The Bechdel Cast Podcast is a podcast hosted by Caitlin Durante and Jamie Loftus that focuses on the representation of women in film, but over the years has also come to focus on representation of minority groups/people of color, social issues in film and more. The name of the podcast comes from the hosts utilizing the Bechdel Test as a baseline to measure a film’s representation of women. Each episode starts with a summary of the film, followed by in-depth discussion and analysis of representation, how issues and ideas are presented as well as a final wrap up. Oftentimes guest speakers of a range of occupations, gender identities, racial backgrounds, etc. are invited to provide deeper insight into the film and discussion of the episode.
Being able to explore different topics and representations through the examination of a variety of films allows a flexible approach towards different ideas. Ideas such as Simone de Beauvoir’s concept of the Other are explored when Durante and Loftus frequently identify how many films place white, heteronormative men as the default and centerpiece while placing women (and the LGBTQ+ community) in the role of the Other. Topics such as systemic injustice are also discussed in several films such as Den of Thieves where guest speaker Cerise Castle talked about how communities of color are less likely to have crime and their stories reported compared to more affluent and white communities, as well as the deeply rooted copaganda of America.
Although the podcast addresses serious topics, the tone remains conversational, and humor often appears to lighten the mood. Ultimately, each episode leaves the audience thinking about how the media and society has shaped our views. The movie The Dark Knight is often hailed as one of the greatest superhero movies, however, when analyzed it didn’t even manage to pass the Bechdel Test of two named women characters exchanging two lines of dialogue about a topic not about a man. The intersectional lens the Bechdel Cast Podcast uses to examine a work forces both the hosts and listeners to notice problematic issues they might not have noticed in a beloved film before, as well as the ripple effects these issues have on what we expect in the visual medium and in real life.
ATLANTA — After shooting and killing eight people on March 16 across three spas, six of whom were Asian women, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker’s statement of “He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” towards suspect Robert Aaron Long incited rage and disappointment among the AAPI community.
Sadly, this attitude of trying to humanize the perpetrator and minimizing the impact on the victims, their families, and on a broader scale the community isn’t a foreign concept throughout the history of the AAPI community or of minorities in the United States. This tragic shooting, as well as the sharp increase in hate crimes committed towards Asians and Asian Americans all contribute towards the systemic injustice and racism felt for many years.
NBC News reported a nearly 150% increase in hate crimes targeting Asians in 16 of America’s largest cities alone for 2020. Disregarding the fact that these hate crimes only included those that were reported to law enforcement, that is a significant jump in the span of one year. Although these crimes have been increasingly brought to the public’s attention, these attacks that have happened during the COVID pandemic really highlight the underlying racism and ill-will towards the AAPI community that has been churning for decades.
Historic instances of systemic injustice can be seen from laws passed that explicitly prevented Asian immigration to America dating back to acts such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924. Despite the Chinese only occupying 0.002 percent of the population at the time in 1882, “white ‘racial purity’”(History.com) was protected. Chinese immigration was prohibited for a decade, and despite protests at the unconstitutionality of the act nothing was done. The Immigration Act of 1924 expanded upon the previous act by restricting immigration from all of Asia. Another more well known historic instance would be the forced move of anyone with Japanese descent into internment camps during WWII. According to History.com, more than 100,000 were affected by the internment, many of whom were American citizens. Life in the internment camps was tough with harsh conditions, and anyone who tried to escape would be shot.
As previously stated, the rise of COVID also brought forth a rise in hate crimes and violence towards the AAPI community with an increased focus on elders such as a 91-year old grandpa being shoved to the ground by his 28 year old attacker in Oakland, CA. Another violent attack killed 84-year old Vicha Ratanapakdee, who passed away from his injuries in the hospital after being rammed and knocked into the ground.
Through these many instances, there is a distinct us vs. them, deliberate Othering towards Asians and Asian Americans. The victims are thought of as outsiders, the Other that needs to be put down. Placing those of Asian ethnicity in the position of Other, there seems to be the mindset that they are therefore disposable or susceptible to enforce racism upon. The attackers chose to assault elders, knowing they couldn’t retaliate or fight back. As elders, the physical violence would also leave a greater impact on the victims compared to someone in their twenties.
