Asian American Characters in Orange is the New Black

By Minjeong Kim

In a 2016 New York Times article, Asian American actors spoke out against persistent racism in Hollywood. Although television viewers have seen more Asian American characters in shows Fresh Off the Boat, Dr. Ken, and Master of None, a string of films were charged with “whitewashing”—having white actors fill Asian roles or tell Asian stories (e.g., Aloha, Doctor Strange, Ghost in Shell). This trend prompted not only a number of online petitions demanding Hollywood producers to stop whitewashing but also twitter hashtag #StarringJohnCho, where people post famous film posters with John Cho, Asian American actor of the Harold & Kumar fame, as the lead, to call for more Asian American representations in Hollywood films. The New York Times article also discusses the lack of meaningful portrayals of Asian characters. While the diversity scale in Hollywood has increased, actors of racial minorities are still relegated to supporting roles and Asian American roles are further marginalized. The hit Netflix show, Orange is the New Black (OITNB) is no exception to this insidious trend.

In 2013, OITNB was debuted with critical and popular success for its unprecedented racial and sexual diversity in characters. Since then, the show has galvanized critical debates among feminist scholars regarding its depictions of race, class, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, privilege, and the criminal justice system, and the contributors of Feminist Perspectives on Orange is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays (eds. April Kalogeropoulos Householder and Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, McFarland Publishers, 2016), analyze these various issues from intersectional feminist perspectives. Continue reading “Asian American Characters in Orange is the New Black”