Everything Everywhere All at Once
Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. The film Everything Everywhere All at Once (EEAAO) swept almost all of the top Academy Awards (with the exception of Best Actor), highlighting the importance of Asian American (AA) experiences after decades of discrimination faced by AA actors and filmmakers.
Diversity and equity in corporations and institutions of higher education have grown in importance during recent years, despite the paucity of contemporary research conducted on the experiences of groups such as AA staff and faculty.
EEAAO’s success as cinematic art and film production can help shed light on the racial microaggression and discrimination faced by AA faculty and help institutional decision-makers, administrators, and faculty better understand the subtle and overt marginalization faced by AAs. And with this better understanding, strategic planning and actions to mitigate and ultimately eliminate structural and institutional racism faced by AAs is of great importance.
In addition, higher education research has mostly excluded AAs’ careers, with little complex analysis on their workplace experiences. As we approach Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, applying lessons from the success of EEAAO in the business of filmmaking and its film narrative of AA struggles can empower not just AA-serving institutions but all colleges, departments, and faculty/staff.
Lessons We Can Learn from the Filmmaking
After 20 years of limited opportunities, Ke Huy Quan was on the verge of retirement. After a powerful performance in EEAAO, Quan won the academy award for best supporting actor. In retrospect, film audiences potentially missed out on transformative performances by Quan in the last 20 years. Highly qualified and experienced AA faculty and staff face similar statistical limitations when it comes to leadership opportunities at institutions. Similar to Quan’s absence in film, institutions need to recognize the missed opportunities in AAPI faculty and leadership roles. Equally important to shatter is the perpetual foreigner stereotype, the xenophobic racism that certain underrepresented groups in the United States are considered non or less American. This is described by Quan:
“As I got older, though, when I realized I wanted to do this, there were just not a lot of offers. When there was one, the role was very stereotypical, and you had every Asian in Hollywood fighting for it,” recalled Quan. “By the time I was in my early 20s, the phone had stopped ringing. And then my agent calls me: There’s this role. It was three lines, it was like a Viet Cong role. And I didn’t even get that.”
In my book, “Asian American Educators and Microaggressions,” AA faculty expressed a similar experience: “Now in my experience, I just have a suspicion that I get stereotyped. Well, yesterday, for example, I was talking to a guy who works here. He’s a PhD, works in a staff capacity. He’s been told point blank that he’s only going to go so far in this organization.”
Even with well-meaning colleagues, I recently experienced a conversation with a fellow professional who expressed surprise that Asian Americans (AAs) face discrimination. His experience with AAs while at a large state university was one that AAs were highly successful and did not face racism or unequal treatment. This perception of AAs as the model minority did not surprise me as long-standing stereotypes of AAs continue to be perpetuated in U.S. society.
Lessons from the Film Narrative
The protagonist of EEAAO, Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, experienced multiple lives in multiple universes. This speaks to the experiences of AAs not as a monolith but instead from all backgrounds and walks of life. Breaking the model minority myth that AAs face at institutions is critical in recognizing that AAs have a wide range of scholarship and expertise to improve student outcomes/experiences.
Also, in my book, AA faculty challenge such stereotypes: “Because I think that when people hear that, “Oh, you teach at a university,” they assume that you’re an amazing superstar, and that’s not always necessarily the case because AA everywhere [sic].” The data collected on AA faculty members’ experiences at their institutions can also reveal the effects of the model minority myth, perpetuating the narrative of monolithic AA success in academia and careers, yet not in the mold of leadership qualities.
The obstacles presented by the perpetual foreigner stereotype and the model minority myth are manifested in microaggressions, subtle discrimination that affects AAs’ educator career experiences. Implications for future research will help higher education administrative leadership and stakeholders better support career experiences and opportunities for AA faculty members.
Institutions need to support emerging research findings that have the potential to further connect and strengthen the theoretical frameworks of the model minority myth and perpetual foreigner stereotype experienced by AA educators and how microaggressions can affect their careers. Then, institutions can utilize the most current data to build upon missed opportunities in their diversity initiatives by increasing qualified AAPI faculty and staff across all departments.
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