Under-Representation | Misrepresentation | What Now?

Entertainment has been with us for a long time and the media has a large influence over our lives. Where do we turn to for information? The media. Media can include a lot of different formats but mainstream media such as prime time TV has the largest influence in shaping our views and beliefs. The media can perpetuate stereotypes and cause viewers to form incorrect assumptions about certain groups of people. This is especially true in areas where people are not exposed to a diverse group of people. Minorities have been targeted and exploited throughout American history and Asian-Americans are no different. There are several issues with Asians in the media. There is under-representation of Asians in mainstream media, and there is a misrepresentation of Asians in the media.


In mainstream media, there is a under-representation of Asians. Compared to their actual population, Asian characters have been traditionally underrepresented in the world of prime time television. The National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the Asian Law Caucus, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, and the University of California, Los Angeles conducted a study called Asian Pacific Americans in Prime Time: Lights, Camera, and Little Action to analyze the amount of representation that Asian-Americans had in mainstream media.

According to the study, the percentage of Asian actors on prime time television is less than half of the actual Asian population percentage in the United States while white males remain the main subjects of prime time television. Based on the US Census, Caucasians account for 72% of the United States population whereas Caucasian male account for 77% of mainstream media. On the other hand, African-Americans are 12% of the United States population but they account for 13% of mainstream media. Even though African-Americans are a minority in America, they are still over-represented in mainstream media. The statistics show that Asians are under-represented in the media. This lack of screen time and the stereotypes portrayed perpetuate those stereotypes. Is it an issue? Yes, it is an issue. In the scholarly article, “Asian culture and Asian American identities in the television and film industries of the United States” by Hemant Shan, it is mentioned that the media is a means of expressing cultural symbols which can lead to differentiating groups.


The most interesting part of the study was that Asian-Americans were under-represented in regional TV markets that had a large Asian population. Asian-Americans on prime time television are nearly non-existent in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Even in Honolulu where the Asian population is 62.7%, the Asian-American population on televsion is only 27%. Asians are severely under-represented in many locations. It does not seem as though the television stations care to cater toward large Asian population areas.

Asian Prime Time Population


Not only does the media under-represent Asians but there is also misrepresentation. Numerous stereotypes occur and the Asian Pacific Americans in Prime Time: Lights, Camera, and Little Action study and the scholarly article “Asian culture and Asian American identities in the television and film industries of the United States” have found several stereotypes and assumptions that are common.

Assumptions from “Asian culture and Asian American identities in the television and film industries of the United States”

  1. Asians are treated as a homogeneous group.
  2. Distinctions between different Asians groups are ignored.
  3. “Asian culture” is understood as a single, unitary entity.
  4. Asians and Asian-Americans are treated interchangeably.

These assumptions are incorrect, and it causes people to misconstrue the image of Asians in the media.

  1. Asians are far from being a homogeneous group. It is a diverse with lots of different people from different nations.
  2. There different Asian groups. For example, there are the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Laotian, Cambodian, and etc.
  3. Each Asian group has their own distinct culture and there is no unified culture for all Asians.
  4. Asian-Americans are those that are born in the United States. Asians are those from Asia who have immigrated to the United States. These are two different identities with two different experiences.

The Asian Pacific Americans in Prime Time: Lights, Camera, and Little Action study found another set of stereotypes associated with Asian-Americans

  1. On average, non-Asian-Americans have four times as many romantic or familial relationships as Asian-Americans, characterizing Asian-Americans as asexual and isolated.
  2. The vast majority of Asian-American characters hold high status positions that require high intelligence levels or advanced degrees. These positions include lawyers and doctors. This shows that the common stereotype is that Asian-Americans are very smart or in other words, nerdy.
  3. All romantic relationships involving Asian-Americans in this study are heterosexual.
  4. Most Asian-Americans had flawless English with no hint of accent which assumes that Asian-Americans have assimilated linguistically.
  5. Asian-American males fare better than females in nearly every measurement of character prominence and quality.

The other stereotypes include Asians being high skilled in martial arts. Asians are also considered to be nerdy and socially inept.

Asian Pacific American study

The Facts

The only television network to feature the same amount of Asian-Americans as the United States percentage of Asian-Americans. All other major networks feature less than half the actual percentage of Asian-Americans in the United States. CBS features no Asian-American characters in their prime time programs.

Asian Americans by Network

What Now?

Asian-Americans are both under-represented and misrepresented in mainstream media. It is not fair for the media to highlight certain groups while other groups are being marginalized. To resolve the under-representation of Asian-Americans across networks, all networks must work to increase their number of Asian-American regular characters. In addition, the glaring absence of APIAs in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles needs to be resolved too. Furthermore, screen writers need to stop the simplistic portrayals of Asian-Americans and create more dynamic and engaging Asian-American characters. Consequently, increasing the number and quality of Asian-American characters is not only important in terms of accurate representations of the American racial and gender landscape but also a financially sound decision for network executives.

There is also the emergence of Asian-American celebrities through non-traditional sources such as YouTube. Nielsen reported that Asian Americans watch YouTube more than any other demographic segment. In addition, many Asian-Americans are trying to make it big through YouTube. YouTube does not present the same obstacles as trying to make it big in traditional mainstream media. Anyone can upload a video and anyone can watch it. These YouTube artists are also make a quite a bit of money while doing this too.

YouTube Salaries

The issues exist for for Asian-Americans in the media but there is hope at the end of the tunnel. To learn more about recent developments, please check out the blog here.

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