The film industry is currently being praised for its diversity in recent films such as Netflix’s ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ and Warner Brothers ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. With both films going from book to the screen, the coming weeks in film will be recognised as a turning point.
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ tells the story of Rachel, a NYU professor who travels with her boyfriend to Singapore and learn he’s actually the son of the richest family in the country. ‘To All the Boys…’ follows the story of Lara Jean, a teen romantic who discovers her private love letters have been posted to their recipients. What do these two romance movies have in common? They both have relatable, whip-smart protagonists, and they both happen to be Asian.
In today’s society this should not be surprising, and yet ethnically diverse female protagonists are still a rarity in Hollywood. You can see this in the romantic comedy genre. Love is a universal concept, yet romcoms have largely focused on the lives of white characters. Looking at the top 100 grossing Hollywood films for the past 38 years only a small handful feature ethnically diverse people, (Hitch and Maid in Manhattan to name a few), though not a single one features an Asian woman as lead. Based on this alone, the fact that ‘To All the Boys...’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ female protagonists are Asian is remarkable in itself.
Lana Condor who plays Lara Jean in ‘To All the Boys…’ commented on this topic in an interview with the Guardian, “I hoped that I would be a lead in my career, of course that was a hope of mine. But I never thought I would be so lucky to be the lead of a romcom,” said Lana Condor. “Simply because I don’t get those opportunities, for probably many reasons, but one of would likely be because I’m Asian. So when I got the audition and it said they were looking for an Asian American girl to play the lead love interest in a romcom, I was shocked. Truly. I just had never gotten that before.”
The film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ which premiered in the US and is currently topping the box office, is receiving a high amount of praise and is said to be bringing diversity to Hollywood. This is reviving the conversation of whether Hollywood has enough diversity, and why this really matters.
Jenny Han, Author of ‘To All the Boys…’, revealed in a New York Times column, “I grew up longing to look like the slim, pale-faced girls that graced my screen. I’d look at my own skin and feel like I wasn’t good enough to imagine myself living the lives they did. On the rare occasion that I did see girls who looked like me in films, they were never the leading lady, but a quiet friend, or a character on the sidelines, who would disappear after a couple of lines, forgotten for the rest of the film.”
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ offers diversity that makes a statement in the form of a full Asian cast, Netflix’s film is more subtle in its approach. However, both of these films are steps in the right direction towards increasing diversity in Hollywood. They make a statement that Hollywood can do better in casting interesting and diverse protagonists.