Who is the Asian American Man?

Jason Shen
Oct 19, 2016 · 4 min read
Cover photo credit Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya

This summer, the meme #StarringJohnCho made waves through the media landscape. Dozens of movie posters were modified to portray Korean-American actor John Cho as the leading character and these images were shared widely across Facebook and Twitter. From James Bond to Jurassic Park to The Martian to 500 Days of Summer, Cho seemed like he could be the perfect fit for any Hollywood blockbuster.

Note: the 2016 edition of the Asian American Man study launched today (Oct 19). Click here to take it.

The concept was (fittingly) created by NYC-based ad strategist William Yu, and I found that browsing the Twitter feed of @starringjohncho, which Yu curates, brought me into an alternate universe where Asian men have far more than their current 1% share of leading roles.

Photo via http://starringjohncho.com/

But the reality is that Asian Americans, and Asian men in particular, still rarely appear as the main character in films, TV shows, games, and other popular media.

2016 was the year that Asian children were trotted out as a punch line at the Oscars, an event that was ostensibly aware of its criticism as a white-only club. This was also the year where Asian women were violently assaulted in a string of attacks in Manhattan, where Bill O’Reilly ran a strange and caricature-ridden segment featuring antagonistic interviews with New Yorkers in Chinatown, and where The New York Times published an open letter from an US-born man of Asian descent confronting the white woman who shouted “go back to your fucking country” at him.

But these incidents are not the full story.

In 2016, a massive petition let Disney know loud and clear that 110,000 people were watching them to choose cast members with Asian descent and reject a “white savior” plot line. The funny and at-times poignant Fresh Off the Boat was renewed for a 3rd season, Ali Wong debuted an uproarious Netflix comedy special shot while 7 months pregnant, and Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang won an Emmy for an episode of their show Master of None where two Asian American men sit down with their parents to learn about their past.

It is in this context that we introduce the 2016 edition of the Asian American Man study. To many, Asian Americans, and Asian American men in particular, can be collapsed down to a series of generalizations. Our study’s first edition, conducted in November of 2015 with 350 Asian men, revealed that Asian men span a wide gamut of attitudes, beliefs and experiences. Our finding received coverage on The Atlantic, NBC’s Asian America, and were read by over 50k people in 48 hours here on Medium.

We’ve expanded the study this year to be more inclusive of South and Southeast Asian men, added questions about location, industry, income, and politics, and removed questions that seemed less valuable. We also added some open text questions like “Which Asian American man do you admire most and why?” so that Asian American men can describe their feelings and experiences in their own words.

Race is a difficult topic in this country and there are important conversations and efforts happening all over America to address immigration reform, police brutality, the industrial prison complex, Islamophobia and other serious issues that affect people of color. We do not intend to take away from that urgent work. And while our project focuses on Asian men, we do not wish to diminish the struggle of our female counterparts, and we definitely do not ascribe to the worldview of the so-called men’s rights activists.

We simply believe there is a lot that all of us could stand to learn about Asian American men, and that this understanding might help foster a more open, free, diverse, and equitable society. If you believe in this goal as well, then help us by sharing this survey with people you know.

Take the 2016 Asian American Man Study (study ends Nov 19)

Jason Shen

Written by

Serial entrepreneur & Asian American advocate. Co-Founder and CEO of Midgame.gg - esports analytics co. TED, Etsy, Stanford, Y Combinator alum. BOS ✈ SF ✈ NYC.