A friend of mine has recently referred me to the TV show Lost, in a desperate attempt to defend American media and its representation of Asian/Asian Americans. I had no time or interest in watching the entire eight seasons; I managed to get through the pilot + second episode. There are two Asian characters in the show: Jin and Sun. Jin only speaks Korean in the first few episodes. It seems rare to see subtitles on American TV, but more distracting was his English accented Korean. I’m quite ambivalent about the characters as of right now — other than the fact that they are, again, portrayed as foreigners.
Curious as to the later plot + growth of these two characters, I wikipediaed the show (No shame — I’ve also read the entire Hunger Games series in this manner). I found a section on the cast of Lost that warned me that this was probably just another good-intentioned racist American show:
Dominic Monaghan auditioned for the role of Sawyer, who at the time was supposed to be a slick suit-wearing city con man. The producers enjoyed Monaghan’s performance and changed the character of Charlie, originally an over-the-hill former rock star, to fit him. Jorge Garcia also auditioned for Sawyer, and the part of Hurley was written for him. When Josh Holloway auditioned for Sawyer, the producers liked the edge he brought to the character (he reportedly kicked a chair when he forgot his lines and got angry in the audition) and his southern accent, so they changed Sawyer to fit Holloway’s acting. Yunjin Kim auditioned for Kate, but the producers wrote the character of Sun for her and the character of Jin, portrayed by Daniel Dae Kim, to be her husband. Sayid, played by Naveen Andrews, was also not in the original script. Locke and Michael were written with their actors in mind.
Note how Dominic Monaghan did so well in his auditions that the producers molded the existing character to fit him. A similar instance in Josh Holloway‘s case. Locke and Michael’s characters were even written with certain white actors in mind.
But take a look at the people of color in the cast — Jorge Garcia, who also had done well enough to make the cast, was instead written an entirely different part. Yunjin Kim, Daniel Dae Kim, and Naveen Andrews’s parts were also written into the script later on — despite them having excelled at the lead role parts they auditioned for. Why? Because the original main roles had been written with white characters in mind. No matter how well Yunjin Kim did, they weren’t going to cast an Asian American woman as Kate.
So much for a post-racial TV show.