that “representation” means “portraying a group of people in an authentic way on screen” (97.6%), but less than half (42.9%) believe that “Hollywood” shares this opinion.
  • 80.9% of respondents have experienced microaggressions, blatant racism (55.6%), and tokenization (72.5%) in the workplace.
  • When asked, “What would you most like to see change in Hollywood, one of the most common words mentioned was simply ‘more.’ More representation, more authentic stories, more API talent/writers, and more opportunities on camera and behind the scenes.

Michelle K. Sugihara, Executive director of CAPE, added, “With 80% of media consumed worldwide made in the United States, we have a responsibility to create authentic storylines and portrayals to push culture forward on a global scale. Currently, there is a disconnect between the real-life experiences of APIs and the quality and quantity of representation onscreen and behind the scenes. The conflation of our many communities under the API banner further compounds monolithic perceptions. Inaccurate portrayals are not just a representation issue; they are a social justice issue that we must tackle together. Here’s to a better tomorrow!”

Key Findings from the Study of Films with API Title Cast:

  • East Asians made up more than half of API characters (57.5%)
  • Over half of API characters had lighter skin tones (19.5% light tones and 42% medium-light tones)
  • Audiences are asked to laugh at almost half of the API characters (43.4%)
  • When API identity is more salient to a character, they are less likely to be seen as sexy.

Key Findings from the Top Grossing Films Analysis:

  • 17% of female API characters are verbally objectified, and 13.0% are visually objectified in the top 10 grossing domestic films from 2010-2019. These forms of sexualization are more common for API women than white women and other non-API women of color.
  • API characters are less likely to be shown in a relationship in top grossing films; 83.3% of lead/co-lead/supporting API characters are single, compared to 69.1% of white characters and 75.5% of non-API BIPOC characters.

About the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

Founded in 2004 by Academy Award-Winning actor Geena Davis, the Institute is the only research-based organization working collaboratively with entertainment media industries to reduce negative stereotyping and to achieve cultural equity and inclusion onscreen. Visit www.seejane.org.