Although significant progress has been made in the past few years in opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on prime-time television, they remain underrepresented, marginalized and relegated to token appearances on comedies and dramas, the summation of a new study released Tuesday.
“Tokens on the Small Screen,” conducted by professors and scholars from six California universities, is a 10-year follow-up to and expansion of an earlier examination of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on prime-time series.
“With successful shows like ‘Master of None’ and ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ on the air, it may seem that Asian Americans are making greater strides on television,” Christina B. Chin, an assistant professor at California State University, Fullerton, and one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.
“Yet, when we take a deeper look at the larger TV landscape, we start to see that these shows are the exception rather than the rule,” Chin said. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders actors and their stories are still tokenized or missing.”
The release of the study comes a few months after a furor was sparked when CBS declined to offer salary parity to two Asian cast members of “Hawaii Five-0,” Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who subsequently left the show. The stars of the drama are white males — Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.
“Tokens on the Small Screen” evaluated scripted shows on broadcast and cable television, as well as streaming services, that aired between Sept. 1, 2015, and Aug. 31, 2016.
Leaders of the study said the lack of minority inclusion on TV closely parallels the situation that ignited the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.
Among the major findings:
White performers are dominant in the prime-time landscape, comprising nearly 70 percent of all TV series regulars compared to 4 percent of Asian Americans, according to the study. Pacific Islanders make up just 0.2 percent of series regulars.
More than 64 percent of all series do not feature an Asian American or Pacific Islander as a series regular. In contrast, 96 percent of series have at least one white series regular. Also, the majority of shows set in cities heavily populated by Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders have no Asian American or Pacific Islanders regulars.
If they are cast, Asian American and Pacific Islander regulars are mostly eclipsed by their white counterparts, who are on screen more than three times longer.
More than two-thirds of shows with Asian American or Pacific Islander regulars have just one.