Expanding Visual Narratives of Asian Americans

Trends / Realness
by Alfian Widiantono
Reya Sehgal
May 9, 2022
It's Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and everywhere you look brands and publishers are spotlighting AAPI stories, shouting out businesses to support, movies to watch, and creators to follow. However, AAPI Heritage Month is but one month. AAPI communities are integral parts of American narratives all year round.

After the staggering increase in violent hate crimes targeting Asian communities over the last two years, and amidst a national racial reckoning, Asian Americans have been top of mind for Getty Images customers that are furthering their efforts at inclusion: customer searches have been steadily increasing for terms like 'AAPI' (+13475%), 'Asian Pacific Heritage Month' (+570), 'Asian American' (+285%), 'Asian community' (+472%), and 'Stop Asian Hate'. Visual GPS research shows that, while 34% of Americans say they are seeing Asians in media more often than they did a year ago, more than 25% believe that stories about people of Asian descent remain underrepresented. 
Asian Americans are a notoriously challenging demographic to pin down—and for good reason. Asian American communities are incredibly diverse: they are comprised of people from over 20 nationalities and dozens more ethnicities; they have the highest economic inequality of any racial group; they practice more than six different religions; nearly 60% were born outside of the US, and they have varying histories of immigration and patterns of settlement around the country.1 While marketers and media are growing more savvy and sensitive to the complexities of AAPI communities, visual storytelling about Asian Americans continues to lack the breadth, depth, and nuance required to counter the stereotypes that have cast Asian Americans as foreign 'others' in the story of America. Three in five Asian Americans currently do not see themselves represented in media and advertising, and 35% of media representations of Asian American communities includes at least one stereotype.2 Presenting authentic stories about this fastest growing racial group can help brands and marketers not only connect with Asian American audiences, but also disprove the idea that Asian Americans are a monolithic minority.
Popular American visuals featuring people of Asian ethnicities tend to flatten and tokenize this diverse community, erasing the richness of Asian American cultures and the expressiveness and creativity of Asian American people. Take, for example, the fact that Indian, Filipinx, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans are all underrepresented in visuals, compared to the demographic makeup of Asian Americans. When shown in groups, more than 75% of visuals feature Asians alongside people of other racial groups, meaning that Asian Americans are rarely seen in social, domestic, or work spaces together. And despite the fact that 56% of Asian Americans see their race or ethnicity as an integral part of their identity, less than 1% of visuals highlight any culturally‑specific aspects of Asian American life, such as foods, celebrations, clothing styles, or home decor.

In order to help change perceptions of Asian American communities, and celebrate the unique stories within them, marketers and media must do better. Getty Images has partnered with Admerasia to launch a new Asian American Imagery Toolkit for Inclusive Visual Storytelling, offering deep analysis of popular visuals, and recommendations for brands looking to improve their representations of Asian American communities. Download the toolkit, and access curated boards featuring Asian Americans in creative and archival imagery, here. We see these guidelines as a starting point in the mission to expand and deepen Asian American narratives.
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