[“I think it’s so important to see a confident, outspoken, man
bun-sporting Asian man on screen,” says actor Alexander Hodge.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 ‘ASIAN BAE’ OF ‘INSECURE’ EXPLAINS WHY HIS ROLE IS
GROUNDBREAKING FOR ASIAN GUYS  
[https://portside.org/2018-10-14/asian-bae-insecure-explains-why-his-role-groundbreaking-asian-guys]


 

 Kimberly Yam 
 October 8, 2018
Huffington Post
[https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hbo-insecure-asian-bae-andrew-hodge_us_5bb7b7dbe4b01470d0515aa7]


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 _ “I think it’s so important to see a confident, outspoken, man
bun-sporting Asian man on screen,” says actor Alexander Hodge. _ 

 , HBO 

 

The “Insecure [https://www.huffingtonpost.com/topic/insecure]”
finale aired a week ago, and there’s one character who’s yet to
receive the love he deserves. Still, after appearing in four episodes,
Andrew, aka “Asian Bae,” has at least gotten some appreciation
from fans over his dreamy, well-conditioned locks and overall swaggy
style.

But in the current media landscape, Alexander Hodge ― who plays
Andrew ― brings more to the screen than just a pretty face. 

Andrew is a love interest of Yvonne Orji’s Molly, and throughout the
arc of their relationship on “Insecure,” he maintains a calm,
confident air. When he and Molly are on good terms, he exhibits a
smooth, effortless game. And when she abruptly leaves during a date,
prompted by a conversation about her relationship with openly-married
man Dro, Andrew takes a no-bullshit approach. Despite Molly’s
attempt to apologize, he doesn’t budge. 

I think it’s so important to see a confident, outspoken, man
bun-sporting Asian man on screen saying, ‘I want what I want.’ We
haven’t had that before.Alexander Hodge

Though Andrew is the only Asian in a predominantly black cast, his
character avoids any age-old karate master or graceless math nerd
tropes. Hodge told HuffPost that while he’s hesitant to call the
character “revolutionary,” the part definitely helps chip away at
some long-held stereotypes attached to Asian men. 

“I think it’s so important to see a confident, outspoken, man
bun-sporting Asian man on screen saying, ‘I want what I want.’ We
haven’t had that before,” said Hodge, who’s of Chinese descent.

Hollywood has so rarely allowed Asian men to be romantic leads or to
have any roles that portray them as actual desirable human beings.

The sexless Asian male stereotype took root years ago, when Chinese
immigrants came to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad. In
an era thick with anti-Chinese sentiment, restrictions like
anti-miscegenation laws and, later, the Chinese Exclusion Act, cut off
their access to heterosexual norms and ideals, leading to “the
emasculated Asian-American male subject,” according to research
from 2013 [https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/tma/vol8/iss1/3/].
The stereotype was only further perpetuated on the big and small
screens.  

The absence of roles portraying desirable Asian men in Hollywood has
swayed opinions in the real world. Asian-Americans can still recall
when Steve Harvey physically bent over, laughing
[https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-harvey-jab-at-asian-men_us_58751680e4b043ad97e5ef94]
at the idea of finding an Asian man attractive. 

“The structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media
became a self-fulfilling prophecy that produced an actual abhorrence
to Asian men in the real world,” restaurateur Eddie Huang
[https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/eddie-huang-nyt-oped_us_587ce422e4b09281d0eba308]
said of the incident, summing up media’s reach and power. 

Hodge told HuffPost that growing up, he had few Asian male role
models. And Hollywood certainly didn’t make it easy to find them.

“My perception of male Asian identity came from media
representation. And obviously, in the 90s, that didn’t give me much
to work with,” he said.

He also admitted that he struggled to embrace his Chinese identity in
particular. 

“I was ashamed of being Chinese as a kid, and would revel anytime I
was confused for Polynesian, Hawaiian or Maori, because these other
ethnicities had an exotic attraction and appeal that my [being]
Chinese didn’t carry in a white society ― the irony being each of
those ethnicities were at one time influenced by Chinese.”

Hodge’s character in “Insecure” is groundbreaking not only
because Andrew is a romantic interest, but also because he is also
part of a rarely represented interracial matchup between a black woman
and an Asian man.

Asian men and black women are the “most discriminated against and
excluded on dating websites,” notes Dr. Anthony Ocampo, sociologist
and associate professor of sociology at Cal Poly Pomona.

Some see Andrew and Molly’s relationship as a nod to a controversial
passage from “Insecure” creator Issa Rae’s book _Misadventures
Of An Awkward Black Girl_ that went viral earlier this year. Rae had
proposed that black women and Asian men “join forces in love,
marriage, and procreation” because of what they face in the dating
world. 

