Wieden+Kennedy's 'The Myth' dismantles the 'model minority' stereotype
Titania Tran, one of creators of 'Call It-Covid' returns for the powerful follow-up piece
May 19, 2022
The myth of the “model minority" has long been criticized for numerous reasons. The stereotype, first coined by sociologist William Petersen in a 1966 New York Times article, is typically applied to those of AAPI descent and refers to a minority group that seems to be more successful than others, effectively pitting them against other disadvantaged groups. It also fails to accurately capture the diversity within the AAPI community at large.
“The Myth,” a thought-provoking new film from Wieden+Kennedy attempts to dismantle the stereotype through a powerful combination of word and imagery.
A spoken word poem unpacks the model minority myth from the point of view of someone trapped within it, recognizing the divisions it creates with others. “They made me their model minority,” the voiceover says. “They made me their scapegoat, their virus, their weapon to use against you.”
The words are juxtaposed against a collage of scenes of AAPI individuals, young and old, in various settings. There’s a child at school, a woman serving food at a restaurant, a senior walking through the street. Eventually, it folds in archival footage of war, racial conflict, and finally, a scene of love, featuring a woman of Asian descent and a Black man.
“The Myth” is a follow-up to the stirring “Call It Covid” film from Wieden+Kennedy’s Asiancy affinity group, which confronted the continuing violence against Asian Americans and was written and voiced by Titania Tran, who recently earned the honor of Creative of the Year at Ad Age’s Creativity Awards. Tran once again lent her own voice to the new film, and led the project alongside her colleague, Senior Art Director Dan Koo.
According to Tran, “The Myth” is “a response to the times. It’s a response to witnessing the patterns of violence—both physical and nonphysical—against not only our Asian community, but our Black, Latinx, Indigenous communities, so many of our most vulnerable communities.”
Given the violence that leaves no community untouched, “we were forced to look at ourselves,” she said. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is our role in this?’ That question led us to recognizing how the ‘model minority’ myth has used us, and how dangerous it is. The ‘model minority’ myth portrays Asian folks in such a way that hurts not only us, but everyone else held in comparison.”
“The Model Minority Myth has been something that has been heavily intellectualized and probed in academia,” added Koo. “When we recognized how cyclical and how deep-seated the Model Minority has been throughout our lives, we realized it doesn’t affect just the Asian community, but all marginalized communities. We are pit against each other in order to keep us apart, and that’s by design.”
Ultimately, the goal of the film is to stop that cycle. “We’re pit against each other in a way that distracts attention from who or what needs to change and stops our progress,” Tran said. “We’ve seen this happen during the Civil Rights movement, when 'model minority' was first coined, then in the 1992 L.A. Riots, and most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. We’re sharing this film now, in an effort to neutralize this weapon, so that it can’t be used against us anymore.”
The process of creating “The Myth” began last year, in response to the Atlanta spa shootings that took the lives of eight individuals, six of whom were women of Asian descent. As with “Call It Covid,” Tran said that writing the follow-up film was an emotional release. “For me, in those moments, I’m not thinking about what to say,” she said. “I’m thinking about how I can relieve myself of the heaviness I feel—through words. That’s what lands on the page: the weight of what I can’t bear to carry alone anymore.”
As for the casting of the piece, Koo said each of those featured “was crucial in telling our story. We knew we needed someone we could see ourselves in—someone who looked like our partners, our family members, our friends.”
Mimi Munoz, global culture and operations manager, who served as producer on the film, said that the project took more than a year because the team was deliberate about finding the right partners to produce the idea, “partners that understood the importance of the message and the need to stay true to our voices.” Ultimately, the team worked with Biscuit on the production, Jackie Bao was both director and DP, and Biscuit director Isaiah Seret served as a creative director.
“We hope this film’s message reveals to people the truth that the model minority myth tries to hide: We belong here. All of us. Together,” Tran said.
See the full script of "The Myth" below:
A model student
A model citizen
Of what, though?
A false reality
Designed to serve a purpose
To serve a people
Who wanted it to be exactly
What they wanted you to see
So they made me
They made me
To use against
They made me
I am not what they told you
I am not what they told me
I am not their
I am not their anything
I am mine
You are yours