In 2005, developers in Silicon Valley launched Youtube, the video sharing service revolutionized how people from all walks of life shared content. Since traditional forms of media typically prevented Asian Americans from occupying major roles or achieving commercial success, the community turned to Youtube as a way to share its creative content. To examine how Asian Americans have utilized Youtube to obtain success, it’s necessary to discuss why Asians felt the need to turn to Youtube, how Youtube redefined what it means to be successful, and how Youtube was able to create a new coalition of Asian Americans. It will also be important to note how high quality production expectations today limits the potential for new Asian Americans to succeed.
Asian Americans have constantly been denied lead roles or opportunities to succeed in traditional forms of media. MediaKix explains how “Hollywood and traditional media are often criticized for their lack of racial representation, but online media has proven much more diverse. YouTube has enabled minorities to create, upload, and share content at a rapid pace, and the Asian community, in particular, has taken advantage of the platform,” which exemplifies how Asian Americans turned to Youtube as a way to share their content. The ability of Youtube to allow anyone to post their own content with the world was clearly appealing to a group who had long been prevented from sharing their creativity. However, the ability of Asian Americans to control what type of content they produced has clearly had some impact on how traditional forms of media view the community. The New York Times recently publish an article titled “Asian-American Actors Are Fighting for Visibility. They Will Not Be Ignored,” and explained “Asian-Americans increasingly play leads and love interests and star in multiple family sitcoms.” While traditional media still has a long way to go in ensuring equal representation, it’s clear Youtube has had an impact in Asian Americans gaining recognition in the American consciousness.
The advent of the “viral video” and ability of Youtubers to gain large followings has created a new definition of success for the Asian American community. For example, Ryan Higa has almost 20 million subscribers and over 3.3 billion total video views, Lilly Singh has almost 12 million subscribers and 2 billion video views, etc. The ad revenue from their pages obviously gives them financial independence in a way traditional media would likely never have, and has created a new pathway for success for Asian Americans interested in entertainment. Perhaps most importantly for the Asian community, this has played large dividends in discussing Asian American stereotypes and issues. For example, Eugene Lang’s viral video “If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say” highlighted how many stereotypical comments affect the Asian American community as a whole. These videos focused on the Asian American community becoming successful has made a new generation of Asian artists recognize that their stories can be commercially successful, enables them to explore their creative desires, and also allows them to discuss ways the Asian American community are prevented from being considered equal.
Youtube has also proven to be extremely effective in creating a coalition of Asian Americans. CAPE, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, has a Youtube channel that recently has been dedicated to compiling the backgrounds of Asian Americans in entertainment. Interviews with major actors and actresses like Ming-Na Wen are posted online for viewers to examine, and the page has over 3.5 million views. Grace Wang, in Soundtracks of Asian America adds how “The willingness to sit, talk, work, and collaborate stems from an investment in creating a shared pan-ethnic collectivity,” highlighting how Youtube has created a space for Asian Americans to work together and be leaders in the entertainment field.
One issue moving forward for Youtube and Asian Americans is how all Youtube videos are expected to have high production values. The success of early Asian Americans in gaining a following largely relied on the intimacy of creating personal videos using grainy camcorders, whereas today Youtube is dominated by major personalities and networks who create videos with extremely high production values. Compare Ryan Higa’s “How to Be Ninja,” versus his remake in 2016, which at the end shows Ryan with a stunt man showing him how to be positioned in a scene. The authenticity that endeared him to so many fans in the original is largely lost in this remake, but the remake is clearly the “nicer” video to watch due to its high production values. New Asian American artists will have a much tougher time breaking through when the production values of all videos are expected to be this high, combined with the fact Youtube simply has so much more content.
Overall, Asian Americans were able to successfully utilize Youtube to gain popularity and expand their ability to explore their creative passions. Youtube has also helped create a coalition of Asian American entertainers as traditional media still limits the ability of Asians to succeed. However, as the costs of producing high quality videos has increased, it isn’t clear that a new generation of Asian Americans will be able to commercially succeed as they pursue their creative passions.