Star Trek and the Misrepresentation Of Asian Actresses

Today’s article of Loving the Alien is brought to you by “I just bought Into Darkness on Blu Ray and now I’m sort of regretting it”.

I understand that Lindolf and Orci think that it is popular to hate on the new movie, and say childish things like we should write our own in response to fans’ increasing ire. It bears mentioning that Star Trek fans do write their own… like everyday. I can think of audio dramas that win Parsec awards, fanfics, 80,000 officially licensed novels, oh… and the fact that Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager) and Walter Koenig (Checkov from Star Trek: The Original Series) are crowdfunding their own personal series.

So… yeah. We fans have written our own. But, that’s sort of besides the point.

Now, it also bears mentioning the first time I saw the movie, I gave it an incredibly good review. I’m not sure if it was the high of the movie, or the bells and whistles beguiling me, because now the disc lays neglected on my shelf, put into my player only three times since I purchased it, and all three times I got either bored, distracted, or disgusted.

Usually, disgusted, and then distracted as I spent time writing why I was disgusted.

As such, I’m going point out one of the parts that particularly annoyed me, and I was surprised that no one picked up on. I’ve seen critical analysis of lack of rank on women’s uniforms for god’s sake, yet no one– at least not in my search of the net– mentioned the Asian sex kittens.


Now, it’s been confirmed that the aliens that are being played here are Caitians. Caitians, however, usually look like this:

STACaitian STOCaitians

The first image is from Star Trek: The Animated Series, and the second is from a far more recent Star Trek Online, so it can be safely assumed that Caitians aren’t as humanoid as the reboot suggests.

However, it really should ring alarm bells in your head if the first thing that comes to mind for a “cat person” that has been canonically designed as a somewhat anthropomorphized lion is to cast a sexy Asian with cat ears and a tail.

You really need only to type something as innocuous as “cat girl” into google image search to see just how demeaning the trope really is, particularly for Asian women.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 10.47.37 AM

But let me take a step back real quick, and really get to the root of what I found so disgusting, and thus so distracting.

I had the honor of attending the Asian American panel at Dragon*Con where Garett Wang (Ensign Kim from Star Trek: Voyager), and Peter Shinkoda (Dai from Falling Skies). It was a fascinating panel about the struggles Asian American actors face, even if it was peppered with racial slurs from a lady in the audience who felt she had the right to say them because she had married an Asian man.

But there were something wrong with that panel, and it was because it was only about Asian American actors. Actors. Never once did the subject of actresses come up, nor were there were any other actresses on the panel.

Firstly, I will never say that Asian American actors don’t have a tough time getting fair representation (Leslie Chow from The Hangover is proof of that), but in comparison to the representation that Asian actresses get, they have it significantly easier.

After all, compared to Sulu, who becomes a bad ass Captain that everyone initially underestimates, the representation of Asian women in Star Trek is low; Keiko and Hoshiko being the only notable examples, though the first is often relegated to “nagging wife”, and the second usually portrayed as weak-willed and lacking in self-posession (except in the Alternate Universe, where she uses her sexy body to take over the universe)..

However, in the movies, which are the most popularly consumed Star Treks out right now, Asian women are not represented at all… except for the Caitians. My point is that Asian men are never consigned to sexualized male power fantasies, or pornographically-driven subplots where their existence depends on the white male pleasing them (though they do have their own stereotypes to face).

And this is exactly why this scene bothers me. Those two sex kitten aliens could have literally been anyone, but they chose Asian twins.

The Asian Twin Fantasy isn’t a new fantasy, and it is always a degrading one in media. One need look no further than Austin Powers for that.

Now, I could go on and on about how offensive this scene is, whether it’s for the fact that their fake names don’t follow Japanese naming standards at all, the fact those girls aren’t Japanese, or the fact they are using a Japanese accent despite all evidence to the contrary. But those are just sides comments on the reality that Asian twin fantasies are about male empowerment and a manifestation of patriarchal/colonial conceptions of Asian women’s bodies.

In short, it’s not only misogynistic, it’s imperialistic. Why it’s in Star Trek in this day an age only goes to show how little Asian American women representation has really gone, and why more attention needs to be paid to it. It also illustrates how deeply ingrained patriarchal conceptions of Asian women really are.

So, yeah… I’m pissed off, and it’s only like four minutes into the movie. Great.

6 thoughts on “Star Trek and the Misrepresentation Of Asian Actresses

  1. So another addition to the Asian women in Star Trek. The only major asian actresses of import in all the Star Trek universe. Hoshi from Enterprise and Keiko from DS9.

    Here is a quote about Hoshi.

    According to author David Greven, “Ensign Hoshi Sato is an Asian American linguist and the communications officer. Prone to fearful fits and generally seen as ineffectual in any terms other than the linguistic aspects of her job, Hoshi is the resident screamer.”

    And Keiko, the wife of Mile O’brien.
    I guess the Federation was not good to the Maquis and to Asian women. In fact a random note from the wiki, it seems that Hoshi did not rise above Ensign for a significant period of time. So apparently the glass ceiling was on the original {Enterprise as well.

    1. Wow… that David Greven quote sort of annoys me. When they let Hoshi be more 3D, she was so much more amazing than a “resident screamer”…

      As for Keiko, I think she gets to be more than O’Brien’s wife quite a bit. Particularly the episode where she becomes a child in TNG.

  2. I have a feeling there’s a reason there’s only two replies. I surmise you delete any that don’t pander to your fanatical tantrum about ‘gender equality’ in movies and television. I’d crap a brick and eat it if I came back and saw my post still up.

    So, you’re mad because the two Asian women on ST aren’t portrayed as larger-than-life? Have you noticed that ALL of the other actors portray a likely and accurate representation? The sexist, pig-headed hick ‘Trip’?

    The road goes both ways, and frankly, the Asian women were given more power and authority than real life does-unless you’ve failed to notice how women are treated in Asia. Frankly, they were empowered more than they should have been. Hoshi, in real life, would have NEVER taken the job, OR stood up to anyone. Hell, I think the episode with her replacing chef in the kitchen did her justice.

    And Keiko??? Sure, in the year 3000+, I expect Asian women to stand their ground and be naggy wives, should they aspire, but now…..Just go to Japan. Or Hong Kong. Vietnam. CHINA. Take a good look.

    So complain about the ‘women’s rights’ of fake characters all you want-there’s real women all over the world being stomped on by men, and arrested for not asking to be stomped on harder.

  3. ETA: Yes, she’s the resident ‘screamer’. Women whine and complain about equality, until it actually comes time to fulfilling the equal role. See a lot of women working construction? It’s NOT because they’re not allowed to. Wake up. Women serve an important role in life, and some would say (not me, or anyone with wisdom) at times it is more important than a man’s. But the fact remains, you are weaker, and more emotionally driven; prone to fits and whining on a blog about how women are unfairly treated, despite EVERY female role in the tv series (all of them) being portrayed as more than the sum of their parts would be. Actions speak louder than words, which I’m afraid run in short supply for women, whereas the latter never seem to stop.

    1. “Why yes, females, I am totally a females also talking about the females. This is me, a female, talking about the females doing the female thing. Also construction because I don’t understand when a comparison doesn’t actually fit my argument. And I tip my hat to you all. I mean, and a good day to you fellow ladies.”

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