It’s May 3, 2015, 10:07pm in Australia. Lee Lin Chin, SBS’ popular World News and The Feed presenter, TV personality, and fashion icon, tweets
Just decided to win the gold next year, I deserve it #TVWEEKLogies
— Lee Lin Chin (@LeeLinChinSBS) May 3, 2015
What ensues is a whirlwind of a social media campaign trail, #LeeLinforLogiesWin.
The same year, Benjamin Law, author screenwriter and columnist, debuted the comedy series, ‘The Family Law”. The show has since confirmed a second season.
A year later, Lee Lin Chin makes media history as the first Asian Australian and SBS presenter to be nominated for a Gold Logie, the most coveted individual award in the Australian TV industry. (At the time of writing) Korean Australian Dami Im, winner of 2013 X Factor Australia, prepares to represent Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest.
The extraordinary successes of these Asian Australians in the media have been phenomenal, yet serves as a reminder of how poorly represented Asian Australians are in the media. Though approximately 10% of the Australian population are of Asian descent or ancestry, this does not correspond to a more diverse, reflective representation in Australian media. Not even proportional.
Across the ocean, Asian Americans have had similar bursts of successes too, from Lucy Liu to “Fresh Off the Boat”. Yet Asian American media representation has far to go, from yellowface to Hollywood simply not casting Asians for Asian character roles, which has only fuelled more social media responses with #whitewashedout. Many speak of industry barriers like typecasting, stereotypical roles, and requests to do accents. When it comes to casting, scripts, and storylines, this is also laced with anti-blackness and colourism.
Those who find critical and commercial success are not absolved of discrimination and typecasting in the entertainment industry either. #MyYellowFaceStory captures some of these shared experiences of theatre actors. Among them is the celebrated Lea Salonga, a Broadway actress and Tony Award winner known to be the singing voice of several of Disney Princesses, and Constance Wu of “Fresh Off the Boat”. #MyBrownFaceStory trended similarly.
A more visionary Twitter account started by 25-year-old William Yu takes the conversation further: @starringjohncho and its corresponding hashtag #starringjohncho superimposes actor John Cho as various Hollywood Blockbuster leads. The inspiration remains the same: by reimagining an Asian American as a lead, the youth are envisioning the potential and the possibilities of a more diverse, more wholesome reflection of how they can be and how they can belong.
But not everyone is waiting on a systemic overhaul. Hashtags like #morethanexotic and #unfairandlovely have people of colour sharing their frustrations and experiences, dreams and doubts, selfies and self-reinforcement while more mainstream platforms exclude them and misrepresentation prevails.
Twitter accounts such as @PoCbeauty fill feeds with selfies and messages of self-love and punctuated advocacy. @ESEAbeauty particularly showcases those of East and Southeast Asian backgrounds, while @desibeautyy does the same for the South Asian diaspora. Multiracial people share their selfies and experiences of not having their heritage recognised by others. Some interactions aim to subvert white beauty standards, some discuss colourism.
While some users and hashtags dedicated to Asian representation can come about through thought, campaign and action, hashtag activism sometimes begins accidentally, incidentally.
“I started my campaign and hashtag because of a project I was doing for my English class. We were supposed to learn something and create a product out of it. Since I’m super passionate about Asian misrepresentation in media and entertainment and the presentation would be in May which is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I chose to do that. I wanted to use the information I learned to educate the masses and empower my fellow Asians in the process.”
With regards to the means and methodology, Caitlin explained her process:
“It took a while to really see how I was going to start my campaign and I wasn’t sure if people would even take notice of it. I finally pushed myself to post about my campaign on May 5th at around 7:30 at night and it’s been picking up steam since then”.
The hashtag garnered a lively interaction. Some sharing their stories, hopes, dreams and selfies. The success caught Caitlin by surprise:
“I am absolutely stunned with the response my hashtag has gotten! I really didn’t expect for it to branch out of my school, let alone the world!
I hope that this hashtag makes a statement that the media can’t forget. Opportunities like this aren’t common in the Asian community and I hope that this will educate others about what Asians are really made of and how important Asian representation is. I’d also like to see a boost in diversity in mainstream media. The entertainment industry was a huge influence for my internalized self-hatred. By giving more opportunities to PoC and normalizing PoC presence, I believe that this generation’s children and future generations will learn to love their cultures much earlier than I have.”
“Hashtags like this are really cool because they gain so much attention so quickly! This shows how diverse the Asian community is and that we don’t conform to the stereotypical characters media has given us”.
And she’s right. Many interactions state their heritage, even national flags, alongside their (counternarrative) stories and selfies, a commonality that is also shared by similar hashtag campaigns.
But as much as these campaigns are popular, some aren’t convinced they are the answer. One critic, Karin Zhu, a Chinese American activist in Australia, weighs in: “hashtags are reminiscent of food, fun, fabric, and festival events. They’re fun and feel-good. They’re the start of community work, but not enough in of themselves”.
And perhaps that’s what hashtag activism is. From nomination campaigns to social awareness, consciousness, desire for change, and action can meet online before migrating to more tangible ends.
It is now May 8, 2016, the night of the Logie Awards. The Gold goes to Waleed Aly, another Australian media personality of colour who, like Lee Lin Chin, attracted much contention and celebration for simply being a nominee. His win is commendable. And Lee Lin Chin? She is still commendable, too.