Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Girl in the mirror

I’ve long since gotten over the expectation that what I see on my television will be an accurate reflection of what I see in the mirror each morning (and night, or really anytime of day I happen pass a mirror and feel vain). TV is by and large the domain of a bunch of impossibly heroic/dramatic/photogenic cops/doctors/lawyers and the occasional impossibly perceptive writers/mentalists/math geniuses who all dress really well and have uniformly blinding white teeth. After all these years of owning a remote, I’ve come to expect it. Just like, unfortunately, I’ve come to expect that a good 80 to 90 percent of those impossibly heroic/dramatic/photogenic cops/doctors/lawyers and occasional impossibly perceptive writers/mentalists/math geniuses with the impossibly white teeth will be white themselves. Sure, TV gives us a sassy black friend or wise brown coworker or whatever other ancillary character they deem OK to be a less white shade of pale.

So imagine my pleasure this season when a few more faces on my television – not a ton mind you, but an important few – look a little more like me. We have Lucy Liu in the CBS crime drama “Elementary,” Mindy Kaling on the FOX sitcom “The Mindy Project,” Suzy Nakamura in the “NBC comedy “Go On” and Jamie Chung on the returning ABC fable “Once Upon a Time” have all offered up major new female characters of East Asian or South Asian descent. Sure, a handful of characters may not seem like a lot. But it’s more than we get most years. Especially considering the number of major broadcast network shows with major female Asian/South Asian characters currently can be counted on only one hand – “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Good Wife,” “Glee,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “Bones.” I might have missed a few here and there, but not many.

So why am I excited about Lucy, Mindy, Suzy and Jamie? Because as numbed to the status quo as we all become consuming media day in and day out, it’s always nice to be reminded that, yes, Virginia, there are other ethnicities out there. And there is still something unspeakably powerful about seeing someone who looks at least a little more like you on TV. In fact, I remember the very first show I saw that centered around a female Asian character. And I remember being ridiculously excited to watch it. That was back in 1994 when Margaret Cho’s “All American Girl” debuted. The show, it turns out, sucked. But by no fault of Margaret’s. But my thrill at finally seeing someone like myself on TV remained. It mattered then and it matters now.

Of course, this new mini-wave of Asian female characters is but a drop in the bucket when you consider that combined East and South Asian population is close to 3 billion people. That’s a big honking chunk of the world’s overall population of 7 billion folks. But, hey, we’ve got four new female faces on our TV this fall. So, you know, baby steps. Anytime TV looks a little more like all of our collective mirror, it’s something to smile about.

p.s. I totally already ship Mulan and Sleeping Beauty. Bring it, Sleeping Warrior.


Carol A said...

I don't get the Sleeping Beauty / Mulan shipping! Mulan rocks but Sleeping Beauty is a total pain in the ass, Mulan can do better!

Scissorrunner said...

Hi Dorothy,

Thank you for your post. Not sure if this has been brought to your attention, but don't forget 'Nice Girls Crew' is available to watch on Comcast for the whole month of October!

It's a mini webseries/short produced by the Center for Asian American Media, starring Sheetal Sheeth ('I Can't Think Straight', The World Unseen') and Lynn Chen and Michelle Krusiec ('Saving Face')about three childhood friends who start a book club.

You can check out the trailer here -

It's seems like a smart, funny and dynamic series with three very talented (and very gorgeous) South-East Asain-American women, so hopefully a lot of people support it!

Anonymous said...

I know Lucy is wearing a tank top in this post, but it still doesn't qualify it for Tank Top Tuesday and that makes me a little sad.

Also, I think a lot of us here can agree with your centiment on this post whether white (as I am) or not. Mostly because it's what it's like knowing there are gay ladies (or guys for that matter) in the evening line up. That seeing-something-like-yourself on TV is very cool!

banjo_di said...

Does CW's Nikita not count? Maggie Q??? Omg, *swoon*. I think the new season starts oct. 19th!

Burns the Fire said...

It sucks that TV has been white-washed from the beginning, but I'm glad you celebrate the baby steps towards equality. Ya!!

Anonymous said...

I didn't expect much from Elementary, especially since I am a huge fan of the BBC Sherlock. And, of course, the show lacks the depth and sublety of the British version. In fact, the ONLY saving grace is Lucy. I never really watched anything she did before (I know, I know) but she has taken a poorly written character and elevated it to quite watchable based on her acting talent. So, I will hang in with this show because of Lucy. I'm not Asian but I appreciate that tv is showing these characters are smart and capable (my experience in real life) and not creating caricature sidekicks.

Carmen SanDiego said...

Lucy Liu is the only reason I will continue to watch Elementary

Kristan Hoffman said...

Fellow Asian female here, and I completely agree! Also, don't forget Maggie Q on the surprisingly decent Nikita.

Btw, if we want networks to keep doing this, and to do MORE of it, then we have to tune in!

Anonymous said...

hey I am white and I love ethnic people...I love the foods, the different mind tocetosets and I learn from all..bring them on....maybe this stupid might learn more if we all live in different countries from time to time..and , oh yes, I have lived long times in all three countries of North America...I loved every single minute of much to short a time...

lorinb79 said...

Do you know why I'm excited about Jamie? That moment she took the helmet off. That. Holy hell.

Anonymous said...


But darlings please give those 'Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth' and their 'controlled demolition' nonsense a wide berth! That shady Gage character is not to be trusted! No darlings, for the *straight dope* (pun intended!) you need to look up Dr Judy Wood!


PS Margaret darling I hope to God you've had a re-think when it comes to old Barry Soetoro!

PPS So far as the loud Texan goes, I trust him about as far as I could throw him darlings! :D