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The Harmful Effects of the Asian Best Friend Trope

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UWindsor chapter.

As a white individual, there was never a time I turned on the television and had trouble identifying someone who looked like me, if not exactly like me. From the Disney Princesses to Full House and everything in between, I had the privilege of finding characters that not only looked like me, but had my personality as well. With that being said, it also took me years to understand the blatant white supremacy that allowed for underrepresentation to take place in the entertainment industry. 

Although we have come a long way in regards to Asian representation in the media, there are still a lot of changes that need to be made, and a lot of work that needs to be done. The Asian best friend is often portrayed in teen and young adult shows to offer up some sort of support or comedic relief to the main character. It is not a rare occurrence either, as two of the first shows I ever binged carry this unfavourable trope. These shows include Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore girls. In Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh portrays Cristina Yang, a hyper-intelligent, witty cardiothoracic surgeon who uses sarcasm as a coping mechanism. In Gilmore Girls, Keiko Agenda portrays Lane Kim, a music-obsessed, outgoing, independent teenager that comes from a strict Christian household. It is not to say that these characters were severely underdeveloped or unimportant as Cristina Yang is still one of my favourite characters to this day, but this is not always the case. 

The intended demographic for both Gilmore Girls and Grey’s Anatomy are women aged eighteen to forty-nine, but that is not to say that impressionable young girls are not watching these shows and wondering why they are not worthy or interesting enough to be the main character. Some people may argue that these stereotypes are not meant to inflict any damage to people of colour, but what many people fail to understand is that self-hatred can easily arise when minorities continue to see themselves portrayed in this light. It is dangerous to continually showcase the Asian best friend as the support system to the white character and to suppress his/her own feelings as it  sends the wrong message to everyone watching. Although Cristina Yang was a well-written character, her story was often intertwined with that of Meredith Grey, the main protagonist in Grey’s Anatomy. Cristina was also often described as “emotionless” and the writers made it seem as though her work was the only thing she ever truly cared about. Lane Kim also deserved more in Gilmore Girls as she was often used to support Rory, the main protagonist in the show. I would have liked to see more depth and more storylines that solely focused on Lane. 

In terms of diversity and representation in the media, I do believe we are moving in the right direction, however, the fight is far from over. I frequently referenced Cristina Yang as well as Lane Kim because those are characters I am the most familiar with, but there are plenty more instances in Hollywood where Asian characters are portrayed in even more adverse ways. The fact is that these characters are not written to be the center of the show; they were written to be the “ethnic” best friend that somehow make the white protagonist seem more inclusive and are thus given less complex backstories and shallow storylines. Asian characters deserve to be showcased in more nuanced and intricate ways, rather than just the best friend alongside a white lead. Minorities must be able to play the main character without being overshadowed by the more “favourable” white protagonist. Furthermore, it is also evident that we need more people of colour behind the camera as there are more stories to tell, and more voices to be heard. We must not succumb to white supremacy and instead allow for more effective representation on and off camera. 

Julia Rubino

UWindsor '26

Julia is a Biomedical Sciences major at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. She is a writer for HerCampus UWindsor, and loves to be involved in different clubs around campus. When she is not studying, she enjoys reading, writing, listening to music or podcasts and going to the gym.