Over the last 10 years Asian American YouTubers have become increasingly popular yet there is still a lack of representation of Asian Americans in Hollywood. So why is it that Asian Americans struggle to succeed in Hollywood but are able to gain fame on Youtube? To answer this question by saying there is just a lack of supply of Asian American actors and actresses would be too simply. Rather, I argue that Asian American actors and actresses struggle in Hollywood due to a lack of support as well as barriers to entry created by those already in Hollywood while YouTube offers a community for Asian Americans to thrive.
How Asian is Hollywood?
In Hollywood, according to a study USC Annenberg School of communication and journalism only 5% of speaking roles were given to Asians and even smaller, only 1.4% of leading roles were Asian American. Additionally, only around 2.8% of the directors in Hollywood were Asian Americans. However the lack of casting for Asian Americans isn’t because there is a lack of Asian roles, but instead there has been yellow facing in Hollywood created by the directors casting a white actor or actress to play a traditionally Asian role. A recent backlash of yellow facing is the film Ghost in a Shell, originally a manga that casted Scarlett Johansson as the leading role despite the original character being Asian.
So How is YouTube different?
Unlike Hollywood, YouTube is a relatively new community with no barriers to entry. It doesn’t matter who you are, Asian Americans or people of any race cannot be discriminated against if you have a camera and a channel. As a result, Asian Americans don’t have to face the same obstacles as they do in Hollywood. There is no director casting who can be in the YouTube video or who fits the role and there is no already set of A-listers that the directors first look at to give these roles.
Instead, the Asian Americans on YouTube help each other promote their channels by collaborating with one another which often leads to a friendship. Through these video collaborations and also through their social media, the viewers get a sense of real friendship and can feel the sense of community and support both in their YouTube career as well as their everyday life that we read about in Wang’s A Love Letter to YouTube
In Hollywood, there are articles about exclusive “A-lister parties”or “Taylor Swift’s Squad” that show that these Hollywood stars are friends and are there for each other and their friend’s birthday parties or New Year’s parties. Similarly, these YouTube videos show the friendships and support of the Asian American YouTubers as well as showcase the community they have created. Unfortunately, there is this lack of this type of community in Hollywood and it is rare that we get a glimpse of an Asian American at one of these parties or part of such squad.
The Role of the Viewers
Another aspect of YouTube that Hollywood lacks is the sense of community not only between the YouTubers but also with the viewers. A lot of the YouTubers feel a strong sense of friendship to their subscribers and always acknowledges that “they couldn’t be here without [their subscribers]”. This connection between the viewer and the YouTuber is shown in an interview, Vivian Vo Farmer, an Asian American beauty blogger with 1.6million subscribers, says that “I do think [being Vietnamese-American] is somewhat of an advantage,” because “A lot of my audience is Vietnamese/Asian so a lot of times they can really relate to me in ways such as body types to more personal aspects like similarities in upbringings.”
This sense of community is fostered not only because the nature of YouTube and the immediate feedback back and forth from the viewer to the YouTuber and vice versa through the comment sections, but also because YouTubers try to connect with their audience in everyday matters. Whether they’re talking about their high school experience, breakups, or just daily struggles, these YouTubers become more relatable to the viewers because of their shared experiences.
So why are there so many Asian American in YouTube compared to in Hollywood?
YouTube creates a community for Asian Americans that Hollywood is unable to offer. Because Hollywood seems to already have a set group of A-listers and famous directors that seem highly exclusive, it’s very hard for Asians to find a community that will specifically try to help Asian Americans gain more recognition and help them gain success. However, in YouTube through both collaborations between YouTubers as well as the support from the viewers, Asian American YouTubers have a community that helps them succeed.
The difference in the representation of Asian Americans between YouTube and Hollywood results because Hollywood already has a community that supports each other that Asian Americans are not a part of while in YouTube Asian Americans have the support of such a community.