Portraying such a relationship on screen is historically significant,
too, Ocampo says.

“It’s important to show any type of relationship that challenges
the audience’s stereotypes of who is allowed to fall in love. Less
than a century ago, there were laws about which races Black folks and
Asian folks were allowed and not allowed to marry,” he explained.
“Less than 10 years ago, same-sex marriage was illegal in most parts
of the country. Popular representations of unconventional
relationships helped bulldoze stereotypes about who could fall in love
with each other.”  

Like Andrew, Hodge is in an interracial relationship with a black
woman. But he’s careful about bringing anything from his personal
life onscreen, as that “would insinuate that black women are
interchangeable and can all be treated the same, so I couldn’t allow
myself to do that,” he said. 

“I would say the biggest thing my real-life relationship allowed me
to bring was a more grounded appreciation of black culture and the
black community ― understanding that just listening to J. Cole
doesn’t make you an expert on the black experience,” Hodge
explained. “My real-life relationship definitely allowed me to sink
into the character of Andrew more truthfully and see Molly for who she
is entirely, without caricature or presumption.”

It’s important to show any type of relationship that challenges the
audience’s stereotypes of who is allowed to fall in love.Dr. Anthony
Ocampo, Cal Poly Pomona

Dr. Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at UCLA, agreed that
relationships between Asian men and black women aren’t typically
celebrated in mainstream media. “Insecure” could very well inspire
other writers to bring more diverse relationships onscreen. 

“What we know from media research in general, the more you see a
particular type of image repeated in the media, the more comfortable
people become with that image ― in other words, it becomes
normalized in important ways,” Hunt said.

In the future, it’s more likely that writers will be “able to
imagine an Asian man with an African American woman when maybe they
couldn’t or wouldn’t have thought of it before,” he added.

What’s more, Andrew’s complexity challenges longstanding
stereotypes, Ocampo said. In one scene, the character turns up the
charm, while in another, he can be “kind of an asshole,” he
explained ― just like actual real-life human beings.  

Indeed, it’s uncommon for Asian characters in Hollywood to have
full-bodied, fleshed out storylines that showcase a range of emotions.
A 2017 study
[https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/asian-representation-on-tv_us_59baa71fe4b086432b050792]
revealed that Asian characters are tokenized in television or missing
from shows entirely. When Asians are cast, they’re often relegated
to the roles of perpetual foreigners, exoticized women, emasculated
men and model minorities, among other outdated stereotypes. 

“In Hollywood, Asian men are portrayed so one-dimensionally,”
Ocampo said. “They are most often nerds, martial artists, liquor
store owners. Very rarely do Asian men get to portray characters who
have depth, who have flaws, who fall in love.”

Ocampo added: “That, in and of itself, is revolutionary, because
Asian-American characters rarely have the opportunity to be
complicated and messy.”

I think [Andrew’s] incredibly important for the culture. He’s
important for my little cousins, so they believe they can be who they
want to be.Alexander Hodge

Unfortunately, in 2018, a character like Asian Bae is still somehow a
rarity. And Hodge feels it’s got to do with the stunning lack of
diversity behind the camera. 

“For a long time, the writers, showrunners, producers have been
white, have been men. With a more varied makeup of writers, directors
and producers, we get to see more varied stories,” he said.
“People write what they know, and what they can believe. Sometimes
it takes a new voice with a new experience to show people what else
can be written.”

“Insecure” boasts a diverse writers room comprised mostly of women
[https://www.indiewire.com/2017/11/issa-rae-insecure-interview-indiewire-honors-1201893396/].
And Hunt says the representation there likely made a difference. 

“All the research I’ve done in recent years that looks at writers
rooms finds, over and over again, that writers rooms led by people of
color and/or women tend to be more diverse and tend to develop
storylines and characters that are different than what you get when
there’s a white male leading things in the writers rooms,” Hunt
said.

“I don’t think we would’ve gotten this image with a writers room
led by a white man. I think there’s something unique about
‘Insecure’ that allows this to even become a possibility,” he
added. 

Hodge hopes that other young Asian-Americans can derive a little
inspiration from his character.  

“I think [Andrew’s] incredibly important for the culture. He’s
important for my little cousins, so they believe they can be who they
want to be,” Hodge said. “That they are strong, that their
opinions matter, that they can get the girl. I hope they can find
freedom in Andrew.” 

And, for the record, Hodge does follow a few hair rules for his own
locks: “Don’t heat it, don’t blow dry, don’t use
chemicals.” 

[headshot] [https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/kimberly-yam]

Kimberly Yam [https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/kimberly-yam]

Asian Voices Editor, HuffPost

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