Upon watching the 2000 film adaption of Charlie’s Angels, I remember being captivated by the women’s strength both physically and in their own confidence. For Lucy Liu who plays angel, Alex Munday, this sentiment also rings true but for a far more important reason. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Liu reflects on how the role has “moved the needle” for the Asian community on screen.
“Hollywood frequently imagines a more progressive world than our reality; it’s one of the reasons Charlie’s Angels was so important to me,” Liu writes. “As part of something so iconic, my character Alex Munday normalized Asian identity for a mainstream audience and made a piece of Americana a little more inclusive.”
She continues, “Asians in America have made incredible contributions, yet we’re still thought of as Other. We are still categorized and viewed as dragon ladies or new iterations of delicate, domestic geishas—modern toile. These stereotypes can be not only constricting but also deadly.”
Not only is type-casting a huge problem in the entertainment industry, the media has a lot to answer for in the stigmatization of Asian people. She writes that she was prevented from accepting certain roles throughout her career to avoid reinforcing stereotypes.
“Why not call Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox or Daryl Hannah a dragon lady?” she says. “I can only conclude that it’s because they are not Asian. I could have been wearing a tuxedo and a blond wig, but I still would have been labeled a dragon lady because of my ethnicity.”
Particular attention on racism towards the AAPI community has been amplified in recent months after a mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia. The attack took the lives of six Asian women. Instagram call-out account, Diet Prada, published a lengthy opinion post on how Hollywood’s portrayal of Asian women is further harming women.
“Historically, Hollywood’s portrayal of marginalized people is almost always rooted in a complex mess of reductive stereotypes, caricatures, and misinformation, reflecting a hard truth about America and its legacy of racism,” the account wrote in the caption. “Sometimes, this manifests as “harmless jokes” like heavily accented speech or making Asian women’s genitalia a punchline. More often, they perpetuate dangerous stereotypes of Asian women as exotic beings who are either hyper sexualized temptresses or submissive and lack any agency. These stereotypes have reverberated through our culture for decades, leaving harmful effects.”