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#HowIMetYourRacism: How Asian-Americans on Twitter are telling Hollywood to back off

"How I Met Your Mother" actor Josh Radnor dons a Fu Manchu mustache in a recent episode described by the showrunners as an homage to kung fu movies.
"How I Met Your Mother" actor Josh Radnor dons a Fu Manchu mustache in a recent episode described by the showrunners as an homage to kung fu movies. CBS

In recent months, some Asian-Americans have taken to Twitter to call out incidents in the media they see as racially insensitive, or downright racist — most recently the Kung Fu movie-inspired episode of the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” 

And they're getting attention.

Asian-American viewers and others unleashed the #HowIMetYourRacism hashtag after watching the show’s most recent episode — which aired Jan. 13 — in which its white stars dressed up as Asian grandmasters who drank tea, ate noodles, killed flies with chopsticks — all the while Asian extras hovered in the background.

Writer Suey Park kicked off the hashtag the day after the show:

By Wednesday, show co-creator Carter Bays acknowledged the backlash on Twitter.

From his apology:

Bays is the latest entertainment figure to bow to pressure from Asian-Americans upset over racial stereotyping.

Last month, Questlove asked for forgiveness on Facebook after mocking the way Japanese people talk.  In October, Jimmy Kimmel apologized for a skit in which a kid joked about killing people in China to erase U.S. debt.  

An Asian-American Twitter?

Just as black Twitter users are credited with helping to kill a book deal for a juror in the George Zimmerman trial, is there an Asian-American Twitter that's effecting change?

L.S. Kim, associate professor of film & digital media at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said yes, Asian-Americans are using Twitter and other social media platforms in place of a public square. 

"The Internet has become an alternative ground for Asian-Americans to not only express perspectives and opinions but to really assert themselves within the American citizenry," Kim said.

It was on social media that Asian-Americans voiced outrage over Katy Perry's performance in a geisha outfit at the American Music Awards, and slammed producers of the Fox sitcom Dads for putting Asian-American actress Brenda Song in a Sailor Moon costume.

Phil Yu, who was among the first to criticize the "How I Met Your Mother" episode on his Angry Asian Man blog, said in an email that insensitive media portrayals of Asians are not new or happening more often. What's changed, he said, is how Asian-Americans "engage with these incidents. We're no longer passive viewers."

"Funny enough, we're actually encouraged by mass media to interact— marketing for any given movie or TV show encourages viewers to use prescribed hashtags," Yu said. "Thanks to the Internet and social media, awareness is swift and widespread when these things go down, and we now have some pretty powerful tools to respond."

Kim agreed: "With the technological engagement that social media allows, there is an increase in commentary traffic and, I think, the feeling that different opinions can be voiced."

For example, Asian-American women in the last month have carved out a space on Twitter to talk about feminism and race, using #NotYourAsianSidekick - a hashtag also started by Park, the writer behind #HowIMetYourRacism.

The Asian-American backlash to the "How I Met Your Mother" episode came in stark contrast to rave reviews. An A.V. Club critic gave the episode an "A-", calling it "pure appointment television for HIMYM fans."

Some Twitter users also found the episode if not funny, harmless, and blasted critics of the episode for being too sensitive.

What do you think of the "How I Met Your Mother" episode? Click here to watch the episode yourself.

This story has been updated.

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