Column: Written as people

There+just+haven%E2%80%99t+been+enough+instances+of+characters+with+enough+depth+to+make+them+feel+like+people+rather+than+some+token+minority.%0A

Salma Ali

“There just haven’t been enough instances of characters with enough depth to make them feel like people rather than some token minority.”

In my room sat this giant plastic box of toys. It was supposed to hold clothes but instead it held every single action figure I ever had. We didn’t even keep a lid on it because it wouldn’t fit. During elementary school, I would go to a daycare until 8 p.m., so the little time alone I had, I played with my Spiderman, my Superman and Batman. I loved those toys so much. We had to donate them eventually, but looking back I realized one common trait, all of them were White.

Along with that, almost every TV show or movie I watched had White main characters. The times I found Asian characters, they were either just racist or stereotypes.

One of the most famous of these characters is Long Duk Dong from “16 Candles.” His character is a creepy unattractive guy with a thick Korean accent. His entire existence is a joke.

Then if it’s not a racist caricature, other Asian characters like Mr. Miyagi from “Karate Kid,” or Lane Kim from “Gilmore Girls,” are merely side characters with stereotypical roles.

Mr. Miyagi is the wise old man who helps the White protagonist find his way, while Lane Kim is the Asian nerdy best friend who has a stereotypically controlling mother. The issue has never been Asian characters who have race related stories. There just haven’t been enough instances of characters with enough depth to make them feel like people rather than some token minority.

Growing up I was this fat, unconfident Asian kid. While I had the Bruce Lees or Jackie Chans of the world, their movies weren’t really during my time. I would’ve loved to have seen an Asian man in any newer media.

This is why I was so excited when I recently watched “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” It was everything I wished a younger me could’ve seen. Shang Chi had personality and time to show he had imperfections and how he could overcome them. He felt real. Like he was an Asian person and not just the idea of an Asian person.I felt happy leaving the theatre that night. I knew that very young Asian kids were going to be able to see an East Asian man taken seriously, especially as a superhero.

While there has been a push in recent years for more Asian-led movies and TV shows, with big financial successes like “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Parasite,” there wasn’t something for someone like me.

I hope that the effect of Shang Chi’s release will have a similar one of “Black Panther.” While there were Black side characters in the Marvel universe, no stand alone Black superhero movie existed.
After the release of “Black Panther,” there now was a superhero that young Black kids could look up to. It was incredibly groundbreaking. Then in 2021 with the release of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Sam Wilson becoming the new Captain America, well written Black characters have become so much more common. I hope that Shang Chi can be that for the Asian community and be the beginning of a larger movement to represent Asians in media as people rather than token side characters. So that kids like my younger self can see Asian people be everything they think they can’t be.