It’s great that television writers and producers are slowly making pop culture more diverse, but that doesn’t mean every non-white character on TV represents a step forward. Some programs seem to do nothing but pump racial stereotypes into the public sphere, which is just really disappointing in 2012. From geeky and pathetic Asian characters to a biracial genie who’s literally an object in a white lady’s house, our top picks after the jump. Let us know about any other questionable depictions that have been bugging you in the comments.
Han Lee, 2 Broke Girls
In the most recent episode of this new CBS sitcom, Beth Behrs kisses an incredibly hot Asian man, played by Tim Chiou. This is all well and good, but the reason the show even hired a “hot Asian guy” to begin with (and they were looking specifically for someone Asian, because that’s exactly what it said on the call sheet) is because of all the flack they’ve gotten for the extremely racist portrayal of their other Asian character, Han, who’s shown to be desperate, out of touch, and pathetic, and speaks very broken English. Sorry, guys — one cool Asian doesn’t cancel out a season’s worth of stereotypes.
Almost everyone on Rob
This new CBS comedy is about Rob Schneider’s character attempting to connect with his wife’s large Mexican family, most of whom do not like him. It seems as though he’s supposed to be a sort of Archie Bunker character who makes awful stereotypical jokes and then is promptly dismissed by, you know, reality, but in this world the stereotypes seem to be true – the members of Maggie’s family are almost entirely defined by their Mexican-ness, right down to the mute, diminutive grandmother with a shrine to Jesus in her bedroom. We’re all for more Latino characters in primetime, but this is a pretty horrifying way to do it.
Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang, Glee
Quick, try to describe Mike and Tina without talking about what they look like or how they dress. You can’t, can you? Mike can dance and Tina can sing, but so can everyone else on that show, so they aren’t really that special there. Nope, what makes them unique is that they’re Asian. That’s it. They met at Asian camp, they have “Asian kisses,” and when they don’t get A’s in class, they call their grades “Asian F’s.” Also, both their last names are “Chang.” Sigh.
Principal Figgins, Glee
Really, we could probably spend the rest of this post on Glee, but we just want to touch on the kids’ principal, Mr. Figgins, and then we’re done, we promise. This Indian-American authority figure is repeatedly made the butt of ethnic jokes – for example, one character hugs him and says he smells of curry.
Rajesh Koothrappali, The Big Bang Theory
Speaking of Indian characters getting the short end of the stick! Despite being the most attractive member of the cast (seriously, look at him!), Kunal Nayyar is stuck playing the awkward, nerdy Raj, who’s so socially dysfunctional that he can’t even speak in the presence of women, let alone attractive ones. And what’s the first thing those girls always say to him when he is stricken dumb? “Do you speak English?” For real?
Magic Mirror, Once Upon A Time
Okay, it might not be totally obvious how this adorable show plays into stereotypes, but let’s take a look at the main cast. There is literally one actor of color (Giancarlo Esposito) in a sea of pretty white women and European men, and who does he play? The Magic Mirror, a genie who fell in love with the queen and became a mirror just so he could be near her. So he’s depicted as this voice of reason for the woman he loves, but his devotion to this superior white woman still makes him an inherently passive and subservient character, to the point extent that he is literally an object in her house. And let’s not even get into the ridiculously insensitive Arabian costume he’s got going on. We know this is supposed to be a fantasy, but yikes!
We love Gloria. Really, we do. Sofia Vergara is a comedic powerhouse. But does every episode have to include some mention of her ethnicity or her stereotypical “Colombian” behavior? Yes, she pronounces thing differently. Yes, she has darker skin than everybody else in the cast. That doesn’t mean she has to wear super-sexy clothing and talk about how things are different in Colombia all the time, saying things like “there wasn’t a dry eye in the cartel” with complete sincerity. Jokes about nationality aren’t completely verboten, but doesn’t her character deserve to be a bit more complex?