Netflix recently released a teaser trailer for its new rom-com, "To All The Boys I've Loved Before." Based on the novel written by Jenny Han, the film is set to be released on August 17, 2018.
To remain as spoiler-free as possible, the general plot follows Lara Jean Song Covey, a teenage girl who writes love letters to all of her crushes. She stows them away in a hatbox, only to discover that, somehow, all of the letters have been delivered to each boy.
Oh, and Lara Jean also happens to be half-Korean.
This fact isn't touched upon in the teaser trailer, and if the movie stays faithful to the source material, it plays a small component in Lara Jean's overall identity (aside from the sweet, genuine efforts her Caucasian father makes to preserve her connection with her Korean heritage).
Speaking from my own perspective of an Asian-American, this is exactly what we need.
I don't mean to downplay the significance of representing one's culture in a person's identity; movies and books that explore that deep connection in Asian-American lives, like "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan and "The Woman Warrior" by Maxine Hong Kingston, are riveting and powerful tales. They thread the intricacies of cross-cultural experiences through memories of the ghosts of countries left behind that linger still.
But this style of storytelling about an Asian-American, biracial teenage girl sweetly falling in love is refreshing. This is not only because it's rare to find fleshed out Asian characters in mainstream media, but it's also because it doesn't make a big deal of it.
Lara Jean is part-Asian, but there's so much more to her than simply being a check mark for diversity. She's treated like any other protagonist found in typical teenage rom-coms. She's normalized. And for now, that's all Asian representation really needs.
You see, the fact remains that there is very little visibility of Asian-Americans in the mainstream media. I won't pretend to know an exact cause for that, and I don't believe there is a singular answer. Part of it may be rooted in the cultural values of stability that Hollywood isn't notorious for providing, and part of it may be rooted in the lack of fulfilling and well-rounded roles for Asian-American actors.
Nevertheless, Asian-Americans only account for three to four percent of all roles in scripted broadcast and cable shows, at least in a UCLA report cited by The Guardian. They are overwhelmingly underrepresented across all types of media.
So when this teaser trailer came out and I saw Lana Condor, an accomplished actress of Vietnamese descent, playing the protagonist in a movie whose trailer already had over 2.5 million views, I couldn't help but feel a giddy surge of elation. Because Netflix has done it right.
They gave diversity a place on the big screen, but they didn't make a billboard out of it. They didn't market this story as one championing diversity in a political and social climate that demands it. They didn't portray this movie as a groundbreaking step for people of color or women, even though it is in both respects.
In the vein of recent films like "Love, Simon," underrepresented minorities are presented casually, focusing on the character development and story above all else. "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" follows suit, offering a story that normalizes seeing minorities on the silver screen even more. And that's the truest and best way for social justice and representation.
Because you see, I'm one of many. I grew up barely seeing people who looked like me in roles that fully explored the depths of their character beyond gross oversimplifications or stereotypes of Asian-American cultures and personalities.
My story is not unique, and I won't pretend that it is. It's been told again and again before me.
So when I read books like "The Joy Luck Club" and "The Woman Warrior," I appreciate and admire the face of the Asian-American experience that they portray. But "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" gives that experience another face; perhaps, as some may say, a more assimilated one. A more relatable one.
Because it's not the color of Lara Jean's skin or the shape of her eyes that people focus on when they see this trailer. It's the gentleness of her character, the sweetness and earnestness and shyness she shows about falling in love that many of us understand.
And for that, there is a powerful universality to Lara Jean Song Covey, a girl whose heritage may belong to two different worlds, but whose experiences belong to us all.
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