I know, I know. It’s wildly unpopular to complain when our people (the nebulous grouping of what constitutes “Asian Americans” in the US which generally just means East Asian) are finally becoming mainstream, but come on.
Here are our designated “representatives”:
Jackie Chan (who is not American, but people can’t be bothered to even check), Simu Liu, and Awkwafina. We had Constance Wu there for a second but then the Internet (and other Asian actors) decided she didn’t deserve her fame.
You might think I’m exaggerating. After all, what about Gemma Chan (not American)? And Henry Golding (also not American)? Dev Patel (still not American) all those K-drama actors on Netflix? (no seriously people really do not understand that not all actors are American.
But wait! What about Randall Park? Or Daniel Dae Kim? Or Kelly Marie Tran? Sure, yes, these people are also representation. But really think about them. Randall Park is stuck playing a lovable loser. Daniel Dae Kim gets the leading man treatment, but only as the one who doesn’t end up with the girl. Kelly Marie Tran got so much hate for daring to enter a beloved franchise that she had to go into (virtual) hiding and got all but scrubbed from subsequent installments.
And then came BEEF. Ali Wong! Steven Yeun! Literally every major character in the cast is Asian American! Representation JACKPOT.
But in that glee of finally seeing what feels like the pinnacle achievement thus far for us, too many are willing to overlook the issues. Because for every Lucy Liu (who now happily paints beautiful sapphic art), there is a David Choe.
[In case you missed it, the actor that plays Isaac in BEEF is an admitted rapist. Bragged about being a rapist. And now, a man who claims to have fabricated the story of raping a Black woman earlier in his life.]
Is this the representation we want?
Are we so starved to see ourselves that we can neatly sidestep Awkwafina’s minstrel past and Simu Liu’s MRAzian tendencies? Are we so eager to support the ONE show that actually shows us a range of ourselves that we discount the fact that both Ali Wong and Steven Yeun are standing by their friend and blaming “mental health” for his confession of rape?
For some people, yes. And I get it. It took me some time to really understand that by separating the art from the artist, we give them a pass to continue to represent us. We are sending the message to Hollywood that we will give them ratings for anything Asian they throw at us because we’re too scared to advocate for better. But for those who (rightfully) called for Harvey Weinstein’s exile, why is the idea of rape now digestible for you? is it because it’s “only” one person? Because he is someone from your community? Because it was allegedly a Black woman?
It’s not just that I am sick of Awkwafina’s voice that can’t seem to disguise itself into anything other than a fake Black version of herself (though there is that too). It’s that we can never move forward as a society if we continue to put those who harm other into positions of power and influence. This includes actors and other media personalities. Because why else would non-Asian people still be asking Asian American folks if they know martial arts?
Representation is important. I’m not arguing against it. But who represents us is more important. Do we really feel like it’s okay for Asians to co-opt and profit off AAVE because we’re not white? Because that’s not how solidarity works. The implication is “it’s okay if it gets you in the door,” without (or with less) regard to what it says to the swaths of people who were stepped on in the process.
I’m not going to go into a dissertation about the history of AAVE and the fight to have it recognized and respected as a language — Google is free. What I am going to say is that we should scrutinize members of our community the way we would if they weren’t part of our community. I’m saying that there are absolutely non-rapist Asian actors out there who could have fulfilled Issac’s role and therefore avoided all of this. I’m saying that men don’t get a pass at rape (attempted or “successful,” as Choe described it) or only showing solidarity when it’s politically convenient (see Liu’s deleted tweets about Mark Wahlberg’s hate crimes right before working on a film together) just because they’re starting to become household names in non-Asian American households.
No, it’s not okay that Johnny Depp’s PR team targeted Amber Heard and has now put survivors of domestic violence even more at a disadvantage. It’s not okay that both Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel did blackface and only apologized after clips of it resurfaced. But in comparing Asian American celebrities against the misdeeds of white celebrities, it only proves that we are striving for whiteness.
Whiteness is not the goal. Getting to oppress others and still hold status should not be the goal. Equality is only achieved if we consider everyone equal and yes, that includes the voices of further marginalized people like queer poc or poc disabled people. We should not be striving to “baby step” our way up the ladder of power at the expense of others — some of which are from our community.
Like all my blog posts, I didn’t set out to write an entire thesis about this. These are just my unfiltered thoughts on a page. But I hope reading this will cause you to really think about what (or rather, WHO) you, personally, are willing to sacrifice in society in the name of representation for yourself.
*I watched 4 episodes of BEEF before learning about Choe’s past and have not watched it since.
2 responses to “I have BEEF with AsAm representation”
I’m a Black woman who watched and enjoyed Beef in the three days or so before the scandal dropped and everyone found out that David Choe was a terrible person. While I liked the show, thinking anout it and everyone involved leaves a sour taste in my mouth now. I appreciate the solidarity and your reflection on representation in this post.
I think the aspiration for many up and coming minorities (not just Asian Americans) is to get as close to whiteness as possible, and it makes me deeply sad when I see things like that happening. Representation is great, but morals and cannot and should not be compromised for the sake of it. Things like Beef just make me wish we all cared just a little more for each other.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.