Melissa Leong’s name has been splashed across headlines since she was announced as one of three new judges on MasterChef Australia. However, the 37-year-old food writer is no stranger to attention, though a lot of it in the past has been unsolicited and racially-motivated.
Having grown up in Australia after her parents migrated from Singapore in the 1970s, Singaporean-Chinese Melissa says she is the subject of Asian fetishisation, also known as ‘yellow fever’, on a daily basis.
“As a woman of Asian origin, it’s a daily onslaught of fetishistic comments from strangers about your appearance and sexuality, and if I’m asked, ‘But where are you really from?’ one more time, I might explode,” Melissa recently told HuffPost Australia.
Yellow fever refers to non-Asian people’s explicit sexual preference and desire for Asians, and more often than not, is a term used to describe Caucasian men’s fetishes for Asian women. Yellow fever is problematic because it doesn’t view women as complete and complex individuals, but as a representation of offensive stereotypes such as subservient and hyper-sexual or the hardworking ‘model minority’.
Melissa says she’s often approached by men telling her they have ‘yellow fever’, something she’s not afraid to call out “in the same way that the MeToo movement has really taken such momentum”.
“Being Asian and female and being quite a confident person who’s out there all the time, I hear it a lot,” she said. “People find energy attractive. When you’re outgoing and you’re Asian and you’re a female, people go, ‘Oh that’s awesome, I’ve totally got yellow fever’. Well that’s really disgusting.”
Explaining the personal element of attraction is non-existent when yellow fever comes into play, she said: “When you fetishise a type or race of person and when you say you’re attracted to Asian chicks, you’re not attracted to the person, you’re just attracted to the idea of a type of person.
“And that’s really rude and it’s also really strange because for me, the whole point of personal connection is personal connection. It’s about finding the commonality and the resonance with someone and building the relationship based on that.”
Melissa, who has previously starred on SBS cooking show The Chef’s Line, urges other women to speak out about their similar experiences.
“In my experience as a proud daughter of a South East Asian family and a woman who has endured Asian fetishisation of women in Australia, especially racism and sexism and misogyny, that’s [all] created my world view,” she said. “I will call out something that doesn’t feel right for me, in the same way that the MeToo movement has really taken such momentum… It’s ok to speak up.”
Other celebrities speaking out
Last year Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu spoke out against the fetishisation of Asian women while at the Women’s March in Los Angeles.
“I march today for Asian-American women who have been ignored, or judged or fetishised or expected to be a certain way to fulfill a certain idea of what a sweet girl should be,” Constance said in her speech. “To that, I say you can be anyone you want to be.”
Like Leong, the Fresh Off The Boat actress made reference to the Times Up/MeToo campaign.
“That’s why we created the Time’s Up movement for equality and representation across all cultures, background, sexual orientations and abilities ― so that you can feel safe being whoever you want to be,” she said.
MasterChef judges announced
On Thursday Channel Ten announced its new lineup of MasterChef judges, after Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston’s contracts weren’t renewed following 11 years with the franchise.
Melissa will be joined by restaurant owner and chef Jock Zonfrillo as well as MasterChef season four winner Andy Allen on the judging panel of MasterChef Australia – Back To Win.
“In a nation obsessed with food, we are thrilled to welcome Jock, Melissa and Andy as judges to MasterChef Australia,” said Network 10 Chief Content Officer, Beverley McGarvey.
“Their combined culinary credentials coupled with their passion and sheer
joy for food, and their relentless enthusiasm to explore ingredients, preparation and cooking methods ensures we are in for a real treat.”
Absolutely stoked with the new gig, Melissa said: “It goes without saying, that it is an honour to be passed the baton and asked to help bring the next chapter
to life on a show like MasterChef Australia.
“It came as a huge surprise for me, and is, without a doubt the opportunity
of a lifetime. I am really looking forward to getting stuck in!”
Filming will commence in Melbourne in early 2020.
Additional reporting from Brittany Wong, HuffPost US.