Growing up, my favorite Disney princess was Mulan. Now, there are two kinds of people reading this: those who would argue that she’s not even a princess and those who feel the exact same way. To the first group, all I have to say is read the facts. I can picture the second group snapping their fingers in support, but I have to tell you something. In comparison to most, my love for Mulan comes from a different place. Sure, she’s an indisputable badass; she loves and supports her family, fights for what she believes in, and unlike the classic princess M.O., she doesn’t give up everything for a prince. Now I can look back and see all of these incredible features and choose her as the best, but when I was a kid, the only thing I really noticed was she was the first Disney princess to look like me.
You see, I’m Korean American. Turning on the TV, it was impossible to find anything beyond a token Asian (think Lane in Gilmore Girls or London from Suite Life of Zack and Cody), and even then, half the time they fulfilled the classic Asian stereotype of being completely one dimensional (think nerdy Firewire from Zoey 101 or Jackie Chan as the martial artist in EVERY movie he’s in). Let’s not forget that TV shows or blockbuster movies only ever feature Asian Americans as a supporting character, never the star. From this perspective, seeing a strong Chinese female (cartoon albeit) star as the main role of a movie.
via. CDN Images
However, even though I stand by Mulan being the GOAT of Disney princesses, as I got older, I realized there was still a gap in the media representation of Asians. For one, the entire premise of the movie Mulan rides on the fact that she is Chinese, in China. Was it just too hard to star an Asian American in a role that didn’t have a racial requirement? Just one rom com where the Asian girl wasn’t the friend telling the star to go for it, or an action film with an Asian guy replacing Tom Cruise for once?? Nope. Too difficult for Hollywood to figure out.
*Cue Netflix releasing To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.*
Not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but TATBILB is a classic high school rom com. Step 1: Girl likes boy. Step 2: Girl writes love letter to boy. Repeat steps 1 and 2 five times. Step 3: Release letters. Chaos ensues, and Lara Jean is in for an emotional roller coaster including everything from a fake boyfriend to girl drama. What makes this movie so revolutionary? The star of the film is an Asian American. Nothing about the film necessitates her being Asian–it’s a simple rom com–but author of the book Jenny Han (a Korean American herself) ask that the casting stay true to the book, and so the first Asian American female lead in a U.S. rom com was born.
via. We the Public
The emotions that hit me while watching it for the first time can’t easily be bottled up into a word, but if I had to choose, it would be relief. Relief that America is finally coming to the realization that not everything has to be white washed. Relief that this movie has taken the nation by storm despite starring someone who looked like me rather than someone who looked like Taylor Swift. Relief that Asian American girls growing up today will have the chance to watch someone who looks like them living life in more than one dimension. Relief that maybe by the time I have my own children, this won’t be a revolutionary concept, but rather my kids will have a chance to see diverse casts in everything they watch. Relief that someone has finally broken the barrier.