In the season seven premiere of zombie-apocalypse show, “The Walking Dead,” fan-favorite character Glenn Rhee was brutally killed. Rhee’s death was upsetting to the Asian-American community in particular, as he was one of the only major Asian-American characters in current popular media. Reports released after the show’s premiere confirmed earlier estimations that Rhee comprised 50 percent of all Asian representation on TV.
Andrew Asuncion, the head of the media watchdog group FAAIR (Fairness and Asian-Americans In Representation), which monitors the two Asian-American characters currently on TV, was saddened but not shocked by Rhee’s death.
“Honestly, none of my friends were surprised that Rhee died,” Asuncion said. “It’s not like the writers had that many characters who are people of color to choose from.”
Local “The Walking Dead” fan and expert on dystopian futuristic media, Luke McGraw, expressed disappointment that Rhee’s death was not appreciated by Asian-American fans.
“It moves the story forward by developing the characters,” McGraw asserted. “And REAL fans would know that it happened in Volume 17, Issue 100 of the comics anyways.”
Asuncion noted McGraw’s criticism, saying that he was “glad” that even in death, Rhee was able to keep the surviving white characters interesting. He shuddered as he remembered Rhee’s death in the comics, describing it as a dark moment for Asian-Americans.
“We lost 33 percent of our representation when that issue came out,” Asuncion reminisced. “It still feels like it happened just yesterday. I’ll always remember where I was when he was killed…” Asuncion then looked contemplatively at a framed copy of the issue in question that he kept on his desk.
For their part, the writers of “The Walking Dead” believe that Rhee’s death was depicted in a way that honored the character and the fans who loved him, confirming that they held back when deciding on how long the camera should focus on his corpse. When questioned about why Rhee was apparently the only Asian-American survivor of the apocalypse, the writers stated that “zombies just really like to bite Asian people.”
Steven Yeun, the actor who portrayed Rhee, stated after the premiere that he was grateful for the opportunity to play such a beloved character, “especially considering how extremely difficult it is to cast an Asian actor in a role with more than five lines.”
He added, “I felt respected by the show’s production team as well, since they gave me an almost six-month vacation between the season six finale and season seven premiere where I could really hone my acting skills by telling casting directors I didn’t need a new job because my character was definitely still alive! It’s not like I needed that extra time working anyways. There are so many jobs for Asian-American actors right now, like as Uber drivers.”
Asuncion and the Asian-American community are now focusing their support on the final representative of Asian-Americans on TV: Long Duk Dong from the movie “Sixteen Candles.”
“They play that movie every year during John Hughes marathons,” Asuncion pointed out. “He’s all that we have left, unless they do another skit about Asian-American accountants on the Oscars again. That increased representation by 150 percent last year.”