Washington Post article from Thursday:
“Asian Americans have gained a presence in commercials in recent years, with companies such as McDonald’s, Verizon, AT&T, Wal-Mart and others featuring them as individual characters and in a variety of settings.
But when it comes to depicting couples, the portrayal goes mostly in one direction: White guy and Asian American woman. The combination may be the most common depiction of mixed-race couples in popular culture; African Americans are rarely glimpsed with white mates in TV shows or commercials, for example. It may even be more common than an Asian American man paired with an Asian American woman.”
Bill Imada, chairman of IW Group, a Los Angeles-based ad agency. “It seems to be okay if the man is white and the woman is Asian. The community thinks it typecasts Asian women as exotic or as playthings.”
At the same time, Imada says, “Asian males are just not viewed as being lovers, as being manly enough, or sexy enough, to carry a story or a commercial. The idea is that they’re not strong enough to woo a white woman. So they don’t get the roles” and are rarely paired with women of any race.
Ads featuring Caucasian males and Asian females play off a long history of such portrayals, says LeiLani Nishime, a professor and Asian studies scholar at the University of Washington. “I think part of the comfort with those images comes from the way they affirm a lot of stereotypes we already have about asexual Asian men and sexually available Asian women,” she says.
Movies typically presented Asian women as exotic and sexually alluring, he said, although the portrayal wavered between the dangerous and conniving Asian female (the so-called Dragon Lady stereotype) and the passive and submissive character (the geisha or concubine). Asian men, by contrast, weren’t just the enemy of the Americans; they were the oppressors of Asian women, who relied on the American as her “white knight.”
“It’s a very powerful media and cultural image, and I think Hollywood still runs with that,” Le says. “It appeals to a core part of the audience — white men.”