Representation Matters: Changing Portrayals of Asian-Americans in Hollywood films from 1993 to 2019 Open Access

Kim, Rachel (Fall 2019)

Permanent URL:


This dissertation is an investigation of the changing portrayal of Asian-American Hollywood films from 1993 to 2019. This period is significant for this study because, before the 1990s, few Asian-Americans were portrayed in Hollywood films, and those that were presented were depicted as stereotypical or as simplistic characters. These stereotypes and simplifications of Asian-Americans were repeated throughout the decades without much notice. In this research, there are three questions to be addressed. What are the changing portrayals of Asian Americans presented in Hollywood films? How do audiences respond to the changing portrayals of Asian Americans? Within the expansion of Asian American representation, how can Hollywood engage with the audience more productively in presenting Asian American portrayals? The study includes historical context of Asian-American migration to the United States and Hollywood respectively, the relationship between Hollywood race, and examples of Asian-American stereotypes before the 1990s. The study also discusses two case studies: The Joy Luck Club (1993) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Then, there will be interviews with the audience to discover the perception and the reflection that the audience on Asian-American, the films, and future steps for more varied and nuanced Asian-American representations in Hollywood. The thesis will conclude with the analysis of the interviewees and the key summary of all of the findings. This study finds that changing portrayals of Asian-Americans are shown positively that there seems to be more in-depth character development and more dimensional that the audience can learn about these Asian-Americans more. However, the changing portrayals of Asian Americans affect the audience is not always effective depending on the audience’s background. Yet, for Hollywood to better engage with the audience more productively in presenting Asian American portrayals, a wide range of solutions was proposed from creating both ethnic-specific stories and universal stories, providing in-depth characterizations, having more Asian-leads, and encouraging Asian-Americans to be involved in the production not just in acting, but also in writing and producing.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: Historical Background 4

Historical Context of Asian-Americans Migration to the United States 4

Hollywood’s Decision-Making Operations & Its Implications 11

Chapter 2: Hollywood and Race 27

Relationship Between Hollywood and Race 27

Asian-American Stereotypes in Hollywood Films Before 1993 33

History of Classical Films with Asian American Stereotypes 35

Chapter 3: Case Studies 43

Why I Chose These Films 43

The Joy Luck Club Film Discussion 45

Crazy Rich Asians Film Discussion 62

Chapter 4: Research Design & Method 81

Recruitment & Methodology 81

Participants 83

Chapter 5: Review of Interviews 85

Identity 85

Films 90

Asian-American and Hollywood 107

Chapter 6: Summary of Findings 117

Conclusion 125

Appendix 128

References 140

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files