Meghan Markle returned to her Spotify podcast “Archetypes” on Tuesday and in an episode called “The Demystification of the Dragon Lady” tackled the “toxic stereotyping” of Asian women in movies like “Austin Powers,” “Kill Bill” and “Full Metal Jacket.”
Markle recounted her childhood in Los Angeles, growing up adjacent to and very appreciative of the Asian influence in her upbringing. (She even recounts going to a Korean spa as a child, an initially embarrassing memory that she now cherishes.) In fact, Markle wasn’t familiar with Asian stereotypes, “ones we see in so many movies and throughout pop culture.”
“Movies like ‘Austin Powers’ and ‘Kill Bill’ — they presented these caricatures of women of Asian descent as oftentimes oversexualized or aggressive,” Markle said on the podcast, which can you listen to below. “It’s not those two examples, there’s so many more. And I’m not the only one who has taken notice.”
Margaret Cho was on the podcast, bemoaning the characters that serve as an “evil, exotic force,” more commonly known, as Markle points out, as “the dragon lady.” Cho equated the stereotype as being adjacent to the “femme fatale,” with Asian women being “beautiful and deadly – because we can’t just be beautiful.” “It’s also evil queen adjacent,” Cho said. “Unfortunately, that trope has stuck to film and to Asian women.”
“The dragon lady, the east Asian temptress is seeped into a lot of our entertainment, but this toxic stereotyping of women of Asian descent, it doesn’t just end once the credits roll,” Markle said.
Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen, who wrote a book called “Real Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism” (about how American wars in Asia, from Korea to Vietnam, have impacted the portrayal of Asian women in Hollywood) chimed in about the hypersexualized portrayal of Asian characters in projects like “Miss Saigon” and, specifically, Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”
“I myself have been propositioned in an airport in Atlanta of all places by a stranger who said ‘Me so horny,’ he just yelled that at me. And I was there for an academic conference,” Wang Yuen said. “I knew why because I looked around and saw that I was the only Asian woman in that area. I don’t even know if he’d seen ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ which is where that line comes from.”
“The line didn’t stay there, it jumped off the screen and made a huge imprint on pop culture,” Markle said. She pointed to the extensive sampling of the clip in the 2 Live Crew song and references to the line “have persisted in mainstream media” thanks to appearances in “South Park” and “40-Year-Old Virgin.”
When Wang Yuen is asked if “Hollywood matters,” she can point to this incident. “Lines from a fictional movie, that maybe no one has even seen now, is part of culture and part of the way that Asian women are harassed and belittled,” Wang Yuen said. “Those tropes still exist.” She also points to the harassment and violence that was being directed towards Asians, especially since the start of the pandemic (stoked by Trump’s xenophobic tirades).
The entire episode is very much worth listening to, with wonderful commentary from every guest.