Asian Women on TV: Where Are They?

I watch several sitcoms on a semi-regular basis. They are as follows:

  • The Office (1/5)
  • 30 Rock (0/3)
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (0/1)
  • How I Met Your Mother (0/2)
  • My Boys (0/2)
  • Better Off Ted (0/2)
  • Scrubs (0/4)
  • SNL (0/4)
  • Entourage (0/0)

(Yes, I admit to watching My Boys. It’s funny. I laughed out loud four times while watching this week’s episode.) I’m including SNL because it’s essentially a long sitcom, or many little sitcoms packed together.

I also watch some dramas on a regular basis. See below:

  • Desperate Housewives (0/6)
  • Fringe (0/2)
  • Chuck (0/2)
  • Lost (1/5)

The numbers, as you might be able to tell, represent the number of major female characters who are minorities out of the total number of major female characters (currently) on those thows. Add them all up, and you get 2/38, or about 5%.


Why is almost every female lead Caucasian? Even if you pull blacks and Latinos into this survey, you’re only up to 6 out of 38. That seems far too few.

This really hit me recently while watching Scrubs and Better Off Ted back to back the other night. It’s like the same woman is being cast over and over again. Right now on Scrubs you have three blonde women as the leads–one doctor and two residents–and then two more blonde women on Better Off Ted.

Is that what studio execs think we want to see over and over again? Blonde women? Give us some variety!

I applaud The Office for having women of all shapes and sizes as the actresses. Pam definitely isn’t your average casting choice; neither are Phyllis or Kelli. But what about the other shows?

sloan2Is it simply because Asian women aren’t trying out for these shows? Are there 10,000 blondes in Hollywood trying to get a part, and only 5 Asians?

Why do I care? I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m attracted to Asian women. Lots of guys are. My girlfriend’s Egyptian. Are there no studio execs or casting directors with Asian fetishes out there?

But more importantly, I don’t like seeing the same thing over and over again on TV. Scrubs added two new residents this year–did they really have to pick two blonde women who look strikingly similar to the other blonde woman who is already on Scrubs? Why not add some variety to the people we look at for 22 minutes every week? I know for a fact that not every medical resident is a blonde–in fact, I’d say there’s a pretty high percentage of Asians and Indians in that field, from my experience.

Perhaps most importantly, why not add some diversity to television? Diversity isn’t just about black and white–it’s about Asian and Latino and Indian too.

I’ll close by thanking Battlestar Galactica for casting one Grace Park as one of its female leads, and Entourage for giving Emmanuelle Chriqui an ongoing part. I hope other shows take a cue from the ethnic variety those women provided.

12 Responses to “Asian Women on TV: Where Are They?”

  1. Bob says:

    4.4% of US residents identify themselves as solely “Asian” in race, while another 2.0% are “two or more races”, so it wouldn’t be surprising if about one-quarter of those include Asian in the mix, putting the US population at about 5% Asian — the same amount as your straw poll. Are you requesting that Asians be overrepresented in the TV shows you watch? (Given your stated interests, perhaps yes.) I’m guessing that Hispanic and black people are much more underrepresented on TV than Asian people.

    One other thing to note is that this is a poll of the TV shows that YOU watch. Last I checked, you are white, so it wouldn’t be surprising that many of the shows you watch have largely white leads given that networks believe (probably justifiably) that their target audiences want to watch shows about people with lives that in some way reflect their own – race included.

    Now, should the networks take the lead in including a more racially diverse cast in their shows for the purpose of enlightening their audiences and risking (at least some TV execs think, I imagine) their bottom line? I hope they do, especially as their TV audiences themselves become more diverse and more comfortable with diversity.

    One final concession I’ll make (without looking up Wikipedia stats) is that the Asian race makes up a huge percentage of the world population, so if US TV shows had a truly global scope they should probably be something like 60% Asian. But the “people what to see what they know and are familiar with” rule comes back into play again.

