I remember the first time I was called out for being Asian. I was drinking from a water fountain in Kindergarten when somebody asked me if I was Chinese. I went home that day wondering why somebody thought it was acceptable to point out that I looked different from my peers. Flash forward to third grade when people started telling me that I was Asian and poking fun at the fact that I ate rice for lunch. I was confused because I did not think that I was doing anything abnormal. And I wasn’t. When people continuously brought up the fact that I was Asian, I could not understand why it was so important to bring it up.
It did not help growing up that I did not see a lot of women or men who looked like me on-screen, and when I did see someone who resembled me, those Asian American actors were reduced to being the sidekick or roles that perpetuated stereotypes about Asians. For example, one of the mean girls in “Hannah Montana” was played by Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, but her main job was to act dumb, and there was minimal substance to her character. De Tagle went on to have a role in Disney Channel Original Movie, “Camp Rock,” but once again, unlike the characters of Demi Lovato and Meghan Martin, she was given the role of being the dumb one and did not get to sing as much as Lovato and Martin’s characters did.
On the other hand, films may perpetuate the “all Asians are smart” stereotype, and this makes way for other statements that undermined the ability of Asians such as “you’re only smart because you are Asian” which completely eliminates the fact that a person, regardless of race, works hard to do well in whatever they choose to pursue.
Then we get to the rom-com scene and think about it… When was the last time in the past 15 years or so that you can remember an Asian American female or male lead (excluding movies this past summer)? That’s right. It doesn’t come off the top of your head because the representation of Asian Americans has simply not been a priority for the big bosses of Hollywood. Until now.
This past summer, two movies came out and started a revolution in the Hollywood industry. The first is “Crazy Rich Asians” which premiered on August 15th and is now the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade. It has been met with nothing but positive reviews as evidenced by its score of a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the amount of love that people have expressed for this film on social media platforms is insane. There is something so powerful about an all-Asian cast and the film’s way of demonstrating that Asian women are powerful beings who know their worth to counteract the stereotypes of Asian women being submissive. This message of women empowerment, especially for women who have grown up in typical Asian households, is one that should not be taken lightly because this type of thinking is how change happens. As the older sister of a twelve-year-old, it is important that we instill these messages that Asian women do not need to prove their worth to this world.
Adding onto films that have empowered the Asian American community is the Netflix premiere of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which is a movie adaptation of the trilogy written by Jenny Han, a Korean-American woman. Although the film has a teeny-bop feel, and at times comes off as a bit too cliché, it is refreshing to see that the whole movie centers around an Asian American girl.
This is the type of film that high-school-me needed. In the wonderful world of high school, it was so easy for me and my fellow Asian peers to feel insecure because we did not fit the “ideal girl” mold that we consistently saw film after film. Because of this, I always felt like I lacked something simply because I am Asian. During the most transformative period of my life, what I needed was a film like this — a film that showed a girl who looked just like me going through the exact same situations. Molding my identity would have been a tad bit easier if what I saw on-screen somewhat mirrored my own life. But we’re here now, and sophomore-year-in-college-me is grateful to see that change is happening within the entertainment industry. I spent a good part of my adolescence neglecting American television and movies and opting to watch Filipino soap operas instead because they were more relatable to me.
While Hollywood is miles away from where it should be in terms of representation, these two films are evidence that society is moving in the right direction. “Crazy Rich Asians” has already been confirmed for a sequel, and Henry Golding has rightfully earned his role as a Hollywood heartthrob. Though we may not be able to completely erase Asian stereotypes, good or bad, these films give us an Asian American perspective instead of letting the Western world tell their stories. Here’s to the fact that one should be proud of their heritage because this world would be boring if we were all the same. •
By Patricia Valderrama
Graphics by Cierra Morrisey
Patricia Valderrama is a sophomore corporate communication studies major at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a biannual writer for Spark Magazine. In her free time, she likes to write on her blog, come up with new outfit ideas, curate her Instagram feed and unleash stress through music whether that be through singing, playing the piano or playing the guitar.