Friday, August 25, 2006

Asian Americans and Network TV

The Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), a national civil and human rights organization, has raised concerns about the paucity of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) on the list of nominees for the 58th Emmy Awards. Of the 16 nomination categories for outstanding actor or actress, only four minorities, one of whom was APIA actress Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy, were nominated for awards. Last year, five minorities, including APIA actors Naveen Andrews and Oh, received nominations.

“The truth is there are few prime time roles being filled by APIA actors,” said Star Trek veteran George Takei. “The networks need to continue their efforts to significantly increase     quality opportunities for Asian Americans and other minorities on  prime time television, and then minority representation at the Emmys will also improve.”

A new report done by UCLA researchers for AAJC finds that APIA actors are practically absent from starring roles in prime time programming.  The new report entitled, Asian Pacific Americans in Prime Time:  Setting the Stage, reveals a dearth of quality roles for APIAs.  It also looks beyond raw numbers to evaluate the type, quality and  complexity of television characters portrayed by APIA actors.

Highlights from the report include:

  •   The percentage of regular APIA characters on prime time television comprises only 2.6 percent of all prime time television regulars despite APIAs making up 5 percent (as of 2004) of the population in the United States.  
  •   Of the 102 prime time programs, only 14 feature at least one APIA actor.
  •   APIA regular characters remain absent from programs set in heavily APIA-populated cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.  
  •   All six networks feature smaller percentages of APIA regulars than exist in the U.S. population, with three networks (WB, UPN and FOX) at less than half and one network (CBS) with no representation whatsoever.
  •   ABC scored the highest percentage of regulars at 4 percent.  
  •   While missing from 2004-2005 prime time situational comedies, APIA actors were featured on three sitcoms in the 2005-2006 season. 

“Despite slight improvements in character prominence and quality, the lack of numerical representation renders APIAs still nearly invisible on prime time television,” said Karen K. Narasaki, chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition and president and executive director of AAJC. “The study proves that APIAs continue to face barriers in obtaining quality roles in Hollywood in front of the camera.”

Of all television programming in the 2005 season, two series stand out in their inclusion and portrayal of APIAs. Lost and Grey’s Anatomy, both on ABC, are highly popular with audiences across   racial and ethnic groups.

Nancy Wang Yuen, lead UCLA researcher, added, “The public tend to rely on characterizations from film and television to formulate beliefs about groups with whom they may be less familiar. Representations of APIAs on prime time television will impact the treatment and perceptions of APIAs in real life.“

The new report, Asian Pacific Americans in Prime Time: Setting the Stage can be downloaded at  Also available on the Web site is AAJC’s 2005  television diversity report card.


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