Of the 1,300 top-grossing films released from 2007 through 2019, just 44 featured an Asian or Pacific Islander character in a leading role — and one-third of the roles went to a single actor, Dwayne Johnson, a study has found.
In 2019 specifically, more than a quarter of Asian or Pacific Islander characters had died by the end of the movie, and more than 41% “experienced disparagement.” Two-thirds of the Asian or Pacific Islander characters reflected stereotypes, and nearly 20% either spoke a non-English language or English with a non-American accent, according to the study, from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, with funding from Amazon Studios and the UTA Foundation.
The analysis of the 1,300 movies — released Tuesday — also revealed that just 3.4% of the movies featured Asian or Pacific Islander actors in leading or co-leading roles. (In terms of the U.S. population, 7.1% of it identifies in this category.)
Other sobering statistics: Of some 51,159 speaking characters, just 5.9% were Asian, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. In 39% of the films, not a single Asian or Pacific Islander speaking character was included.
The research also broke down the statistics along gender lines: Six Asian or Pacific Islander women were cast in leading roles, compared with 336 white male actors in the same time period — a ratio of 84 white male actors for every one Asian or Pacific Islander female actor.
Only 13% of Asian or Pacific Islander roles in 2019 films were considered “fully human,” which the study’s authors defined as having a full spectrum of relationships and not filling a foreigner, sidekick or villain role. (Johnson’s Dr. Bravestone character in “Jumanji: The Next Level” or Constance Wu’s character, Destiny, in “Hustlers” were seen as good examples.)
The study, led by Nancy Wang Yuen, a professor at Biola University, and Stacy L. Smith of the University of Southern California Annenberg, also found that the 600 top-grossing films released from 2014 through 2019 included just 15 Asian and Pacific Islander characters who identified as LGBTQ. And just 26 Asian and Pacific Islander actors were shown with a physical, cognitive or communicative disability in the 500 top-grossing films released from 2015 through 2019.
The researchers also looked at representation among filmmakers and found that of the 1,447 credited directors in the sample, only 3.5% were Asian or Pacific Islander — and just three were women. (Jennifer Yuh Nelson was credited twice on the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise, and Loveleen Tandan was credited on “Slumdog Millionaire.”) No Asian or Pacific Islander woman was the sole director of any of the 1,300 films in the study. (The research period ended before the release of “Nomadland,” whose director, Chloé Zhao, this year became the first woman of color, first Chinese woman and second woman ever to win the Oscar for best director.) Among producers, 2.5% were Asian or Pacific Islander, as were 3.3% of casting directors.
The study’s results come amid increased hostility and violence toward Asian people in the United States. The nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate said in March that nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents had been reported over the course of about a year during the pandemic, mostly against women.
“Whether through the absence of API characters or via stereotypical depictions, entertainment can be a vehicle that perpetuates inaccurate and dehumanizing portrayals of the API community,” the report concludes.