Fact: Asians rule YouTube. After decades of stereotypical roles as brainiacs and kung fu masters, the long underrepresented group is flexing its media muscles online.
Of the top 10 personalities on YouTube, three are Asian, occupying the second, sixth, and 10th spots respectfully. The top 10 women also include three Asians.
Long ostracized from mainstream television, Asians have taken advantage of YouTube’s low barrier to entry to create their own opportunities and their own characters. From rappers to sketch-comedy stars to make-up artists, they can be whatever they want. YouTube even has a Korean equivalent of TV’s Jersey Shore called K-Town, broadcast on Kevin Smith’s LOUD channel.
Last June, in a panel celebrating diversity at Vidcon, the unofficial YouTubers conference, rapper Timothy DeLaGhetto suggested the main reason for his popularity on the site: He’s “an Asian guy doing normal things.” (DeLaGhetto ranks #53 with 1.4 million subscribers and 465 million total views.)
“Here’s a group of people that are not traditionally represented elsewhere,” said filmmaker and musician Freddie Wong in an interview. “We didn’t have a Blaxsploitation moment, and the closest we got was Bruce Lee and Kung Fu.” Ranking #6 on the YouTube chart with 1-plus million views of each of his videos, Wong mostly makes geeky and guntastic shorts, though he recently expanded to a Web series format with Video Game High School.
Wong could easily work in Hollywood, but he loves the freedom of the digital space. In fact, Hollywood directors and actors now vie to work with him or appear in his YouTube shorts.
“We are [on YouTube] doing our thing and it works because we’re doing our thing,” Wong said. “We’re not trying to fulfill or reject any given stereotype. This is where our platform is, and it will be a matter of time before traditional media realizes the value of representation across demographics.”
Kim Evey, a Korean-American actress who now works as a producer with Felicia Day, joined the YouTube community after seeing a viral video of two
Asians lip-syncing. She recalls only three Asians in media when she was growing up: “Connie Chung, who was a news reporter; a woman on a sitcom called Night Court; and then there was M*A*S*H. That was it if you were Asian and wanted to be an actor.” She is blown away by what is happening on YouTube today. “The fact that they do exist, and have the success that they have, is so exciting to me.”
Bernie Su, a Web series writer of hit shows like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, said “as an Asian American, I am proud and happy to see” Asians at the top of the list of popular YouTubers. “Asian Americans don’t have a lot of rolemodels” in traditional media right now, he adds.
“The Asian American audience is relevant,” Su said, “and when Hollywood and advertisers realize how relevant they are, they’ll pretty much have to see Asian-American stars.”