Tokens on TV: USF Professor Part of Study on AAPI Representation in TV

A recent study conducted by a USF sociology professor, Noriko Milman, was published in September as a follow-up to similar studies conducted in 2005 and 2006. The study documents the tokenization of Asian Americans in mainstream entertainment.


Alongside professors from other institutions, such as California State University Fullerton, San Jose State University and University of California Los Angeles, Milman and her colleagues set out to explore Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in television media, taking note of screen time, relationships, stereotypes and storylines. Professor Milman was unavailable for comment on the study.


The research team screened for the presence and representation of AAPI actors and actresses on 242 prime time television programs that had run between 2015 to 2016. The findings of the study were similar to the studies conducted in 2005 and 2006, signaling the lack of improvement in the past decade. The study also published a side-by-side comparison of the proportion of each racial group represented on TV with the proportion of each group represented in the population of the U.S. They found that 69.5 percent of TV series regulars are white, while white people represent 61.3 percent of the total population of the U.S. For AAPI, 4.3 percent of TV series regulars are AAPI, compared to 5.9 percent in the nation. This research shows solid evidence of the lack of representation of AAPI in TV compared to white actors and actresses.


One hundred fifty-five TV shows out of 242 have no AAPI series regulars. Out of the AAPI TV series regulars, 87 percent are on screen for less than half the episode, and a majority of those AAPI TV series regulars are the only AAPI on their shows.

Asian Americans are represented disproportionately in television when compared to their actual numbers in the U.S.’s total population. Chin, Deo, DuCros, Lee, Milman, and Yuen/TOKENS ON THE SMALL SCREEN

A major conclusion drawn from the study shows that much of the limited representation that AAPI regulars have are negative, reducing AAPI to mere tokens. The study recognized several stereotypes that dominated AAPI characters on television. The “forever foreign” views the Asian American character as an outsider through accented English. “Yellow peril” casts Asians as dangerous villains. “Model minority” defines Asians as intelligent nerds versed in the sciences and mathematics.


“Nobody thinks about the very damaging consequences of having both a very limited and specific representation of Asian-Americans in media,” said freshman Katherine Na. “It’s very damaging when you’re a small Asian-American child and you’re watching TV and see no one that looks like you.”


Featured Photo: 64 percent of the TV shows reviewed in the study do not have a single AAPI character. Chin, Deo, DuCros, Lee, Milman, and Yuen/TOKENS ON THE SMALL SCREEN


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