Representation for Asians in media expands, Austin responds

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The romance between Peter Kavinsky and Lara Jean Covey is one for the books -- particularly the one this film is based on.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix | Daily Texan Staff

For most of her life, Angela Kang watched Asians in the media portrayed as the stereotypical nerd or computer genius, but with movies such as “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” she believes this norm may have begun to change.

The recent releases of these films, which feature Asian protagonists, resulted in overwhelming responses of appreciation and empowerment within the Asian community. Many, including biology junior Angela Kang, were affected by this outbreak of liberating films.

“It’s really significant to me because — and I’m sure a lot of Asians can relate — it’s really hard to find Asians presented as desirable or even normal or something beyond a stereotype or a trope in a lot of modern media,” Kang said.

In the past, Asian characters in media have generally been given a supporting role. Christine Hoang, a volunteer board member for the Austin Asian American Film Festival, said more films are transforming the way people may see a specific culture.

“I think when you see folks who are heroes in movies and television, that has to affect the way you see folks in real life,” Hoang said. “I mean, just ask Asian guys in the past few decades how Long Duck Dong affected their dating choices.”

Though movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” are known for the immense amount of Asian representation — as it was directed by an Asian and featured an all-Asian cast — Ken Dang, psychology junior and Asian American Culture Committee member, said it is still important to consider the quality of the movie itself.

“I believe (‘Crazy Rich Asians’) falls into the category of romantic comedies, so I hope it stands out as a romantic comedy — not just as an Asian film,” Dang said.

Kang said movies such as “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” uphold the idea of a movie being appreciated for the sake of its quality rather than exaggerating the presence of a specific race.

“It was cool to see that her race wasn’t an issue,” Kang said. “For the breadth of the movie, I thought it was really cute and really nice that they focused on the romance and the purity of it.”

Though the future promises a leap in representation, many pieces of Asian culture must still be promoted. Kang said she would still like to see other areas of Asian culture represented.

“To see positive Asian representation, or at least East Asian representation, is really significant to me,” Kang said. “I do recognize that there’s more to go in terms of representing stories of Asians with darker skin tones or of socioeconomic statuses, for instance.”

This spur of diversity might be the encouragement required to push society to discovering and representing new perspectives. Hoang said movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” can only do so much to represent Asian culture, as they are only one to two hours long and depict only one part of Asian culture.

“Hopefully (this) will encourage other folks to write their stories and continue to push the door open now that this film has cracked that passageway,” Hoang said. “If you didn’t see yourself represented, write your story and put it out there.”