By Jessica Jin
So you’ve probably all heard about the MPDG trope in modern media, or the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She who mysteriously drops into the ordinary main character’s run-of-the-mill life, destroying every convention he held to be true with one stomp of her Doc Martens, flashing mischievous looks at him through her haphazardly arranged bright-blue bangs, who is the Interesting Girl, who smokes clove cigarettes and says valid shit like “Kerouac’s a filthy misogynist” and “do you ever think about how futile seasons are?” Unworthy Main Character is suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of character growth, and then the plot device that is the MPDG is no longer necessary. She disappears as quickly as the autumn leaves she keeps talking about.
But here’s a lesser-known version of the MPDG – the ECHA, or the Edgy Colored Hair Asian. The ECHA appears in movies and TV tropes wielding some kind of weapon, or at least an icy sarcasm. Most importantly, she has one or more brightly colored streaks in her hair, to show that she’s Not Like Other Girls. Think Mako Mori from Pacific Rim. Or Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim. Or Gogo Tamago from Big Hero 6. Or Tina from Glee that one season. The list really goes on.
What’s the problem with the Edgy Colored Hair Asian trope? Isn’t it just some lighthearted aesthetic fun? Not exactly. The problem is, the ECHA is one continuing way that modern media fails to create diverse roles for Asian people, instead rehashing a long-existing trope of the exotified Dragon Lady – a flat character who is deceitful, domineering, or otherwise mysterious.
It’s complicated. As media doesn’t represent Asians in diverse roles, the role models available to me growing up were the Edgy Colored Hair Asian girls. I wanted to imagine myself badass like Mako Mori or O-ren Ishii. Swords and dragons are, objectively, pretty cool. I dye my hair strange and bright colors, just for the hell of it. I wear Docs because they’re honestly comfortable.
But what we as Asians need is not another trope. We need media representation that allows us to be diverse in all the many ways that I know us to be. We need black hair, and blue bangs, and all the multitudinous shades in between. We need the freedom of a voice that can be kind, can be sarcastic, can be snarky – not because anyone is expecting us to be, but because we have the power to speak.
All we need is to be heard.
Jessica Jin ([email protected]) is an intern at the Harvard College Women’s Center and writes on gender, race, and memes.