Raya and the Last Dragon movie artwork.
By Guest Contributor: Mai Nguyen Do
Note: This essay contains mild spoilers for the film ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’.
Representation isn’t just about descriptive characteristics. It’s about reflecting the complexities of lived experiences, including the dynamic, evolving nature of culture. There are aspects of Southeast Asian culture woven throughout Raya and the Last Dragon in textiles, food, spiritual practice, and so on.
Raya’s strength, however, is in its assertion of authenticity rather than its conformity to concepts of authenticity. Instead of attempting to conform to what are typically Western-centric or white-centric notions of what makes presentations of our cultures authentic, Raya affirmatively respects various aspects of our cultures while also building on them to create an immersive, imaginative experience that is substantively – not just descriptively – representational. From the dynamic, complex characters to small details like the fruit on a table, Raya is an incredible work that meaningfully engages with concepts of culture, conflict, representation, and justice. It’s a must-watch for everyone.
Continue reading “Raya and the Last Dragon: a powerful story of personal, political healing”
David (Alan S. Kim) and Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) in a still from the film "Minari".
By: Victoria M. Huỳnh
When Minari was omitted from the Golden Globes’ “main” categories for Best Picture, Asian diasporas came to its defense, arguing for its “all-Americanness” to make sense of their (un)placehood. But claims to Amerikanness are inherently predicated on settler-colonial logics of Indigenous and Black genocide, and on the dispossession of our own homelands.
Rather than claiming belonging to U.S. empire, I feel Minari serves a necessary and wholly different purpose: it powerfully unsettles Korean/American — and potentially Asian/American — understandings of “belonging.”
Note: This essay contains mild spoilers for the film ‘Minari’ which will be available for release on February 12, 2021.
Continue reading “Minari: Unsettling “Belonging” to Asian/Amerika”
Leah Lewis as Ellie Chu in "The Half Of It". (Photo credit: The Half of It / Netflix)
By Guest Contributor: Kim Tran
This post first appeared in Wear Your Voice Magazine and contains mild spoilers for the film “The Half of It”.
I was terrified of watching The Half of It. The dearth of representation for queer Asian American women means that, fair or not, a lot is riding on this lone film firmly situated in the variegated ‘coming of age’ genre. Based on early trailers, it’s obvious Alice Wu’s long-awaited follow up to the groundbreaking Saving Face could have easily fallen into convention. A reboot of Cyrano de Bergerac with a new ‘diverse’ cast. It could have been a sweet, yet flat rendition of a familiar tale. It could have been Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) cast as the quiet, whip-smart, puppeteer behind her un-clever, friend Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) both in love with the same girl. It could have just been yet another version of that story except with a Chinese American lead struggling to actualize her sexuality in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. It could have been trite and saccharin and perfectly watchable. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Instead, The Half of It shows us how queer a Netflix movie can be when it takes identity as a given and not a destination. Stripped bare, Wu’s newest film is a rare gift, a movie that embodies queerness and Asianness with ease and space.
Continue reading “More Queer than Gay, ‘The Half of It’ is Wholly Necessary”
Photo credit: Monique Jones
By Guest Contributor: Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet)
Note: A version of this article originally appeared last year in Just Add Color.
A few months ago, during one of my shifts for Shadow and Act, I reported on Gabrielle Union’s upcoming starring role in a new Screen Gems rom-com. The film is unique among Screen Gems’ repertoire: it’s about an interracial relationship between an Asian man and a Black woman, and is written by Chester Tam.
The film is based on Tam’s real-life relationship experiences. Currently, no actor has yet to be cast opposite Union as her romantic interest.
From my article:
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Chester Tam will direct a rom-com for Screen Gems starring Gabrielle Union. The film, based on Tam’s own script, will be semi-autobiographical and follow “a newly single African-American woman who begins dating a recently divorced Asian-American man,” per the article’s description.
The logline, the article states, hasn’t been fully revealed, but will focus on “how a drunken one-night stand leads to a secret relationship that eventually becomes public, surprising both friends and family of the couple given that neither is typically the other’s type.”
While the plot of this upcoming film sounds interesting, I’m hesitant. Given this backdrop, how will this film present heterosexual interracial relationships between Asian men and Black women — and might it do more damage than good?
Continue reading “What I Want From Chester Tam’s Upcoming Rom-Com Film”
The cover image of the Parasite DVD/Blu-Ray
By Guest Contributor: Nicholas Wong
Last month, people around the world celebrated the underdog success of Korean film Parasite as it swept through the 92nd Academy Awards to win four Oscars. Each new award for the film ratcheted up a breathless excitement that culminated in a historic win for Best Picture, the first foreign-language film to ever take home that honour.
Continue reading “Focusing on Parasite’s Success Misses an Opportunity to Challenge Anti-Blackness”
The victory was especially meaningful to Asian North Americans, who took to social media in droves to express their pride in the film’s achievements. For decades, Asian North Americans have lamented the deplorable state of Asian representation in Western pop culture. In North American media, Asians have been either almost non-existent or, when portrayed, depicted through harmful racist stereotypes. In recent years, high-profile controversies surrounding films like Aloha and Ghost in the Shell – both of which featured the “whitewashing” of ostensibly Asian roles – have amplified the call for more Asian representation in Hollywood.
A positive shift in this cause has occurred over the past two years, with Asian-led films like Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, and The Farewell garnering box office success and critical acclaim. These films, all helmed by Asian directors and featuring Asian actors in starring roles, have been praised within the Asian North American community for proving the viability of Asians in pop culture, authentically portraying our experiences, and debunking stereotypes. Add on Parasite’s Best Picture win, and it would appear as though Asians have finally broken through Hollywood’s bamboo ceiling.
However, the reading of these films’ significance as primarily tied to their success in achieving Asian representation reveals a limited capacity for Asian North Americans to critically evaluate their own media. The perceived scarcity of – and consequent hunger for – Asian popular media representation has foreclosed the possibility of talking about our successes in anything but celebratory tones. “If we don’t support our own at all costs,” the thinking goes, “we may never get another chance.”