It started with Nas referring to himself as ‘exotic’. Ick. Then Siannese referred to him as Aladdin and herself as the ‘Princess Jasmine of Bristol’. Every Asian bone in my body cringed. There is a huge diversity issue when you are not only referring to the ONLY Asian on the show as Aladdin but the social media team behind the show are also bold enough to tweet it out and not see the problem in it.
The lack of diversity on Love Island has been discussed countless times, not only in terms of race but also in terms of body diversity. Every year, it seems, Love Island leans further into their standard casting and the contestants all have a certain ‘look’. But if you refuse to diversify the contestants, could you not at least diversify your editing and social media team so that you know when you are being problematic?
I myself have been plagued by the constant reference to the Disney character Mulan that frankly only happens because there is such an absence of Asian people on TV. And because I’m an Asian of the tanned variety, I‘ve also had multiple instances of being catcalled with Pocahontas.
It’s even been used as a weak attempt at flirting, the most memorable instance being when I was running a coaching course and simply trying to do my job. A 50-year-old man kept calling me over to get me to help him with the coaching exercise - but instead of using my name, he’d substitute it with 'Pocahontas'.
Being 21 at the time, I reported it to my superior. I was told to take it as a compliment and reminded that I couldn’t date any of our clients. I never said anything more and put up with it for the next two weeks simply because I didn’t want to lose my first job. What annoyed me most is that I am Chinese and Pocahontas is not, but that doesn’t matter; all that matters is that I am racially ambiguous enough to be fetishised. Much like Nas, the visual similarity is actually irrelevant in order to receive this comparison. All that was necessary for him to be likened was for him to not be white.
I’m not surprised Nas laughed along – Asians have a stereotype as being a 'model minority'
Asians have a stereotype of being a ‘model minority’. Because of that, I’m not surprised Nas laughed along and was part of the joke, but that doesn’t make it OK. In much the same way, just because I said nothing to that man, it didn’t make it acceptable that he refused to use my name that was so clearly printed on my name badge.
If we look at Asian men societally, they aren’t only underrepresented in Western media but have also been persistently desexualised and emasculated. I’m wary that this initial episode might be just a glimpse into a larger narrative to come.