The other night, I was on Facebook when I discovered a message in my inbox from a friend: “Jocelyn, you should do a blog about Steven Yeun….All the fans are really concerned about Steven Yeun’s character on the TV show.”
He meant, of course, “The Walking Dead” – one of the most popular TV shows in America.
Yeah, they’re worried Glenn will die in the season finale (which will air only hours after this blog post goes live).
Now, I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t actually watch this show. There’s a good reason for that – I’m incredibly sensitive to violence and, according to everything I’ve heard and read about this show, it’s full of lots of bloody, gory and frightening scenes. The kind of things guaranteed to give me nightmares. (You should have seen me years ago after I watched the Tom Cruise reboot of “War of the Worlds” – I had trouble sleeping for days!)
But “The Walking Dead” remains on my radar for a very simple reason: because Steven Yeun, playing Glenn, is doing more to smash stereotypes about Asian men than any other actor on TV today, as this article by Nerds of Color – titled Glenn of The Walking Dead is the Best Response to Anti-Asian Stereotyping – illustrates:
Glenn is a new class of Asian American character, one that I’m not sure we’ve seen on-screen before.
Unlike previous Asian American characters, Glenn is at once Asian American and incidentally Asian American. Conspicuous among other Asian American characters, Glenn’s racial background does not define or justify his presence. He’s not the computer whiz, the scientist, the intellectual, the geek, the doctor, the technician, or a host of other stereotypical roles typically relegated to the Asian token. Although it is implied that Glenn’s parents were strict, Glenn himself was a pizza boy prior to the zombie apocalypse and assumes the role of forager and fighter — not “medic” or “ninja,” two roles that might be stereotypically Asian yet fulfilled by other members of the group. In short, there’s almost nothing inherently stereotypical about Glenn and his presence in The Walking Dead.
Plus, when has any Asian American male character been hailed as “the beating heart” of a series?
Yeun’s amiable nature is familiar to fans of AMC’s hit zombie series. As Glenn Rhee, he functions as a likable everyman, the closest thing to a romantic hero in an unrelentingly brutal apocalyptic world.
“Steven is the heart of the show,” said Glen Mazzara, the “Walking Dead” executive producer who’s set to leave the series at the end of this season. “Everybody loves that character; everybody’s rooting for that character. He may be tortured and sensitive, but he’s always a hero.”
Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the biggest reason that draws many of you to “The Walking Dead” – his relationship with Maggie, a white Southern Belle.
In the second season, Glenn matured and gained a greater self-confidence, but more importantly, he found love with fellow survivor Maggie (Lauren Cohan). And if it’s rare to see an Asian male engaged in anything romantic or sex-related on American television, it’s even rarer to see him in a nuanced relationship that develops over time. Yes, it’s cool to see a brotha getting to knock boots with a hot white chick, but what’s even cooler is to see that coupling grow into the romantic heart of the series.
Yep, he’s your average Joe who shows courage AND gets the girl. And he just happens to be Asian. For a TV show, this is totally revolutionary.
Steven Yeun as Glenn on “The Walking Dead” – the most-watched drama series ever broadcast on American cable – proves that when you let Asian men step outside of the stereotypes to play great characters who are fascinating, nuanced and real to life, the public will watch.
That’s why we need Steven Yeun out there, playing Glenn to the very end of “The Walking Dead.” That’s why Glenn cannot die! You’re not just killing the heart and soul of the show; you’re killing, as YOMYOMF calls him, the “Most Interesting Asian Male Character on American Television.”
I don’t even watch the show and just the thought of this character getting killed off makes me feel totally outraged!
When AMC broadcasts their season finale for “The Walking Dead,” I’ll be on the Beijing subway, heading for the Beijing South Railway Station – the start of my journey back to Hangzhou (I’ve been in Beijing this past weekend to help promote How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit). But I can guarantee you, when the clock strikes 9am Beijing time (which is also 9pm Eastern time in the US, the start of 90-minute season finale), I’ll be silently wishing and praying that Glenn survives to the next season.
What do you think?