“I am fed up with being stereotyped as either a subhuman or superhuman creature. Some are superachievers, most are average citizens, and a few are criminals. They are only human–no more and no less.” – Phillip K. Chiu, Asian American Writer
Have you ever seen a character of color in films that can, quite literally, do no wrong?
They always seem have an innate know-how of everything but yet defer to the main character for important decisions. They’re great at solving math problems, physics problems and also has (INSERT MASTERY OF ANY SKILL HERE) but ultimately, are not as important to the plot.
These characters are called the Model Minority. And its sad to say that even though they are there, they count as misrepresentation of minorities within fictional characters. The brunt of this goes to Asian characters, especially those of East Asian descent, who’s existence in the media are typically super achievers.
TVTropes, a website specializing in defining plot tropes within the cinematic medium, defined it like this:
“She may not be the star who actually saves the day (or she often will but will simply not get public credit for it, but since she’s so selfless she doesn’t really care), but she will never hinder the progress of the team. In fact, this trope is far more blatant if she’s in a relatively minor role but is consistently better than the non-minority male lead at damn near everything (and yes, the unspoken premise is often precisely that she should be the leader). There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground between this and the Faux Action Girl; people go to extremes. The sad irony? The creators usually want the audience to be proud of or in awe of this character; instead, the character is just so perfect that she’s hated by the audience (and sometimes in-universe too) with all the fires of Hell.”
The key thing here is that the Model Minority is always the sidekick despite being a hell of a lot more competent than the main character. Why is that? Why do minorities have to give their best and STILL end up being on the sidelines when they are vastly overqualified for their role?
People may bring up the defense that the character is comfortable where they are, but they are WRITTEN that way. It is a creative CHOICE, and the more you realise that it is, the more frustrating Hollywood seems to be in patting their backs on this supposed “progress”.
Let us live, writers! Be more creative with your problems for minorities rather than being just a choice of either “I’m too much of an over-achiever”/”I’m not achieving enough”. Because being judged only by our merits instead of the content of our character is what makes your lazy portrayal of minorities in fictional characters boring and two-dimensional. A fate that sadly all minority characters go through.
I’ll just end with this clip from the amazing Chris Rock (note, your fav caucasian characters are probably the dentist in this analogy).