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Why Do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen in Film and Television?

Yet elsewhere in the arts, Asian-Americans have flourished: as poets, writers, directors, photographers, fashion designers, architects, interior decorators and visual artists. The creative offerings of Asian-Americans — from Vera Wang’s fantasy wedding dresses to the fiction of Jhumpa Lahiri to the haunting cinematography of Hiro Murai, the director of Donald Glover’s television show “Atlanta” — aren’t just accepted but celebrated. Only in the representational arts do Asians remain unseen — mostly in film and television, but in music, too, and, to a lesser degree, on the runway.

In other words: It is only when we are hidden that we are allowed to succeed. Which leads to a more troubling but inevitable conclusion: that there is something about the very physiognomy of the Asian face that American audiences still cannot or will not accept.

EXOTIC, OPPORTUNISTIC prostitutes. Sexless, emasculated eunuchs. Submissive young girls. Savage, untamed creatures. Coolies. Filth. The earliest stereotypes about Asian-Americans were formed after the first wave of immigration in the mid-1800s, when Chinese immigrants were brought in by the thousands to help build the railroads that would eventually crisscross the western half of the nation. They were cheaper than American and European laborers, and they were made to work longer hours. But they were also hired because they were willing (though did they really have a choice?) to do the more dangerous work — clearing the path along perilous mountain ridges with dynamite, blowing up granite rock to create tunnels, often getting trapped inside mountains or swept away in avalanches — that others refused to do.

Their arrival was called the Yellow Peril. Asian immigrants were seen as invasive and threatening to an entire American way of life, and over the

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