One of my favorite TV shows that I got into a few years ago is The Walking Dead, currently one of the most popular TV series. It is an American horror drama that follows the life of a character in a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies. At first, I enjoyed the show simply because of the overall story and action throughout the episodes. However, other reasons I started to really like the show was not only because of its diversity on race, sexuality, and gender, but also because they have unique personalities that don’t fit under traditional stereotypes in media portrayal. This is very important because having stereotypes leads to inaccurate representations and negative impressions, harming our culture instead of improving it. How exactly does The Walking Dead achieve diversity on several levels?
The core cast include white Americans, black Americans, an Asian American, and a Hispanic American character. On the image below, the left chart breaks down race/ethnicity in the United States in the 2010 census, while the right chart breaks down the race/ethnicity of the 31 characters with the most appearances during Season 6. Obviously, it isn’t perfect, but the statistics show that it is very close.
We can see that quantitatively, this show has success in diversity, but how about in terms of things that can’t be shown through statistics, qualitatively? Although are many things I could talk about regarding gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, such as the main cast consisting of racial diversity, gay, lesbian, females, and more, I will be focusing on Glenn Rhee, a Korean American character, portrayed by Steven Yeun.
Generally in popular culture, Asian men are portrayed as geeky, awkward, asexual, and emotionless, among many other attributes. Glenn, one of the main characters on the show, is an Asian-American, but his ethnicity does not have a major role in his personality.
In the beginning of Season 1 when Glenn is introduced, he is first portrayed as a hero as he saves the main character, Rick Grimes, from a horde of zombies. When they join in with the larger group of survivors, Glenn isn’t afraid to speak up for what he thinks is right. He wants to be someone that everyone looks up to, but he isn’t that kind of person that he wants to be at the beginning. However, he is trying his best to become that person. He is fighting a hierarchy that has been created in the group of survivors where there are, in a sense, established leaders. His race isn’t really talked about much, but he is the lone Asian in the group of survivors, and one could say this reinforces the common notion that Asians and Asian Americans cannot be seen at the top, only as “sidekicks”.
However, Glenn doesn’t stop trying to fight for what’s right. Throughout the seasons, he progresses more and more into the type of person he wants to be by not being afraid to exercise his agency. His role is undefined and always expanding, has more responsibility, and demonstrates himself as a leader that is crucial to the survival of his group. Tragedy is common in this apocalyptic world, and he is shown to be surprisingly emotional whenever devastating tragedies occur. As we go on and on, Glenn continues to defy the model minority stereotype of Asian men by proving to himself that he can be a very important asset to the team, and doing whatever it takes, showing his courageous, brave, and daring self. In fact, he also develops a close and romantic relationship with a female in the group. Asian men have a rough time in the dating world in popular culture, especially when it comes to interracial relationships. That, among many other things, show there isn’t really anything stereotypical with Glenn and his Asian American identity.
Although Glenn seemed to be a victim to the stereotype initially in the show, his character development through the seasons proved to show the exact opposite. Glenn isn’t the perfect character, as he has his own flaws, not just his positive traits. It is okay that he has his flaws, everyone does. What is important is that his character is very diverse. Glenn is the lone Asian in the TV series, so I am really glad the writers portrayed this character that defied the traditional Asian and Asian American stereotypes.
Though it can justifiably be argued that this show does things that reinforces stereotypes, which isn’t exactly wrong, the important thing here is that there just as many, if not more, things being done in order to dismantle these stereotypes. I mean, couldn’t it be argued that not including any “stereotypes” at all is a stereotype in itself?
Steve Yeun plays a major in this very popular TV show. His character challenged the common portrayals of Asian and Asian American males and showed that they do not need to fill in predetermined roles in order to be successful.