6% of Asian characters on streaming have lead roles and most have ‘proximity to whiteness,’ study finds

Of the top films and television shows on streaming platforms that included at least one Asian cast member in 2022, only 6% had an Asian character in a leading role, a new report found.

The study, “A Balancing Act for Asian Representation: More Visible But Not Yet Specific,” released this week, found that despite strides in representation for Asian characters, the roles often overly “emphasize proximity to whiteness."

The researchers at the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California and Gold House identified Asian characters from the top 100 titles on streaming platforms in 2022. They found that that 42% of Asian characters had light skin tones, 68% of Asian characters were never shown speaking to another Asian character, and over half of Asian female characters’ love interests were white men.

Image: Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster in
Image: Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster in

“We noticed that a lot of these characters often interact only with white characters,” Tiffany Chao, the vice president of Entertainment & Media at Gold House, told NBC News, “and they’re often either supporting their white characters or their storylines related.”

In direct response to the study’s findings, Gold House researchers created and launched a new test this week — akin to the Bechdel-Wallace Test to evaluate gender representation in media — to analyze the quality of Asian American representation, which they call the Gold Story Test. “We decided that perhaps we could spark more conversation among students and creatives to create more affirming and authentic Asian character portrayals,” Chao said.

Lisa Lu and Rosalind Chao in
Lisa Lu and Rosalind Chao in

The Gold Story Test is made up of three questions that evaluate whether a piece of media features Asian characters, whether the Asian characters interact with other multicultural characters, and whether they feature complex stories outside of their relationship with white characters.

Gold House researchers emphasized that the test is not meant to determine if movies or shows “pass” or “fail,” but rather to start a conversation about how to improve Asian American roles in the media. Researchers at Gold House said they are planning to debut the test on social media in the coming weeks and hope the Asian American community will engage with it.

“It’s also not meant to be the end-all, be-all. It’s really just a quick tool that people can use to kind of just spark their thinking and awareness around this topic,” Chao said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com