AHS students and teachers share their thoughts on the milestone hits Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Bellows of laughter fill the air of the movie theater, as moviegoers munch on popcorn with their eyes attentively engrossed in the large silver screen. The Hollywood industry is booming, boasting copious numbers of movies each year, but mostly with Caucasian actors and actresses. A University of Southern California study on film and television reported that Asian-Americans are trailing behind Blacks and Latinos, making them the number-one most underrepresented minority. Yet every day, thousands of Asian-American students and professionals contribute to the fields of science, media, and politics, so this raises the question: why aren’t they fairly represented in Hollywood?
In light of the humorous romcom Crazy Rich Asians and the lively, sweet coming-of-age teen romance Netflix film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, teenagers and the American public have been spending weekends going to the movie theaters and staying at home for chill movie nights, binge-watching another Netflix success. Movies with an Asian lead are finally gracing the screens of Hollywood, and the American public is exhilarated. Crazy Rich Asians, which is about an American professor who travels to meet her boyfriend’s elitist family in Singapore, received an impressive high score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and topped $35 million in just its first five days at theaters. The two movies were released relatively near to one another, and it was refreshing to see them directed to two pretty distinct age groups.
In addition to enjoying the movies with laughter, sour candy, and side conversations among groups of friends, AHS students also felt a long-lasting emotional impact by the films. Wenchi Lai (10), who is Taiwanese-American, stated, “They showed positive aspects of Asian-Americans; they didn’t show the negative side of bullying, teasing, and stereotypes.” For instance, the bonding of half-Korean sisters Lara Jean, Margot, and Kitty in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before demonstrated a loving, tight-knit sibling relationship, in which the sisters gave advice and supported one another in the midst of the chaos of navigating high school relationships. Lai continued that Crazy Rich Asians on the other hand was “actually pretty relatable and super funny.”
Although many students instantly feel that these movies are shattering Hollywood’s glass ceiling, there is also another side to it that makes the release of the movie seem almost bittersweet: that Crazy Rich Asians could in fact be perpetuating stereotypes of Asian-Americans. Although the movie was very entertaining, there is a “tragedy, this sense of caring so much about titles, all the badges of accomplishment, a showing off mentality. This removes the humanity of the person,” stated Ms. Do, the librarian at AHS. Moreover, this culture results in a semi-positive, yet cliched stereotype that Asians in particular are seen as privileged and aggressive for jobs, as mentioned by an article by television critic Tony Wong. While this label may initially seem harmless, movies play a huge role in popular culture and in transforming people’s current viewpoints and ideas. Sure, Hollywood has made a giant leap in characterizing Asians with more meaningful, less-limited roles, but categorizing a group making up 60% of the world’s population as “filthy rich” is not enough.
Unfortunately, racially-charged stereotyping is prevalent in our school culture. Although it is difficult to discern and admit their lurking presence in the open-minded, accepting climate of our Bay Area, they do exist and detrimentally narrow students’ conceptions of one another. Lai laughed, “They [Asian-American students] are all smart, they go to honors classes, they eat rice.” Prior to the release of these two hits, Asian-Americans have been put into typecast, repetitive side-roles, like the nerd, the quiet, socially awkward one, or “the friend, the agent of the star,” Ms. Liu mentioned.
AHS students also concur that Asian-Americans are sometimes discriminated when they are on T.V. “The Hawaii Five-O Cast was not getting paid enough, so they left,” Zeki Xu (12) explained. Actor Daniel Dae Kim, who luckily played a well developed character of detective Chin Ho, won’t be present for season 8 of this NBS hit T.V. show and made a Facebook post publicly describing his reasons for leaving; he made 10-15% less money than his Caucasian counterparts.
However, with the influx of Asian-Americans starring in Hollywood movies, students may feel influenced and inspired to pursue careers in those fields. Seeing successful role models who look like them and share similar upbringings, such as Davis-native, Indian-American comedian and political commentator Hasan Minhaj, could be beneficial to Asian-American students interested in media, communications, or entertainment.
Asian parents are however not always enthusiastic towards non-STEM related careers. Devin Priscilla Hill (12), who is half-Filipino and involved in AHSPA, said, “I’ve definitely had to think about acting as a career. My parents are both nurses and are pushing me to be a Psychology major. But as much as I want to suppress it, I know acting is my passion.”
Hollywood has certainly gone a long way in combating and embracing diversity. Ms. Liu remarked, “When I was growing up, they were all blonde. Hollywood was trying to get brunettes into the door, let alone Asians.” However, there is still an abundance of work to be done to accurately portray Asian-Americans as people who are not tirelessly judged solely on the basis of their accomplishments, but instead clearly recognized as independent individuals — each with unique sets of aspirations, talents, and outlooks.
Caption: The three sisters from the movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Photo from Awesomeness Films)