• Finn Jones (Danny Rand) and Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing) in Iron Fist. (Netflix )
Steffanie Tan explores how the submissive Asian stereotype in Hollywood continues to infuse public perception of her relationship with her Anglo boyfriend.
By
Steffanie Tan

13 Feb 2018 - 10:32 AM  UPDATED 11 Jan 2019 - 2:27 PM

Whenever I catch someone staring at us in public, a switch gets flipped in the back of my mind.

A private viewing of “The Barbarian and the Geisha” plays before my eyes.

I would give a lengthy synopsis of the 1958 film but it’s a classic John West being John West movie in a different country until the exotic geisha appears and seduces him with culture. She’s coy, sensual, and obedient.

Whenever I catch someone staring at my Asian self and my white partner in public, the switch gets flipped.

I don’t mean it to happen but when a stranger publicly gawks at me.

I have to wonder if I’m a living stereotype—if white male-Asian female is in fact a stereotype.

We all seem to be huddled underneath the same umbrella. Sometimes we’re twenty years younger, richer, a gold-digger, or the result of “yellow fever”.  Sometimes we’re more than one of those.

Oddly enough, this is a situation where I don’t have to specify what type of Asian I am. We all seem to be huddled underneath the same umbrella. Sometimes we’re twenty years younger, richer, a gold-digger, or the result of “yellow fever”.  Sometimes we’re more than one of those.

We’ve been accused of that very last one too many times. Either I have an exclusive taste for white men or my partner has an Asian fetish. It’s almost always said as a joke and then later followed up by a sudden interest in our past dating histories…more so their ethnicities, just so they know.

Apparently, my partner and I had become stereotypes within a stereotype.

 Why did these white men find ‘otherness’ so alluring and why were Asian women always so damn obedient? Surely, there’s been room for character development since 1958.

During the first two years I brushed off the jokes but now they seem to hit a wall.

I started to ask myself where people got these ideas from, especially because most of the people asking were my family and Asian friends.

Was I trying to prove something by dating a white person? Like I really had properly assimilated to the white Australian culture from my childhood? Believe it or not, these were conversations I actually had with friends and it hurt.

Stereotype or not, they’re just an oversimplified idea of an interracial relationship, encouraged by decades of clichéd plotlines.

I was terribly uncomfortable by this idea that my partner and I had to have an ulterior motive to be dating one another and for a time, it really did get to me.

I didn’t want to be known as so-and-so’s daughter with a white boyfriend because white Australia apparently gave me identity issues. That’s just another stereotype and I’m sick of it. I didn’t want another label taped over my mouth.     

But it gets difficult when I turn on my TV and see this label play out before me over and over again.

Early last year I watched Iron Fist on Netflix and was confused by their female Asian lead, Colleen Wing. If you have no idea what Iron Fist is about, Colleen just comes across as Asian. When the storyline needs her to be Chinese, she’s Chinese with expert knowledge and skill in martial arts and when she needs to be Japanese, Colleen has a Samurai sword handy. Even though she appears as a tough character, she’s still totally obliging to and gentle with her love interest and protective “white saviour”, Danny Rand. I saw versions of this in The Last Samurai, Outcast, and The Forbidden Kingdom – the list goes on.

To put it frankly, this constant characterisation is infuriating. Why did these white men find ‘otherness’ so alluring and why were Asian women always so damn obedient? Surely, there’s been room for character development since 1958.

For every poorly written on screen interracial couple, I know another who just happened to meet, fall in love, and flip the finger to the fetish talk.

So whenever I catch someone staring at us in public, I tell myself to turn off the switch. Stereotype or not, they’re just an oversimplified idea of an interracial relationship, encouraged by decades of clichéd plotlines. They’re nothing like my partner and I because neither of us ever saw our race as a hurdle between us to spice up our storyline. I wish I could write something more dramatic for this resolution like in those movies but all it took was a discussion between us to know our truth.

Although I have no statistics for types of interracial relationships to prove or disprove any of this, I do have personal experiences. And for every poorly written on screen interracial couple, I know another who just happened to meet, fall in love, and flip the finger to the fetish talk.

The Family Law episodes one and two air on Saturday, 12 January at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS VICELAND simultaneously. All six episodes will also be on SBS On Demand that night.

Seasons one and two of The Family Law will be available on SBS On Demand from Saturday, 29 December.

 

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