By Erin Caine
It’s no secret that American media and entertainment has had a long, embarrassing history of perpetuating racist stereotypes, casting exclusively white leads, and tokenizing people of color. Representation for Asian-Americans in film and television, for instance, has typically been incredibly scarce, especially when it comes to main characters, or fraught with absurd caricatures like Gedde Watanabe’s character in “Sixteen Candles.”
This summer, however, Jon M. Chu’s romantic comedy film “Crazy Rich Asians” (based off of Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name) came out and shattered conceptions of what a movie with Asian-American leads was “allowed” to be. Not only is it the first major Hollywood film in over two decades to feature a majority Asian-American cast, but it’s also an incredibly rare example of an American rom-com that doesn’t feature two white actors as the leads.
Constance Wu, who plays the protagonist of the film, has enjoyed no small amount of success lately, perhaps best known for her critically-acclaimed role as Jessica Huang from ABC’s sitcom series “Fresh Off the Boat.” What people might not know about her is that she has also played opposite Angela Trimbur in an indie lesbian comedy from last year called “The Feels” (which you can stream on Netflix.) Director Jenée LaMarque raised funds for the film’s production on Kickstarter, and hired a majority female cast and crew for its production. Here are a few other lesser known Asian-American-led films and shows that should be on everyone’s radar:
The 2018 thriller film “Searching,” directed by Aneesh Chaganty and starring John Cho (yes, the John Cho of stoner comedy “Harold & Kumar”) is noted as the first American thriller with an Asian-American actor as its main character, and it premiered at Sundance to strong critical approval. Though advertising for this film has been regrettably scarce leading up to its Aug. 31 release, Rotten Tomatoes called it a “timely narrative and original execution,” and added that these things are “bolstered by well-rounded characters [and] a talented cast.”
The teen romantic comedy “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” was released by Netflix earlier this August, starring Lana Condor and based off a 2014 novel by Jenny Han. Apparently, Han couldn’t find filmmakers willing to hire an Asian-American actress to play the film’s lead until she met with Overbrook Entertainment, a production company co-owned by Will Smith. In a world of rampant whitewashing (lest we forget last year’s “Ghost in the Shell” fiasco), it’s almost a relief that Han managed to find a company that refused to follow longtime trends of American film casting.
Marvel’s “Runaways” is a 2017 web TV series created for Hulu, with a second season slated for this December. One of the main characters, Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano’s first major role), is one of very few Japanese-American superheroes in the Marvel universe. Nico is also an example of positive LGBT representation for the show, by the end of the season finding a potential love interest in teammate Karolina Dean, played by Virginia Gardner.
The cultural impact of “Crazy Rich Asians,” and what it means for future Hollywood, isn’t to be taken lightly. Even so, one shouldn’t overlook the strides already made.