The attackers often act fast and quickly flee the scene, with many of them much younger in age compared to their older victims. Through these actions a sense of superiority of the One can be seen. Seeing these younger attackers raises the question of how ingrained is systemic racism and injustice in America’s culture? What do these attackers hope to achieve through their violent, hate-filled crimes? While America might boast on its improvements on racism and ideals that as one of the most diverse countries everyone is equal, how far has the US really come on issues such as system injustice and racism when its young citizens are purposely targeting the elders of an ethnic minority?
Returning to Sheriff Jay Baker, in addition to the insensitive comments made, it was later discovered that he had bought and promoted racist shirts that had “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.” written on them on Facebook. With comments like “Love my shirt,” and “Get yours while they last.” coupled with the comments on the Atlanta shooting show a high likelihood of racism in his words and actions. If law enforcement officers are allowed to promote products that point towards racism with no apparent consequences, then this might further support the fact that systemic injustice towards the AAPI community has been ingrained in the American culture and by extension perhaps even the justice and law enforcement of the US.
A common insult hurled at those with Asian ethnicity is “Go back to China” whether during verbal attacks along streets or even playground bullying in school. This highlights multiple issues. First, that this phrase has become normalized as an insult and is frequently used, pointing towards the deeply rooted belief of perceiving those who look “Asian” as the Other. Second, the words show how those of Asian descent do not look like what is believed to be “American” and therefore don’t belong in this country regardless of their background or situation. If that is the case, then the question must be asked: what should an “American” look like, in a country that prides itself on being a “melting pot”? Third, this statement reveals the ignorance towards the fact that there are multiple Asian countries and cultures and assume everyone who might look Asian is from China.
Previously those types of comments might have been brushed off or ignored, however, with the rise in violence and deliberate victim targeting, these so called “casual comments” of casual racism are becoming more widely critiqued and examined under a magnifying glass. Protests against AAPI hate are popping up in large numbers, with slogans such as “#stop Asian hate”, and “Asians are not a virus. Racism is”.
Traditionally, the AAPI community is relatively low-key, with hate crimes going unreported, or a general sense of staying quiet, laying low, and minding your own business. The history of racism and bigotry towards Asians and Asian Americans in American history is usually brushed over in classes in the education system. Generally, very little attention has been given to this entire community whether through school or in news and media in the past.
Nowadays, the dangers of being attacked have risen to the point of Asian communities forming volunteer patrol groups around Chinatowns or neighborhoods with a large population of AAPI such as San Francisco. It’s saddening to see Americans protecting themselves against fellow Americans who believe themselves to be superior due to external appearances or other circumstances. The heightened fear and cautiousness of an entire community underlines the divide among Americans, something that has been highlighted with other recent events such as the COVID pandemic and the 2020 election.
When Trump was calling the coronavirus the “China virus” and “Kung-flu” while he was the president of the United States, some dismissed the racism of his names or the potential damage those words would bring. Nevertheless, Trump’s caustic attitude set the precedent and an example for others to follow, particularly his fervent followers and supporters. If the President was using these terms, didn’t that mean it was ok for others to use them as well? The President represents their country, and all of their actions will have a reverberating effect on the citizens of their nation. Ultimately, the deniers were proven wrong as racism across the country spiked. Words contain power, and power will propel people into action. As white supremacy and white nationalism grew, hate towards the AAPI community and other ethnicities grew as well.
Many times words have simply been dismissed as just words, or just a slip of the tongue, but over time these “slips of the tongue” take on meaning and direction. In this age of social media, one phrase can be reshared millions of times in seconds, one quote can spread to multiple countries. Now, over a year into the pandemic reaching the US, and almost 3,800 hate incidents reported by the group Stop AAPI Hate later, things have reached a boiling state.
In spite of all the negative consequences, the actions of the past year has brought the previously more sidelined issue of systemic injustice towards the AAPI community in America into the forefront and into the public’s view. Prior to 2020, some people weren’t even aware of the racism and issues that the community faces on a day-to-day basis which have been highlighted through the much more public acts of violence and attacks against those of Asian ethnicity. While there is still a long way to go in terms of eradicating systemic injustice in America for the AAPI community, peaceful protests, increased content/media coverage and an increase in the willingness to learn about these issues can help push forward and take a step towards progress. What’s certain is that the AAPI community is here to stay, and is willing to speak up and out.
