Asian-American actors are making headway not only in non-traditional TV formats like Netflix, but also in traditional television networks. Over the last September and October, twenty-one shows have premiered on the five major American networks (the CW, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC), and ten of these shows feature an Asian-American actor as a series regular cast member – that’s just under 48%. But in terms of total regular cast members, only thirteen out of 137 are of Asian descent – just above 9%. This is still an improvement from last year – according to a study by Fusion, only 37.9% of the shows airing on the five networks featured a series regular of Asian descent, and only 6.6% of the main cast members were of Asian descent. So this new season of TV shows is a step in the right direction.
While it is true that only 5.6% of Americans in the 2010 census reported being of full or partial Asian descent, the states with the lowest Asian populations are rarely the setting for any TV shows. To quote Fusion on the matter,
“Think of it this way: 20 of the 103 shows we surveyed take place in New York City, which is home to the largest Asian population of any city in the United States. Asian residents comprise 12 percent of the five boroughs’ total population, according to the 2010 Census.”
In California, another frequent setting for TV shows – and where many are filmed – 14.9% of the population is of Asian descent. A 9.9% figure is a great improvement for TV over 6.6%, but we’re clearly not all the way there just yet.
Regardless, it’s disappointing that less than half of the shows on the networks feature Asian-American actors.
And as important as the quantity is, the quality of the roles is almost more important. Thankfully, TV seems to be trending away from the stereotypes and Asian actors have the chance to be known for something other than their ethnicity like Kal Penn starring in Designated Survivor as POTUS’s speech writer and Maggie Q starring as a lead FBI agent.
TV networks are trending in the right direction for inclusion and diversity, but it’s far from perfect.