Why the Asian Hair Streak is problematic

A long time ago I was watching a movie with a group of friends. I don’t remember which movie, but it featured a female Korean character. She had a futuristic pink haircut. “Do you know what strikes me?”, I said, “Why do Asian movie characters always have those edgy haircuts?”

No one responded. But it struck me and since then I have always seen it again. Only when I mentioned this, no one ever responded. Was it just me or…?

I have also expressed this frustration on the Dutch Quora. I got some upvotes, but nothing more. And at one point I forgot the matter. Until last week I read an online article about the Asian Hair Streak. Which means: Asian tv/ movie characters with dyed hair. Apparently more people have noticed it, since the internet discussion has been going on since 2017.

And after reading several articles about this, I think the Asian Hair Streak in movies is problematic. And I tell you why.

What is the Asian Hair Streak?

In movies or TV series Asian female characters often have a tuft of colored hair in their black hair. Often that colored tuft is dyed red, purple or blue. Or sometimes their entire hair is dyed with one of these colors.

Rebellious gotic archetype Tina Cohen-Chang from Glee

These Asian female characters are though rebellious gothic archetypes who oppose the status quo. Examples of this are: Somni-451 from Cloud Atlas, Tina Cohen-Chang from Glee, Mako Mori from Pacific Rim or Yukio from The Wolverine.

At first glance it may seem harmless, but the reason behind it is not. The Asian Hair Streak is racist and sexist.

Why do Asian female characters have a tuft of colored hair?

The colored tuft hair has to do with stereotyping. One is that Asian people often look alike. Of course that is not true, but this stereotyping still often prevails in movies and TV series. A tuft of colored hair would make it easier to distinguish Asian characters from each other.

A tuft of colored hair would make it easier to distinguish Asian characters from each other, like in Cloud Atlas

Another stereotyping is that Asian women are often said to be quiet, shy or accommodating. In other words: boring. Giving them a colored tuft of hair makes them more rebellious and sets them apart from other Asian women. In movies and TV series this rebellious type is also called the Dragon Girl.

Now a lot of Asian women dye their hair (including me) so you may not see the problem very quickly. Yet it is a problem, because there are remarkably few Asian female characters on TV, especially in blockbuster movies and popular TV series. The Asian representation is already very scarce.

There are surprisingly few Asian characters in movies and TV series

Research shows that in 2018, out of 1,200 popular American movies, only 8.2 percent contain Asian characters. That is shockingly low!

And in The Netherlands it is even more dramatic. Despite the fact that many Dutch people have Asian roots (1.2 million Dutch have Indonesian roots!) the Asian representation on Dutch TV appears to be very low. In a study in 2020 it appeared that there was 0 percent Asian representation in major Dutch TV series.

And Dutch Asian actors who are cast for movies or TV series are often stereotyped. Recently I read an interview with a Dutch Indonesian actor. He said that a director asked him if he could pronounce his sentences with a Chinese accent. He replied that he felt uncomfortable because he thought it was stereotypical. The director understood and he was allowed to pronounce his sentences with his Dutch accent. But later when he saw the movie, his voice had been removed and changed with a Chinese accent voice-over.

Actually we still have a way to go with the Asian representation in movies and TV series. So let’s stop with the stereotyping characters and let’s get off the Asian Hair Streak. That seems like it counteracts Asian stereotyping but only seems to confirm it.

Front page photo: Somni-451 from the movie Cloud Atlas

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