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‘Outsize, empty, mute Asians’: ‘Virtually Asian’ video essay critiques portrayals of Asians in popular sci-fi

Sarah Yukiko
November 22, 2021


A video essay by artist Astria Suparak offers a visual critique of sci-fi and speculative fiction films that use Asian cultures as a backdrop and Asian people as props. […]

Scenes from wildly successful sci-fi films such as “Blade Runner,” “Ghost in the Shell” and “Minority Report” were used to illustrate how Asian aesthetics are used as props for futuristic cities while white characters and stories are centered. 

In the opening of the video essay, a 1960s Chinese pop song set to a hip-hop beat— the music of Vietnamese French musician Onra — plays merrily in the background as a narrator with a soft tone reassures movie directors sarcastically: “If you neglected to cast Asian people in your movie, don’t worry! You can fix it later in CGI. Fill the screen with outsize, empty, mute Asians.” 

The video essay fits into a broader conversation about techno-Orientalism, a term first coined in a 2015 essay collection by David S. Roh, Betsy Huang and Greta A. Niu. The book “Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media” argues that sci-fi and speculative fiction combine Asian aesthetics with populations who are mostly robotic and hollow, projecting old harmful stereotypes into the future with Asians portrayed as “technologically advanced but intellectually primitive.” […]


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