When my parents were away during Christmas break, I had a whole week to myself so I invited my brother to watch films with me. One of the films we watched was Topic Thunder. As strange and funny as it was, the film reminded me of how male-centric the film industry is. Many people rant and criticize recent films for being too politically correct. Yes, they do include diverse talent in front and behind the camera, but the representation does not feel authentic. Yet, the film industry still has mostly white male directors, writers, and talent who dominate the box office and hold sexist and racist standards in modern films and television shows. So, I wish to write a tribute to a writer-director who does bring in authentic diversity and debunking common stereotypes: Alice Wu.
Alice Wu is an Asian female director and writer whose known for films such as Saving Face, The Half of It, and Over the Moon. She is also a lesbian that incorporates queer representation in her filmography. Instead of making depressing stories that highlights the struggles of her lesbian characters, Wu lightens the mode and tone and gives them a chance at happiness in dire situations. Her films always have happy endings and make you feel good similar to how Rom Coms bring joy to their audience.
I first watched The Half of It because of the buzz surrounding its release. It wasn't until last month that I got to watch this film on Netflix. It does hold up its hype by breaking down common tropes in teen dramas. The film is about Elle Chu who lives in a small town with her father and runs a business writing letters for her classmates. When a jock named Paul comes to her to write a letter to popular girl Aster, she helps him yet she ends up falling for Aster as Paul falls for Elle.
One of the biggest tropes in all storytelling is the love triangle. This trope is not only common is teen stories, but it almost every single film and tv show. It's meant to keep the viewers invested in the characters with the juicy drama. On the other hand, it is purely a cruel and manipulative form of cheating. With The Half of It, it brings in some dimension as all three of the characters are involved with one another rather than one person choosing between two people. The viewers are, instead, investing in all sides and want them to have a happy ending in some way.
Another trope that is deconstructed is the jock character. Paul is not a mean character similar to the other male characters. He is a kind teen boy who has difficulty expressing himself to others. A majority of male characters, especially jocks, are portrayed as stoic, cruel, and calculating. They range from action heroes to roguish bad boys. Paul's character feels very authentic because he is a character who is kind to the people around him, particularly Elle, with no selfish undertones. By having a male character who is kind and go against common masculine conceptions, it can help young boys and men understand that they don't have to "be a man" all the time and live up to toxic and harmful expectations.
Saving Face was the second film I watched after The Half of It. It is available on Amazon Prime Video. The film is about a doctor named Wil who has to take care of her pregnant, unmarried mother while falling in love with a dancer named Vivian. Wu conceived this film as a love letter to mother-daughter relationships. One of the great aspects about this film is its almost all-Asian cast. So many other recent films tried to hail themselves as the first to finally break barriers for Asian actors in Hollywood. The live action Mulan from last year attempted to achieve that goal, but it failed due to poor audience reaction and other factors. But there have been other Asian American films including this one with an Asian cast that debunk common cliches of Asian people. Saving Face breakes down of traditions of Chinese culture with family and relationships. The testament of this film proofs my belief that mainstream audiences would forget about their favorite films once others get released. For those who do want representation for the sake of it, all you have to do is look really hard for past genuine ones.
Female talent still have a disadvantage over male talent. It is believed that not all female directors are worthy of handling a cast and crew on a feature. It is unfair because it comes down to good talent and professionalism. If we can support ones who are good at what they do while delivering diversity, we can gather up the hope of bigger success.
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