I remember when the Joy Luck Club came out at the movies. I was dying to see it. You see as a kid that grew up in the homogeneous Midwest, seeing such a depiction on screen was tantamount to visiting a magical land of fairies and dragons. Up until that point I had not seen any true Asian representations in media on such a grand scale. At most, I had public television which provided a measure of media programming that transported me beyond my Midwestern town.
Media representations in “mainstream” media are so critical, because they provide the first—sometimes the only glimpse into another culture or at another ethnic group. For me, growing up in the homogeneous Midwest, the depictions in film and on television would be the images and concepts that formed my opinions in the absences of real contact with said group.
In my own family reading was key, and we were always encouraged to learn more about other cultures and kinds so that we had an appreciation of “all God’s children.” I can remember as a child watching “Yan Can Cook” on PBS, reading “Sing to the Dawn” by Minfong Ho, and as a teenager, “The God of Small Things” by Arundota Roy. But the most momentous event, I can remember was “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. It was quite an event to see a movie almost exclusively cast by Asian Americans based on a book written by an Asian-American. Audiences can love film and media about cultures and ethnicity apart from their own. I am a living testament, for my enjoyment of many!
Writers and media producers must be true to the cultures, people and customs of the those they represent on camera or in books and media. Fantastic themes that play on stereotypes rob the reader and media consumer of the possibility of learning the beauty of another culture beyond their own. The authenticity of culture and ethnicity is a masterpiece, worthy of its own merits, without being altered by false narratives and characters that play to hackneyed tropes.
Good writers, filmmakers and content producers know that there is an artistry in presenting honest culture/race-specific media. There is and there has always been a market for it—what has been lacking for many years has been the opportunity and the means for those who had the will to produce it. I count Asian media as a positive influence in my own formation as a writer and communications professional.
We are in need of more voices! The many things we learn in story-telling from Asian culture and content helps us become better writers, content producers and filmmakers. Creatives like Ang Lee, Joan Chen, others help us to see the world in all of its vibrant colors and textures.