C, a repeat visitor to Thailand, made the following observation: "The Thais I meet on the street run the whole gamut from light-skinned to very dark. In fact, dark-skinned Thais are common. But the images I saw on TV while I was in Thailand did not reflect the physical diversity of the Thai population. TV series and advertisements heavily favor light-skinned people. If one has not visited Thailand and only viewed Thailand through Thai TV programming, one might think that most, if not all Thais, are magnolia-colored, which is definitely not the case.
Media images may very well reflect a color-coded 'caste' system in Thai society. Such color preferences are not new. Medieval Thai art portray the idealized romantic couple as light-skinned. In more recent times, urban areas in Thailand drew many immigrants from China. These newcomers intermarried with locals to produce children with paler skin than the indigenous Thai, resulting in a lighter-skinned urban population vs a darker-skin rural population (in which there is less intermarriage with Chinese). As the mercantile Chinese has a disproportionate hold on Thai wealth, light skin color became associated with urban affluence. C relates an incident which illustrates the hurtfulness of this kind of bias, "My Thai host T and I met a Westerner and his Thai wife for the first time. The wife was a dark-skinned woman. T immediately whispered to me that the wife must be an uneducated. rural, low-class woman because her skin is dark. I was surprised at how quickly T drew such a connection, which seemed rather unreasonable. T herself is of mixed Chinese and native Thai descent." K, another Thai, confirms the existence of such irrational biases. "If a Thai woman is seen with a European man, she is often assumed to be a prostitute if her skin is dark. Often, married Thai woman/European man couples encounter people who assume they are not married, but merely a sex worker and her client."
Other Asian countries which have prolific film industries also reflect a similar disconnect between the appearance of people who appear on TV and the appearance of people whom one encounters regularly on the streets. Indian medieval art of idealized beauty, like Thai medieval art, often featured white-skinned men and women. The modern Indian entertainment industry favors pale-skinned European-looking women. The ranks of male actors and singers are also disproportionately composed of light-skinned individuals, though the disproportionality is probably not as large as that which afflicts the ranks of female actresses. This possibly reflects different standards of 'beauty' for men and for women or perhaps just the fact that actors are not expected to be 'conventionally beautiful' while actresses have to be.
The Filipino film industry has also been criticized by some Filipinos as favoring a 'colonial' standard of beauty - most of the big stars are light-skinned and have facial features that reflect their Spanish ancestry. More 'indigenous-looking' actors and actresses are less likely to get the same screen time and attention. The trend of favoring a European standard of beauty unfortunately carries over into some Asian American film. New country, old biases. Take for example the casting of American Adobo. All the female Filipino/Filipino American characters were played by actresses who were light-skinned and had predominantly Caucasoid features. The 2 main male characters, however, have more Mongoloid features. The cast doesn't reflect the color diversity of the Filipino American population. One of the messages from the film seemed to be "Happiness is most likely found with a white partner". The two main female characters exclusively dated white American men. One of the supporting male characters, a Casanova, dated both black and white women, but finally found true happiness with a blonde. One of the main male characters was gay and involved with a white man. The other main male character found true love in a Filipina, but his daughter partnered with a white boy. To sum it up, only one out of six couples in the movie is intraracial, and all the other 5 couples were white/Filipino. It appears that the real-world standards of 'beauty' reflected by the case is mirrored by the fictional narrative's choices of couples.
While some say that media images, whether they be medieval paintings or modern film, merely reflect society's tastes, one can also say that media images perpetuate the same preferences that created them. I also believe that media can lead the way in social change. If enough people start putting out works that challenge the status quo of "lighter is righter", the darker-skinned people of the world may finally start getting a little bit more of the respect that all humans deserve. The media is a 'neutral' tool, and has the potential to make or break stereotypes, depending on who controls the images we see. The Filipino American film The Debut makes a conscious effort to go against Eurocentric ideas of beauty by having an American-born Filipina character tell the protagonist that she finds his flat nose attractive. This is a refreshing break from the norm of people of color propagating their own self-hatred.