Chinese American actress Lucy Liu plays Ling in Ally McBeal. Ling, an aggressive lawyer, defies the Hollywood stereotype of the submissive Oriental woman. Yet, as an Asian woman, she is cast as a white man's love interest.
Many heterosexual men have said the presence of Ling in Ally McBeal attracted them to watch the show. If the producers introduced the Oriental woman instead of the Oriental man as an attraction, they probably succeeded. Maybe that's what was intended - catering to the heterosexual white male gaze.
A record number of viewers turned on to watch the kiss between Ally and Ling. Look, 2 attractive skinny girls, one East Asian, one white, in a lesbian scene! It is really doubtful whether most of the people who tuned in to watch support gay rights or have respect for real lesbians who don't look as glamorous. And it is doubtful if the writers of the show intended to promote awareness of homosexuals in American households. More likely it is meant to titillate white males by catering to pre-existing porn fantasies of the exotic Oriental beauty and of having 2 girls at once.
In real life, the actress Lucy Liu practices martial arts and takes what she feels are not race-specific roles. But still, despite the best efforts of Asian women, and the fact that more non-stereotypical roles are available, white-male dominated Hollywood still dishes up Asian women for the white male gaze. Strong Asian women like Ling in Ally McBeal or Wai Lin in James Bond's Tomorrow Never Dies are still paired with white men and advertised for their physical attractiveness.
Lucy Liu is white people's idea of what an Oriental woman should look like. There are other more attractive but less "typical"-looking Asian actresses out there who don't get as many prominent roles because they don't look "right" to white people. I think Kelly Hu from Martial Law is far more good-looking, but she just does not have the sexy feel, and even if she tried to act that way, it is just not in her. She looks more like the no-nonsense type. Maybe that's why she doesn't land as many big roles.