I remember the first time I watched Mean Girls, I was barely five years old. I only remembered glimpses of what the characters, and virtually nothing of the plot; nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed watching, despite it being far past age appropriate at the time. As I got older, my family finally purchased a Netflix subscription, and I was finally able to rewatch the beloved chick flick.
Lo and behold, the movie was iconic then, iconic now, and iconic forever. But I am not here to create a film review expressing my love for terribly wonderful 2000’s movies like Mean Girls, Bring It On, and Legally Blonde. I’m here to discuss the deeper issue: how Hollywood has portrayed people of color almost systematically — in this case Asian American women — as far as to perpetuate these stereotypes to infiltrate and impact Asian American women negatively in real life, disguising the issue as “comedic relief.”
For those of you who watched Mean Girls, the character, Trang Pak, was the leader of the “cool Asians.” Her character was entirely limited to her being part of this Asian clique that disengaged from interaction with other characters outside of their ethnicity and social status. In addition, Trang Pak, and later on in the movie, her other cool Asian friend, both are discovered to have an illegal affair with the P.E. teacher, Coach Carr, which also normalizes illegal relationships between minors and teachers at school (don’t even get me started about the power imbalance or the glamorization of pedophilia, or this article may go on to become a novel). At first glance, I didn’t grasp much of the issue at hand here. But looking back, I’ve realized that some of my perspectives about my own community were completely influenced and somewhat brainwashed by the stereotypes portrayed in the movie. All my life, I have been running from the possibility of being stereotyped, especially afraid of being part of the “cool Asians” or being part of the “Asian nerds.” When in reality, I shouldn’t have ever have had to run in the first place, as the only reason these stereotypes exist is because society lets them and is fueled by these prejudices in order to maintain this myth: all Asians, particularly, East Asians can be grouped into identical groups, in terms of appearance and even personality. All my life, I have been living in subconscious fear. And until recently, I never understood how oversexualized Asian American women were in the media. This has only added to my fear, or perhaps I am beginning to gain more consciousness of it.
Until the recent widespread news of the Atlanta Spa Shootings, the issue of the fetishization of Asian American women, and even hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans, has been overlooked. Yet as each day passes by, I become less blindsided by the normalization of these stereotypes that was fed to me as a child and become more committed to dismantling them. Things like Asian women being assumed to be a terrible driver. Things like coining phenomenons like “yellow fever” that only add to my fear of interacting with non-Asians of the outside world. Things like Asian women being considered submissive, which has only led to the oversexualistion of Asian American girls and women that entices people to use its basis as a justification for murder.
And I’m tired of it. I absolutely refuse to hold my head down and uphold this model minority expectation to simply work hard and take the blow against all the stereotypes and racial discrimination. To some, it may just seem like words, or “just a movie.” But our society is far past that, because not only has my community been intimidated by it, but we have been harassed and murdered for it. For this reason I vow to refuse to let my voice be overshadowed.
Will I ever be able to enjoy Mean Girls again? Possibly. But will I become more aware and be able to criticize these racial inaccuracies and harmful portrayals of not only Asian Americans but other people of color as well? Absolutely. It’s 2021, racism is no longer “quirky” and “hilarious.” As Gretchen Weiners would say, fighting for antiracism is “so fetch!”