Asian-American Representation is Important in the Movies- and the Job Market



Peter Kavinsky and Lara Jean.

Uma Bhat, Staff Writer

While the movies Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before are universally loved by teens for their relatable angst, humor, and cringeworthy cheesiness, their unexpected success results primarily from one key aspect that most critics have previously overlooked: their Asian-American cast.

“I watched Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before twice, and they’re both movies where Asian-Americans can truly be Asian-Americans. Of course Crazy Rich Asians was shot in Singapore, but I’m not necessarily talking about culture- I’m talking about really humanizing Asian-Americans in film,” Korean-American Junior Class President Raina Lee says. “By giving each Asian American in the story their own plot line and showing them experience things that are common to all people regardless of skin color, you’re really showing them as the same as all of us. That’s really combating stereotyping and the typical jist of most Asian American roles- which is a huge breakthrough.”

After several decades where two African-Americans in a movie would be enough to qualify a film as “diverse,” the time has come to paint the bleak canvas known as “Hollywood” with more representative colors. However, though aspiring Asian-American actors can rejoice over a shattered “bamboo ceiling,” other Asian-American students may still be waiting for a breakthrough of their own.

Sophomore Luna Hou, an All National Chorus singer and award-winning author/poet, stated: “I’ve definitely participated in a number of programs where I was one of the only Asian Americans there […] I’ve also definitely met a lot of people- a number of whom I’m related to- who just kind of assume that I’m into STEM and I can do all this complicated math and science and computer stuff, which is… questionable, to say the least.”

In truth, most Asian-American students looking to pursue careers in Law, Politics, Journalism, Creative Writing, or Humanities fields in general are often deterred from following their passions simply because of a lack of representation and basic stereotyping- Asian Americans only hold three spots in the United States Senate and in 2000, comprised just 2.2% of all lawyers in the country, not to mention the lack of Asian-Americans within the arts fields as well. Their parents, who are most likely also within STEM fields, push them to follow a “safe” math and science path, commonly pursued by other Asians, in hopes that they too can find success like previous members of kin.

“As immigrants, my parents were especially conscious of the struggle to establish firm ground. I think that their reasons for pushing me towards STEM are perfectly reasonable — they didn’t want me to have to go through any economic difficulties, and since Asian Americans were already so established in the STEM field, that seemed the most reasonable path to take,” Lee elucidates.

The question is, if Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before were met with such commercial success- both achieved above a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and above a 7-rating on IMDB-  why haven’t Asian-Americans done the same in other non-STEM fields?

Alice Lee, an Asian-American philosophy major at UC-Riverside, contributes the initial lack of motivation for Asian Americans in pursuing the humanities to the stereotype that Asians will not achieve success if they do not pursue STEM. She writes in an article for The Highlander, “From the perspective of my friends and family, I [as an Asian-American] was walking down a path [humanities] that would leave me “homeless” and “nowhere.” Moreover,  because my school district was highly ranked and predominantly Asian, the fact that I had an interest in the humanities rather than STEM led others to define my intelligence as substandard. In the eyes of others, it didn’t matter that I excelled in the humanities; the fact that I wasn’t pursuing a STEM-related career equated to a life filled with no achievements.”

Though films with Asian-American leads are breaking stereotypes in the cinematic world, there still remain many difficulties for Asian-American students wanting to break through the STEM boundary. As (Alice) Lee states, Asian-Americans interested in the humanities are not only often regarded as inferior by their STEM counterparts, but also subjected to the unfair stereotype that it is almost a “requirement” for them to be good at Science and Math. Furthermore, Asian-American students are often told (and continue to hold the notion) that they will be less successful if they decide to go into the humanities — a belief that deters them from nurturing their passions.

Because of this, there inevitably remains a perpetual deficit of Asian-Americans in humanities fields. With no one to show them that achieving success in humanities as an Asian American is possible, Asian-American students find themselves in a constant battle between pursuing their passion versus taking the seemingly “only” viable path, more often than not choosing the latter.

To that, as Hou says, “While there may not be a ton of Asian Americans who want to write really morbid stories for the rest of their lives, I’m so lucky to have a supportive family, and to be able to associate myself with multiple communities of people who’re also into the stuff I’m into- all of that really helps. At the end of the day, though, writing and singing are two of my passions- and when you’re passionate about something, you pursue it no matter what.”

The course of action to take is evident: If Asian Americans want representation in the humanities, someone- perhaps a Green Hope student- needs to make the first splash.

I also interviewed Esha Shakthy, an Indian-American member of Science Olympiad and Theatre. You can listen to the full interview here.