The first time I can remember seeing an Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander in the Media was on the hit 90’s kids action show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, an adaptation from the Japanese Super Sentai franchise. The show follows the lives of 5 California teenagers chosen by Zordon to defend the Earth from the evil alien sorceress Rita Repulsa. The teens are given the name the Power Rangers and use their new found super powers to defeat monsters and other creatures Rita Repulsa sends to attack the Earth, continually foiling her plans to take over the planet. The show actually contains two characters played by Asian or Asian American Actresses, Power Ranger Trini Kwan and villain Rita Repulsa. Although they use Asian actresses to portray both a hero and a villain the series portrays common Asian/Asian American Stereotypes, implicit and explicit yellowface, the idea of Asians as yellow peril and Asian women as the dragon lady.
Yellow Ranger, Trini Kwan is described as soft spoken and being one of the more intellectual members of the group, both characteristics coincide with the common stereotypes that Asians are quiet and very smart. Another characteristic that Trini is known for is her strong martial arts ability, reinforcing the idea that all Asians can do and are good at Kung fu. One of the more obvious racial stereotypes is that Trini Kwan, the only Asian or Asian American super hero is named the Yellow Ranger. Highlighting the association of Asians and yellow skin.
The character Trini Kwan is played by Vietnamese Actress Thuy Trang, however Kwan is Chinese surname. This is an example of implicit yellowface where an Asian or Asian American plays an Asian ethnicity other than their own. It also feeds into the idea that all Asians look alike and are interchangeable. The character Rita Repulsa gives an example of explicit yellowface as even though the character is played by Japanese actress Machiko Soga her English voice is actually performed by Caucasian Actress Barbara Goodson, as the scenes with Machiko are actually from the Japanese series.
After deconstructing the character Rita Repulsa I was surprised to see how her character portrays both the idea of Asians as the Yellow Peril and of Asian women as the dragon lady. Rita Repulsa is described as an alien who desires to take over the planet. Her being an alien emphasize the idea that Asians are forever foreigner and her quest for universal domination plays on the idea that the U.S. should fear Asians invading and trying to take over the country. Rita Repulsa is controlling, power hungry, and uses the men in her life to get what she wants, and although she is not hyper sexualized, her character still plays out the dragon lady image.
It was interesting to look back at a show I loved so much as a child and see how it really portrayed Asians and Asian Americans. When I was a child I thought it was cool to see a super hero that was Asian like me on a television show however I now see how the Asian characters portrayed stereotypes and negative images of Asian and Asian Americans.