Where are the Asians in Hollywood? Can §1981, Title VII, Colorblind Pitches, and Understanding Biases Break the Bamboo Ceiling?

Asian Pacific American Law Journal, Vol. 21, issue 1, p. 29-79 (2016)

Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2016-18

53 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2016 Last revised: 6 Sep 2016

See all articles by Christina Chong

Christina Chong

University of California, Irvine, School of Law

Date Written: August 23, 2016


Despite America's recent diversity craze, the bamboo ceiling appears stronger than ever in Hollywood. The entertainment industry's lack of racial diversity is disappointing, but the legal system's failure to protect minorities from Hollywood's discriminatory hiring practices is even more depressing. In October 2012, Claybrooks v. ABC held casting based on race was an expression protected by the First Amendment even though an overwhelming number of Whites already dominated the film industry. This article's research study recorded the race of 2,394 actors and actresses and 1,688 directors, casting directors, and screenwriters in 500 films over a span of five years (2010 to 2014), but focused on the absence of Asian Pacific Americans from Hollywood's entourage. The data revealed that Whites hold 84% of on-screen acting roles and 94% of behind-the-cameras positions. Asian Pacific Americans only held 3% of on-screen acting roles and 0.8% of behind-the-cameras positions.

Where are the Asians in Hollywood? argues that the dramatic under-representation of Asian Pacific Americans in Hollywood is caused by racially discriminatory practices that are fueled by implicit and explicit biases. Previous articles discuss the model minority myth in other industries, such as academia, and examined discrimination in Hollywood against other racial groups, such as African Americans. However, existing literature fails to analyze the current status of Asian Pacific Americans in popular films and how implicit and explicit biases among entertainment and government leaders perpetuate the cycle of racial discrimination. This article explores how Hollywood's insular culture ignores diversity by heavily hiring Whites for the acting roles and influential positions behind the camera. If an Asian Pacific American is chosen for an on-screen role, the actor or actress is often typecast as a stereotypical supporting character, such as the model minority or foreigner. Hollywood's biases exclude many Asian Pacific Americans from the casting process and limits employment opportunities to roles that misrepresent Asian culture.

A logical course of action would be to sue Hollywood's leaders for racial discrimination. Unfortunately, the laws created to protect minorities, such as Title VII and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1866, have historically failed to aid Asian Pacific Americans in breaking the bamboo ceiling. This article describes the existing legal options for plaintiffs and exposes how the implicit and explicit biases of America's leaders add another barrier to recovery. For example, race is not a bona fide occupational qualification, but courts allow casting based on race, and legislators believe discrimination based on appearance is acceptable because race and appearance are different.

To make matters worse, Hollywood's misrepresentation of Asian Pacific Americans in stereotypical roles intensifies the implicit biases among society's members. Films portray Asian Pacific Americans as the model minority that achieved the American Dream. However, out of 488 casting calls in 2015, 65% requested a White actor or actress while only 4% requested an Asian Pacific American. Society fails to realize that Asian Pacific Americans struggle to succeed in Hollywood due to employment discrimination and incorrectly exclude Asian Pacific Americans from diversity initiatives. This article discusses an array of industry solutions, such as diversity and debiasing programs, colorblind pitches and casting, more Asians in the arts, self regulation, and organizing with other minorities. But the article ultimately determines the best solution to Hollywood's diversity problem is legislative action.

Keywords: Asian Pacific American, Bamboo ceiling, racial diversity, film, entertainment, Hollywood, Racial discrimination, Casting discrimination, Employment discrimination, underrepresentation, misrepresentation, implicit bias, explicit bias, Claybrooks v. ABC, Civil Rights Acts, Title VII

Suggested Citation

Chong, Christina, Where are the Asians in Hollywood? Can §1981, Title VII, Colorblind Pitches, and Understanding Biases Break the Bamboo Ceiling? (August 23, 2016). Asian Pacific American Law Journal, Vol. 21, issue 1, p. 29-79 (2016); Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2016-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2828261

Christina Chong (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine, School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uci.edu/about/administration/academic-skills/

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