A New Heroine: Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Summer 2018 was the summer of the wildly successful rom-com, but it was also the summer of long-awaited racial representation. Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu and an all-Asian cast, shattered box office records by becoming the most successful studio rom-com film in nine years. On Netflix, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, has already stolen the hearts of rom-com fanatics worldwide, and the film stars Asian-American actress Lana Condor as its leading character.

Both films are adaptations of books: Crazy Rich Asians was written by Kevin Kwan, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Both Kwan and Han are Asian American authors, weaving elements of their own experiences into their respective stories.

It seems like a no-brainer: casting an Asian American to play the role of an Asian American book character. However, both authors had to work long and hard in order to obtain said representation. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a high school romance story, and Lara Jean, the main character, is proud to be Asian American. Author Jenny Han fought just to get an Asian girl on the cover of her novel, so when it came to the film, she insisted on casting the role of Lara Jean with an Asian American actress. Multiple studios extended the offer with the condition of making Lara Jean white, but Han refused to concede.

The story is similar for Kevin Kwan, who elected to side with Warner Bros. for the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians. Hollywood hadn’t produced a major motion film starring an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club, which was released 25 years ago. That said, projecting this all-Asian cast on the big screen was a massive deal. The whirlwind romance unravels as NYU professor Rachel Chu flies to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family, and shows how Rachel’s American values collide with those of Nick’s family. The film rejects the misconception that all Asians can be placed under one umbrella term, and instead illustrates how the Asian American experience is unique unto itself.

Asian Americans are still grossly underrepresented in the film industry. Most of the time, they’re portrayed as side characters, with directors leaning on stereotypes – dragon mom, overachieving student, etc. – to fill their diversity quotas. However, both Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before push against these stereotypes. Rachel Chu and Lara Jean are complex and nuanced leading ladies, characterized by their sharp wit, undeniable charm, and so many other traits besides their race. Everyone’s story deserves to get told, and everyone has the capacity to become the hero (or heroine) of their own movie – regardless of their race.