    Encouraging you to watch Steve Harvey reruns,


    • Bob,

      Great points. I looked up the same stats that you did, but note that I included all of Asia (including India) in my accounting for Asians. So the representative population is a little higher. Plus, I’d be happy if there were more women of any ethnic decent on television shows.

      I know this doesn’t work well with the statistics, but it’s my take that there are very few groups of American friends that are all white. So why is every group of friends on TV all white?

      Last, I don’t think it’s too much of a risk to put an attractive Asian or Hispanic or Indian or Middle Eastern woman on TV. Look at Lana on Smallville–she’s why people watch that show!

      Good comment, though. Thanks!

      • Susie says:

        I have to disagree with your assertion that there aren’t too many groups of American friends that are all white. Your perception is probably skewed by the fact that you currently live in St. Louis, which has a decently large number of ethnic minorities, especially compared to, oh, say the middle of Iowa or Nebraska. Having moved from a large, liberal (read: diverse) city to a smaller, more conservative (read: homogenous) one, I can speak from personal experience that there are many places in this country where there are groups of all white friends. There are even large areas of Denver where you walk around and actually do not even see ethnic minorities at all, let alone watch them interact with their white friends. I can’t imagine that small towns in the middle of the country are diverse whatsoever. This might be part of the viewing population that is taken into consideration when casting??

        And also, what about Carla on scrubs? She’s a latina woman, whose ethnic background is brought up fairly frequently, and she’s definitely a main character (more so than the new, white folk they brought on this season)

  2. Rachel says:

    I just want to put in a request for more American Indian (or Native American) women and men on TV and in general media. I don’t really know how many actors fit that identity, but I feel like it’s a neglected piece of our nation’s heritage and current composition.

  3. Big Papi says:

    I think you need to watch Grey’s Stegasaurus. Sandra Oh is an Asian lead on that show, and there are not one but TWO black doctors and I think there may even be a LGBT representative on the show. How’s that for diversity!!!!

  4. Trevor says:

    I know you and Bob touch on this a little, but there are two points when you specifically segregate Indians from Asians in this post (mention Indians separately from Asians). Why is that? Do you specifically want to point out to the reader that you’re including India in “Asian”? If so, are there other Asian countries that you do not wish to further represent? Personally, I’ve always had a thing for Bengladesh.

    By the way…Did you know that if greater/metro St. Louis, Missouri were a sovereign nation, it would rank 138th out of 222 countries in the world in terms of population–just above Jamaica.

  5. Susie–Good points. I guess the “groups of friends” theory really depends on where you live.

    I didn’t include Carla because I was focusing more on Asians, but I would include Hispanics in the overall assertion. I wish, though, that Carla could just be Carla sometimes–the show writes her as if she’s completely defined by her Hispanic-ness, exaggerating stereotypes for the sake of humor. Think about the show Friends. Couldn’t you just replace one of the characters with an Asian-American woman and not make a big deal about it? Not have every joke she says be something regarding her race?

  6. Legal Highs says:

    this is great, thanks!

  7. Neeraja says:

    Yet you voted for Ariel instead of Jasmine.

    Stop trying to hide behind “Asian Pride” posts, you racist.

    (P.S., for those of you who don’t know, Jamey is a very good friend of mine AND I’m Indian, so it’s totally cool that I falsely accuse him of racism.)

  8. josh says:

    No not great points by anyone this is stupid Stalinism all round. Please show me any female lead on a tv show that can keep a broad audience entertained. I don’t know of any at all. I’d really like to see an asian woman carry a show, any woman for that matter. The closest I’m seeing is Amy Poehler on parks and rec. Tina Fey certainly doesn’t everyone else in the cast is far more interesting then her sociopath character. The rest of the shows with women leads only interest women or gay people. They are filled with male model types. It’s pathetic. The middle is a show based around stories of a family with the woman mother narrating, greys anatomy is trashy daytime television in a hospital perpetuating the fallacy that medical doctors have a clue what they are doing. 2 broke girls is probably another. There simply are not a lot of females that can carry shows without making them about trashy.

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