This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of short essays in observance and celebration of the month’s significance. Today’s submission comes from London-based Vietnamese American alt-pop artist JMSEY.
Film and TV has always portrayed a reflection of our society’s biases.
This is often seen through the media’s portrayal of Asian men, leading to a manifestation of discrimination in real life. I started to really cue into this at about puberty-age when the desire to be, well, desirable, was more of a concern than it ever was before. Up until this point, I never really cared to notice how cultural representation affected me as an individual. But looking back now, I never remember seeing Asian males being represented as physically desirable on tv or in movies.
In Western media, Asian men always seemed to reflect some sort of nerdy stereotype like the doctor, the corner store clerk, or some guy in tech. You’d also rarely see Asians on dating shows or in any romantic situation. And upon reflection, I’ve really tried to observe how much of what I was feeling or seeing was purely the immediate environment I was in, or if it truly felt like a more general perception.
I understand that I’m not the first person to raise this particular observation. I also understand that things have improved. With actors like Raymond Ablack and Simu Liu finally being cast as both protagonists and desirable figures, we are finally seeing some much needed progress. But in order for the progress to continue in an organic way, it is important for Hollywood to cast authentically; it’s not just about filling a role.
It’s about finding the millions of extremely talented Asian actors out there and finally offering them a multi-dimensional role that they can thrive in.
Growing up, I really struggled with self-esteem and I didn’t fully understand why until I became a bit older.
This is what my new song “First Time” is all about. It’s an authentic story about my personal journey toward finally feeling desirable instead of always landing in the “friend zone.” In the very beginning of the song, I detail a very innocent interaction, illustrating a moment from the past when I had met the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. But the feeling of rejection stayed with me, leading to self reflection and ultimately, an analysis of the media’s effect on public perception.
These situations are complex and change takes time. And I by no means feel entitled to attention that I don’t deserve. It’s just fascinating to me how deeply the media can influence frame of thought and the issue of desexualizing Asian male figures has been ongoing. Movies give the reimagined, reinvented version of “what’s real.”
If artists can approach future stories with compassion and outside of the box thinking, then perhaps, people will begin to approach life with more compassion too. That’s all this is really about. It’s a boomerang effect; you get what you give and vice versa.
I don’t want young Asian males to experience the loneliness that I experienced. On the flip side, I also understand that some Asian men in Western society might not agree with my observations or feel as though they had any trouble in the dating world. All I can do is speak from my experience and offer a perspective based on my observations of how things have changed since the ’90s (giving away my age!) and what society can do to progress and in turn, improve. – JMSEY
Stream: “First Time” – JMSEY
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