While there has been a significant increase in hate crimes towards members of the AAPI community since COVID, there does not seem to be a significant increase in news coverage towards these violent attacks against an entire community. The increase in hate crimes has been occurring for over a year and the momentum does not seem to be slowing down. Many Asian Americans have taken action such as forming volunteer patrol groups around Chinatown or areas where attacks occurred to protect Asians (especially elders), actors offering $25,000 for catching a suspect, and Asian Americans raising awareness of the matter through social media. Attacks have escalated from yelling racial slurs, to violently attacking elders, to a mass shooting that has killed eight people — six of whom were Asian women.
While the community has risen, there seems to be a lack of or less mainstream news coverage. From major news podcasts to national nightly news, there does not seem to be much attention given to the matter. Although I have not been following the nightly news every day, coverage on Tiger Woods’ car crash was covered for multiple days while the news of increased Asian hate crime never appeared. Aside from online news articles it seems the mainstream media just does not seem as concerned about the issue. I think this can relate back to systemic injustice because as whole Asian Americans have had less presence in various types of media as other ethnicities or minority groups. We can often be “silent” or thought of as the minority group that quietly does their work and lives their lives. Actors have stated how it was much harder to find acting jobs because they were Asian American. As a result, we do not usually have a presence in television or films, news coverage, or other major mediums. This should not be an excuse, however, to not report on a wider scale the widespread racism against a certain group of people.
Verbal attacks against Asian Americans often revolve around calling us degrading names and telling us to “go back to China”, which reveals how people who do not look a certain way will not even be thought of as citizens of America when they might have been born and lived here their whole lives. It also reveals their ignorance in the different cultures and countries of Asia by assuming everyone with Asian ethnicity is from China. Asian Americans can struggle with the feeling of belonging or balancing two different cultures and countries. Deming from The Leavers struggles to connect Deming Guo with Daniel Wilkinson, and experiences instances of systemic injustice in the way his adopted parents want to erase his previous identity and experiences.
In the novel The Leavers by Lisa Ko, Deming Guo is taken into foster care after his mom Polly disappears. Eventually he’s adopted by a white suburban couple Peter and Kay, however, he does experience the foster care system of America before adoption. Through Deming’s experiences in the system readers can see his struggles that are representative of struggles that many children in foster care deal with, and the effects of those struggles.
Although foster care usually isn’t seen as a prominent part of American society, in reality over 400,000 children are in the foster care system per day. There is a large age range for foster children ranging from infants to 18 years of age, with the average age about nine years old. Children usually stay around a year in foster care, with more than half reunified with previous caretakers and a quarter adopted. Nevertheless there are around 20,000 who have to leave the system due to no adoptions/caretakers and who have reached legal adult age. Some children go from foster home to foster home with all their possessions in trash bags, an experience that can cause psychological trauma. The older children are, the smaller the chance for them to be adopted as well.
The foster care system is flawed, with limited funds and many problems that will take years to fix. Multiple sources and articles have reported serious problems such as the much higher number of children of color that enter foster care, 70% of kids end up in juvenile justice systems, or that kids in foster care are four times more likely to commit suicide compared to other children. Other outcomes include much higher rates for dropping out of school or not completing higher education such as college. Readers can see some of these issues in The Leavers such as Deming (who is renamed Daniel) struggling in school and with a gambling addiction that leaves him in heavy debt.
Ko, Lisa. The Leavers. Chapel Hill, 2017.
Julieburdick. “Foster Care in America: Realities, Challenges and Solutions.” KVC Health Systems, 2 June 2020, www.kvc.org/blog/foster-care-in-america/#:~:text=On%20any%20given%20day%2C%20nearly,slightly%20more%20boys%20than%20girls.
“The Problem.” Foster America, 2018, www.foster-america.org/the-problem.
“Students in Foster Care.” U.S. Department of Education, 27 June 2016, https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/foster-care/index.html.