Major television networks have more work to do to ensure that Asian-Americans become a regular part of the mainstream media landscape, new analysis suggests.
But things are looking up.
The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) released a report card last week evaluating four major television networks on their progress in the minority group’s representation.
Most networks exhibited improvements, with ABC scoring the highest. But Fox was given an “incomplete” for failing to provide data for the report. What’s more, Fox had the fewest Asian-American regulars in its shows since almost a decade ago, according to the coalition’s numbers.
However, with clear gains made in diversity compared with seasons past, Daniel Mayeda, chair of the APAMC, said in an email that he’s optimistic about the future of TV.
“Television has made good progress,” Mayeda told HuffPost of the results of the report, which also evaluated CBS and NBC. “The fact that there are now a solid base of Asian American writers and producers is a good sign for continued future inclusion of [Asian-American and Pacific Islander] talent and stories.”
The coalition evaluated networks in several categories, including the numbers of Asian-American and Pacific Islander actors, the numbers of writers and producers, and the organizations’ commitment to diversity. Each network was then given an overall grade.
While ABC was awarded an overall B score, the report noted that it received a respectable A- in the category of actors. With its 21 Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) series regulars along with 23 recurring characters, ABC set new records in casting, according to APAMC. Three of its shows featured Asian leads, including “Quantico,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Dr. Ken,” which was canceled this year.
The report shows that CBS received an overall B- score and NBC a C+. Though the two networks got lower marks when it came to the numbers of AAPI actors along with writers and producers, the APAMC noted that progress could be on the horizon. Both networks have programs with more inclusive casts and executives in development. Among other shows, NBC is working on a series with a Sikh-American lead. And CBS is developing a comedy about an Asian-American rookie professional basketball player.
As for Fox, Mayeda explained that the network initially did not fully comply with an agreement meant to spur progress in diversity. The major networks had all signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition (MEMC), which includes several civil rights and minority nonprofits, and in part stipulates that networks provide data for the report.
“Fox has a new team installed to advance diversity and inclusion. I am not sure they understood the importance of the MOUs or the role advocacy groups such as ours play in the process to hold the networks accountable and to work in partnership with them to meet our mutual goals,” Mayeda said.
But it seems that the network has had a change of heart.
It is not enough to be the sidekick character who makes the white star more interesting, or the Asian American boss who acts stern and mutters a few lines every few episodes. Daniel Mayeda, chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition
“I think we now have their attention,” the chair said. “They have now begun providing us data, and we will be working with them to ensure that there is a good baseline of data against which to measure progress.”
According to the coalition’s own research, Fox had only six AAPI regulars in the 2016-2017 television season. And most of the network’s series that contained AAPI regulars, including “New Girl” and “Sleepy Hollow,” were canceled. Yet it remains to be seen whether shows featuring more actors from the minority group will take their place.
With none of the four networks given perfect overall scores, the report card will hopefully help show that the progress that’s been made doesn’t mean the industry is fully inclusive, Mayeda said.
“It is not enough to be the sidekick character who makes the white star more interesting, or the Asian American boss who acts stern and mutters a few lines every few episodes,” Mayeda told HuffPost. “In particular, we want to be able to tell our own stories [and] ideally be the stars of the shows or, at least, have prominent lead roles so that we have storylines that revolve around our lives.”
Past research indicates clear areas in need of improvement. A study on Asian-Americans’ representation in television reveals that characters of Asian descent are still often tokenized on the small screen. There’s still a huge chunk of shows that don’t have an Asian presence at all, and many shows that boasted many AAPI series regulars have been canceled.
But with proof that headway is possible, it’s up to Hollywood to continue stepping up to the plate.
“In an ideal world, there are enough different kinds of representations of AAPI characters and stories that viewers will come to know Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as real Americans, with lives that are relatable,” Mayeda said.