Asian Women Living,  Home,  The Entertainment Issue

Finding Dorothy

By: Dorice Lee

Growing up, I was always the yellow Power Ranger. Despite the fact that 26 seasons of Power
Rangers have now aired and only the first one and a half featured a female Asian Yellow Ranger, I’ve found that the role has somehow become a part of many Asian female millennials’ childhoods. This is
most likely due to a lack of diversity in television and movies at that time, which limited our choices when it came to play: which do you want to be today, Mulan or Yellow Ranger?

When I was in the fourth grade, we studied The Wizard of Oz. We read the book in class, watched the movie, and then went on a field trip to watch a local theatre production of the musical. I actually remember very little about the musical—I don’t recall if the acting was believable, if the singing was good, or even if the costumes were convincing. The only thing that I remembered out of the entire performance, was that Dorothy was played by an Asian actress. At first, that didn’t really stand out much to me. Being a bookworm with a love of fantasy, I already had a lot of experience imagining myself as the main character of everything I read or watched; in my mind I had already pictured my straight black pigtails trailing in the wind as I skipped down the yellow brick road, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw that image reflected back at me while I watched the theatre production. I was however surprised to find that this portrayal of Dorothy really stuck out to a lot of the other kids in my class.

Let me explain. The week after our field trip, our school was having an assembly where each
class had to send up a representative to demonstrate or explain what they were learning about at the
time. One girl in our class happened to have a Dorothy costume, so our teacher decided that one lucky
student would get to wear the costume and talk about The Wizard of Oz on behalf of our class. Voting
for this student began, and I was shocked when one of my classmates immediately elected me for the
job instead of one of the multiple doe-eyed, pale-skinned, long-brown-haired girls in my class. When
asked by the teacher, “Why her?” my classmate specifically referenced the Asian Dorothy they had seen in the musical theatre production as the reason why I should get to wear the costume. And then one
after another, more and more of my classmates jumped on the bandwagon agreeing that I looked the
most like that Dorothy, so I should get to wear the costume. After a bit of back and forth, wearing rights and privileges were ultimately awarded to the owner of the costume, which I think was the right
decision, and that was that.

Even though this whole incident lasted five minutes or less, it has always stuck out in my mind
because of my mixed feelings about it. I was secretly extremely relieved that they didn’t pick me that
day because I hate public speaking, but I was also caught off-guard by how inexplicably validated and
seen I felt when I was being nominated. As I said before, I originally hadn’t thought much of the fact that
Dorothy had been Asian in the theatre production. But that other people had taken notice and that it in
turn altered their perception of what Dorothy could look like was so exciting to me—there is no way
that my name would have been put forth for the vote if it had not been for that musical production.
From it, my peers began to see me in roles that previously only I had imagined myself in, which when
extrapolated to a larger scale is actually such a big deal. It means that for every prominent role that an
Asian woman lands in Hollywood, that many more people will come to accept it as a norm, and that
many more young Asian girls will feel like they can exist in those narratives too.

Looking back on it now, I can appreciate how my small experience gave me a taste of what
diverse representation in the entertainment industry could achieve, which is an equal chance for
minorities to be seen, heard, showcased, appreciated, and related to. And even though kicking butt as
the yellow Ranger and saving China as Mulan can be really great, sometimes its nice to get to survive a
tornado as Dorothy Gale, too.

Dorice Lee is originally from Winnipeg, MB and since moving to Vancouver, BC she now finds -5°C cold. She once read that she was creative but also very shy and puzzled about life; she has never felt more personally targeted than by that Chinese Zodiac placemat. She is a practicing optometrist with a passion for words, and is currently trying to figure out how to make that work. In her spare time, she enjoys procrastinating doing taxes, climbing rocks, and eating carbs.

Find Dorice here:

Instagram: @doricelee

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