Emily in Paris: Asian Women I Know Aren’t Like Mindy Chen
This Asian character might as well be played by a White actress — it would make no difference.
Bored on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to check out the currently trending Netflix show “Emily in Paris” after reading mixed reviews about it. I was warned about all the stereotypes and (French) cliches by a Guardian critic, but it didn’t hit me fully until I was introduced to the character Mindy Chen.
If you haven’t seen “Emily in Paris,” it’s a story about Emily, an American woman who moves to Paris to take up a Marketing job. Not long after her arrival, she befriends Mindy, a Chinese-Korean woman who is a nanny and used to study in the States.
There are many questionable things about Emily, but I’ll leave her for the American viewers. This article will discuss Mindy Chen and other Asian characters on the show from my perspective as an Asian person who grew up in Vietnam and moved to London for study and know plenty of others who have similar backgrounds to Mindy’s.
The Mindy character has a cliche rich kid backstory: She runs away from her loaded family in Shanghai to be a nanny in Paris as she doesn’t want to live the life her parents plan out for her.
To mix things up a little bit, the show creators give Mindy a musical talent — which, I guess, is because Ashley Park playing Mindy has a background in Broadway. They also make her half-Korean instead of full-on Chinese — though I’m not sure what the intention of this is as Mindy comes across as much more American-born than Asian-born, let alone specifically Korean or Chinese or a mixture of both.
She reminds me of Peik Lin from Crazy Rich Asians. Peik Lin was portrayed by Awkwafina, whose performance was criticised for being attached to Black culture and is not an accurate representation of Asian people, especially those born and grow up in Asia.
Both Peik Lin (in the movie) and Mindy Chen are the Asian best friends who come from rich families and exist to encourage the main character to go out of her comfort zone. Mindy, in particular, gives morally questionable relationship advice to Emily throughout the show and, as a result, makes the American lead seem more coy and sensible in comparison.
As a relationship writer, I wanted to stop these characters at many points during the show and give them some urgent coaching sessions because, welp, they make horrible relationship decisions and are such bad friends and colleagues — there’s no likable character.
For this reason, I lost interest quickly halfway through, yet I continued to watch till the end of the season in case I might miss some crucial materials for this article. Lo and behold, later in the season, Mindy Chen meets up with her Shanghai friends at a club where these ladies act like they have absolutely no human control — I couldn’t relate to any of it.
Why I Can’t Relate to Mindy Chen and Her Asian Friends
As an Asian woman who experiences both the Western and Eastern worlds and has Chinese and Korean friends, I want to clear up a few things and give you a wilder perspective of the real-life Asian population.
The point of this article is to say not all Asian people in real life, even those with similar backgrounds to Mindy Chen’s, act like them. It aims to avoid generalisation based on these characters by those who might have limited experiences with Asian people.
It’s also my rant as literally an Asian person with a similar background to that of the Asian characters in this show.
Most Asians are not rich.
Mindy Chen might exist in real life, but she’s definitely not the majority. So is Peik Lin and the world of Crazy Rich Asians.
Most Asian people I know are from the working class. We don’t have a wildly rich family planning a life for us back in Asia; we’re supposed to build a life for ourselves here and, in many cases, help out our family back home financially.
Most of us moving overseas is neither loaded nor incurably nerdy as often portrayed in movies. We’re smart, progressive, socially quick, and hardworking — because we have to.
The Asian women I know in real life don’t make thirsty sex jokes.
In my social circle, Asian women don’t portray themselves as “DTF.” They’re usually relationship-oriented and vocally so. And they don’t tell their friends to have sex with a guy in a relationship (or marriage, for that matter) just because “it’s French.”
“[He belongs to his wife] And whoever else he is banging, so why not you? Look, you haven’t done Paris right until you’ve had at least one wildly inappropriate affair.” — Mindy Chen’s advice to Emily when Emily says she receives lingeries from her married client who is also having an affair with her boss.
In modern Asian culture, cheating is condemned across the board and, if we hear someone who gives horrible advice like Mindy Chen, we would not be friends with her. She would be shamed.
The Asian women I know in real life don’t spill champagne at a club.
I haven’t partied with the “crazy rich Asians” so I can’t speak for them, but I do know many Asian women like to look pretty and polished at a club, so it’s highly unlikely they would mess up their dresses and make-ups by aggressively spilling a waterfall of champagne on themselves.
There are bottle services, for sure, but the Asian female party scene I’ve seen in mainstream clubs is much tamer and classier than the portrayal in this show.
Asian people living overseas care about their visas.
In one of the scenes, Mindy nonchalantly mentions over-staying her visa.
Her attitude couldn’t be more fictional. The Asians I know in real life would do anything to make sure they do their visas correctly, including hiring expensive lawyers to help with a simple application form.
If there’s some issue with their visa, they would be quietly anxious about it and do anything to fix it.
Asian people I know don’t call their fathers “assholes”.
I haven’t met any Asian kids that speak to their fathers like Mindy does, and if a kid speaks to their parents like that, it is not normal — it is frowned upon by the entire Asian cultures.
(This was added as pointed out by a reader in the comment section.)
The Bottom Line
If you see an Asian character on screen, take it with a grain of salt. Don’t assume that all Asians are like that or the same. Most likely, even Asian people can’t relate to those Asian characters at all. Mindy Chen might as well be played by a White actress — it would make no difference.
In fact, having a two-dimensional Asian version of Samantha from “Sex and the City” like Mindy Chen can perpetuate the sexual objectification of Asian women who are seen as easy targets by White men on dating apps. Asian women are not exotic sexual escapes — we are people with feelings and thoughts and values. Well, the film industry needs more female and minority show creators to make it right.
As for “Emily in Paris”, I would rate it 2 out of 5 for the visual designs and Lily Collins — Paris and Emily’s outfits are beautiful. If you don’t think too hard, the show can be quite entertaining. I did enjoy the scenes where Emily wins at her job. But, if you just think longer than a second, you would soon ask yourself, “What the hell am I doing with my life?”