(upbeat music) - [Narrator] Hunky Asian male characters.
- Cause I'm here now I'm all - [Narrator] Some of whom are not the brightest bulbs.
- But you already knew that (beep) - [Narrator] Presenting the rise of the Asian himbo.
- First, the himbo is hot.
Second, the himbo is very, very kind.
And third, the himbo is not really academically inclined.
- [Narrator] Which is quite different from these representations of Asian men in film and TV.
So, when did we go from this to this?
Let's get a Historian's Take on the rise of the Asian himbo in film and TV and what it tells us about how Hollywood is changing.
To discuss this topic, we're gonna need some props, some historians and a special guest.
- Wait, wait, so what is the Asian himbo?
- In the last five to seven years, Asian male representation on screen has gone from romantically and sexually undesirable to very desirable.
- Okay, but what goes on this other axis?
- Previous representations of Asian men on screen portray them as academically competent.
So, nerdy, undesirable and nerdy.
We're also seeing their move to being desirable and yet academically incompetent.
So, between desirable and academically incompetent, we might call this top left area, the himbo quadrant.
- Okay, so I get where you're going with this and I can kind of visualize what we're talking about, but it'd be really helpful for me if we had a few examples from TV and film.
- Lucky for us, we actually have a few examples right here.
Do you know who this is?
- Yes, I do know that character, infamously from "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
- So, this is Mr. Yunioshi - You cannot go on or keep ringing my bill.
- Even though Yunioshi was played by white actor, I think we should include him as one of these early examples of the representation of Asian men in Hollywood.
- He was portrayed as undesirable 'cause he was a nag to Holly Golightly's character, but he also wasn't particularly competent.
He was bumbling and always yelling.
- He would definitely be on this bottom left Yunioshi quadrant.
- [Narrator] So where did this stereotype come from?
- Historically speaking, the way that Asian men have been portrayed on screen really goes back to the mid-19th century.
This was the era of building the transcontinental railroad out west, where more than 15,000 men from China came to the U.S. and laid over 90% of that railroad track.
This was also the same era that gave rise to Yellow Peril, a racist depiction of people from East and Southeast Asia as threats to the western world.
While employers really coveted them for their cheapness, the broader racism all over American society really saw Chinese men as a threat.
As a threat for competition for jobs, for settlement and housing and specifically as a threat for white women.
White nativists used these racial stereotypes as fuel to advocate for the passing of two kinds of exclusion acts.
First, immigration exclusion, which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act.
But secondly, exclusion from romantic and sexual and social life.
So they passed these things called anti-miscegenation laws, in which white women were banned from marrying outside the race.
The various laws and racial stereotypes that affected Asian men in the public sphere also affected the way that they were represented in Hollywood.
A really famous example is the character Fu Manchu.
(orchestral music) This villain Fu Manchu was represented as, not just undesirable, invasive and threatening, but really monstrous.
And so, these various racial stereotypes would have incredible and really insidious hold over Asian masculinity.
- Another infamous early stereotype.
I know you guys probably recognize Long Duk Dong from "16 Candles."
- Very clever dinner, appetizing food fitting neatly into interesting round pie.
- He's definitely high on the competency scale, he's a nerd.
- He's given this really terrible nickname, the Donger.
He doesn't have a lot of time for character development at all in the film.
And so he is portrayed as very undesirable.
Even in the 1980's, that we get these older racial stereotypes, not necessarily about a monstrous Asian man, but definitely one that is the butt of all jokes.
- When Long Duk Dong is first introduced, he's just introduced as being weird and foreign.
- What's happening hot stuff?
- A lot of Asian guys got called the Donger or Long Duk Dong, you know, just because there wasn't anything else to call us.
There's an episode of "Fresh Off the Boat" where Jessica, the mom, is berating Lewis for going on TV and kind of making a little bit of a fool of himself.
- You know what it reminded me of?
Your favorite character.
- From "16 Candles" - Don't say it.
- Long Duk Dong.
- Until something else comes along and you have a different interpretation of what it means to be an Asian male, that's the one that kind of sticks in people's heads.
- This next one's gonna be fun because it's a double whammy.
Kumar portrayed by Kal Penn and Harold by John Cho.
- "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" classic.
Okay, so this is tricky.
Harold's character is portrayed as pretty competent.
He has a professional job, he makes good money.
He is seen as hardworking, but he's also a huge stoner, which is kind of over on the incompetent side.
- We're so high right now.
- Kumar's kind of the same and middling in terms of desirable and undesirable.
- I see this movie as a sort of turning point for the representation of Asian masculinity in Hollywood.
- You know, it breaks stereotypes in a lot of ways 'cause Asian Americans are often seen as kind of squares and geeks and nerds.
It's strange that we would ask so much of say Hollywood to depict Asian men as being desirable or just capable of love and loving and being loved, but that's something that we've had to grapple with.
And so, a film like something like "Harold and Kumar" where guys are seen as just normal dudes out for a night, that also can go a long way towards making Asian men desirable.
- [Narrator] So if Harold and Kumar were pivotal characters in changing Asian male representation, when do we start seeing more of the himbo?
- Delivering Chinese food all day can be depressing.
Like when people yell out, "Food's here!"
as if they have a family.
- Dong from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt", I think he's here.
- We have a himbo.
- We have a himbo!
He's definitely high on the desirability scale and how he's portrayed, but he's not portrayed as very bright.
He's sweet, so he has himbo trifecta and he's right up here as a romantic lead.
- Right around the same place, is Josh Chan from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" - From "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" - He is incredibly desirable.
- You didn't like touch some dirty glasses and then try to pop a pimple on your face, did you?
- And kind of academically incompetent, but very sweet.
- Next one, from "The Good Place".
- Jason Mendoza.
- Jason Mendoza, boom, another himbo.
Reggie from "Riverdale".
- [Narrator] So why has this form of representation of Asian men, a himbo that's handsome yet kind of ditzy, become so popular?
- I think Hollywood has pivoted from the stereotypical, undesirable Asian male figure, to the Asian hunk, the Asian thirst trap, because they started to find that Asian representation and diverse representation on screen was incredibly profitable.
Hollywood over the last five to seven years has had its start at a racial reckoning.
Producers and production companies are being called out for not having diverse writers, not having diverse casts.
- There's 17 million Asian Americans in this country and there's 17 million Italian Americans.
They have "The Godfather", "Good Fellas", "Rocky", "The Sopranos".
We got Long Duk Dong.
So we got a long way to go.
- Movements for a diversity like #OscarsSoWhite or #StarringJohnCho.
- One thing that I really was hoping with StarringJohnCho was to show that it's not just Asian roles that Asian Americans play, we can play the lead actor or the romantic lead in a role that is not race-specific.
- Those all have kind of an additive effect to the conversation about diversity and inclusion in Hollywood.
- These older tropes like "The Hunk", right?
The himbo romantic co-lead, now being opened up for diverse cast and specifically Asian American men.
- Well that just shows like, well, change is possible, you know, for better or for worse we can change the way our stories are told and the way that we are characterized.
- I think that representation is definitely changing, it's definitely altering.
Thanks a lot for showing me your theory and for letting me do some history arts and crafts, we don't get to do that too often, right?
- Yeah, and thanks a lot for helping me out.
This was really great.
- [Narrator] Thanks for watching "Historian's Take".
Make sure to like, subscribe, and comment.
See you next time.