“I caught it in a way of Oh, this is how we’re viewed all the time—as part of some glob, some amorphous, non-individualistic collective. ”
Steven Yeun has spoken about “racism” in Hollywood and the pressures on Asian Americans.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Yeun said that the writers of The Walking Dead did not know what to do with Glenn Rhee – the character he played on the show. “I’ll be honest with you and put a full disclaimer here: I might not be objective, but I truly feel like people didn’t know what to do with Glenn,” Yeun said. “They liked him, they had no problems with him, and people enjoyed him. But they didn’t acknowledge the connection people had with the character until he was gone.”
Yeun adds that even he did not realise the connection people had made with his character until he was brutally killed off. “I think they took away someone that I didn’t realize I had made such a connection with until they took him away.”
Nonetheless, Yeun described having a positive experience working on the show, despite his character not reaching his full potential. “Internally, it was incredible,” he said. “Externally, it was tough sometimes because I never felt like he got his fair due. I never felt like he got it from an outward perception. I don’t say this as a knock on anything.”
“He always had to be part of something else to legitimize himself. He was rarely alone. And when he was alone, it took several years to convince people to be on his own.”
Whilst the 33-year-old Korean American actor doesn’t label the decisions to exclude his character as one of racism per se, he certainly feels a connection between race and Hollywood’s treatment of Asians.
“I didn’t think of it as racism, where it’s like, Oh, this is racist,” Yeun added. “I caught it in a way of Oh, this is how we’re viewed all the time—as part of some glob, some amorphous, non-individualistic collective.”
For Yeun, Glenn’s fate may have been worse if he had not been killed off. “I think the cruelest thing is that if Glenn had continued on, knowing how things usually shake out, I could totally foresee a situation where he just slowly, quietly disappears into the background and is kind of remembered but not really.”
Yeun instead feels that Glenn’s death may have a positive effect for the Asian community and their representation on screen. “But in this way, it was like holding up a battered skull to the world to be like, ‘Don’t forget, this Asian person existed in this medium and now he’s fucking dead.’ Like, he is fucking dead. That’s super cool! I’m cool with that.”
Recently, Yeun appeared on Korean TV, claiming that there is a “true history of suppression of Asian American voices.”