Yes, Virginia, there’s a Cinderella with blasian love. And this diverse 1997 Disney TV version still wins hearts, and stands as a groundbreaking example of how to adapt fairy tales for modern audiences.
Known as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the 1997 Disney musical film cast the R&B wonder Brandy, who had shot to stardom early in the decade, in the titular role, with Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalban as Prince Charming.
As we all know, representation matters, and this film exemplifies that idea. In playing Cinderella for this movie, Brandy also was the first-ever black Disney princess, a point hailed by many. You could surely say the same for Paolo Montalban, who had a truly crowning moment as Disney’s first Asian prince in a movie. In both cases, the movie gifted young people of color with actors that looked like them, finally riding off into the sunset on their own happily ever after.
Beyond being the first instance of a black woman playing Cinderella opposite an Asian Prince Charming, it also stands out as one of the first times (if not the very first) that Disney featured interracial love in a fairy tale. (Twice, actually, since Whoopi Goldberg plays the queen and Victor Garber the king.)
Did I mention this also stars Whitney Houston, who dazzles in every sense of the word as the fairy godmother?
I slipped into this movie for an hour and half during the weekend, and emerged feeling noticeably hopeful and lighter, as if that fairy godmother had touched me with some of her magical stardust.
The movie adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s best-selling YA novel “The Sun Is Also a Star” opened last weekend in theaters across North America, with many noting its romantic leads – the Jamaican girl Natasha (played by Yara Shahidi of “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish”) and the Korean American boy Daniel (played by Charles Melton of “Riverdale”).
While I’ve yet to see the film (though read the book), it has drawn mixed reviews, putting it at a little over 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, I believe “The Sun Is Also a Star” merits a look for a number of good reasons.
Yes, we’ve got to start with the “R-word” here – representation. This modern day Romeo and Juliet tale pairs up a black girl and an Asian boy. It’s rare enough to see either black women or Asian men cast as romantic leads, let alone both together. Here’s what Charles Melton had to say about his turn as Daniel Bae in a conversation with AsAm News:
Speaking of handsome, it hasn’t been lost on Melton he’s getting the rare opportunity to play the male lead in a romance.
“To see not only that, but to see a character that embodies a full masculinity, it’s very endearing. It’s very aspirational. It’s a love story,” he told me. “The way Daniel is its like it’s great that he’s Asian. People will be able to connect to that . He’s also like the modern man- to be open, to be a hopeless romantic. It’s an honor.”
The story also takes representation a step further with characters that eschew the usual stereotypes. Natasha is a rational young woman who aspires to become a scientist, while Daniel is creative and secretly yearns to be a poet.
Meanwhile, “The Sun Is Also a Star” puts a human face on immigration — a timely theme in this era — with Natasha. As an undocumented immigrant who came to the US as a child and must face the prospect of deportation within 24 hours, she symbolizes immigrant kids like the DREAMers as well as the ways in which the US immigration system can suddenly threaten young hopes and futures.
Among the many talented foreign women who happened to marry Chinese men, there’s Kenyan Ruth Njeri, who rose to fame – and found love – on the stage in China.
Njeri is also known in China as “非洲茉莉花“ (fēizhōu mòlìhuā, the “African jasmine flower”), a nickname she received from the country’s former president Hu Jintao after meeting him and singing together with him the Chinese folk song “茉莉花” (Jasmine Flower) in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2006, which landed her in the national TV news in China. As China Daily reported in an April 7, 2013, story titled Chinese Tones:
Njeri’s patience and persistence in learning Mandarin paid off in April 2006 when Hu Jintao, then China’s president, visited Kenya. Because of her progress in Chinese, she was selected from the Confucius Institute to meet him.
“I was quite nervous meeting him, and I heard my voice trembling while talking to him. He is actually a nice person who is very approachable and likes to chat with young people.”
Njeri completed her studies at Nairobi’s Confucius Institute in June that year and moved to China to pursue a degree in language and literature at Tianjin Normal University a month later.
She also received a scholarship for her studies, thanks to winning the Chinese Bridge Competition in Kenya.
In the next several years, she went on to appear numerous times in TV shows on networks all across China, including the country’s prominent China Central Television, or CCTV, which named her one of the most influential foreigners of 2007.
But her greatest moment – the one that changed her life and love forever – came with her high-profile singing performance in the 2011 Spring Festival Gala, or Chunwan, China’s annual Chinese New Year’s Eve show broadcast across the country on CCTV on the most important night of the year. That year, she shared the stage with Ya Xing, a Chinese man she first met in a Shanghai:
Ya, 40, hails from Luoyang, an industrial city in Central China’s Henan province. He met Njeri, 34, from Nairobi, Kenya in a restaurant in Shanghai while she was studying on a Chinese government scholarship. At the time, they were both participating in the World Expo and met again a month later in Shanghai just before sharing a stage during the CCTV Spring Festival Gala in Beijing in 2011.
“It was fate, Yuánfèn“, Ya said.
The two of them would go on to perform together on TV many times.
Njeri also sang for the 2013 Spring Festival Gala as well (a year that saw Celine Dion perform for the event).
Three years ago, Ya Xing married Ruth Njeri before his friends and family in China. He is considered brave among his peers for starting a new life in Kenya but the ebullient entrepreneur, once a TV host, does not think so.
“I am in love,” he said. “It might look complicated to marry into a new culture, but I think people think too much of it.”
Read the full story — and see a photo of the delightful couple — at China Daily.
But if you actually watch the entire Youtube series (it’s only five episodes, 20 min or less each, and totally free), what you’ll find is a thoughtful exploration of life and love through the eyes of an Asian-American guy named Andrew – played by Wong Fu’s Philip Wang — and his mainly Asian friends.
Wang cited inspiration from series such as “Insecure”, “Atlanta” and “Master of None”. And the basic storyline — which centers on Andrew’s journey of self-discovery and soul-searching through his relationships, including with friends, lovers and family — isn’t necessarily groundbreaking on the surface. Yet Wong Fu’s “Yappie” feels like nothing I’ve ever seen before on TV.
“Yappie” takes the familiar, such as ideas about yellow fever (as it relates to white guys and Asian girls), and then cleverly subverts it to great comedic effect. One exchange between an Asian woman and a white man at a bar takes a surprising turn when it ends up reflecting dynamics more typical among Asian men and white women in the interracial dating world. This is just one of many examples of how the series excels at setting viewers up to assume one thing, and delivering something else entirely.
Wong Fu’s “Yappie” has also cast a Blasian woman, Janine Oda, as Andrew’s love interest. It’s refreshing, and not just because you hardly see Asian men and Black women paired up on TV or in the movies. Her presence opens up a lot of conversations rarely heard in the media – from race relations between the Asian and Black communities to Asian identity itself (at one point, she reminds Andrew that she still has her “Asian card”). And all of the interracial dating issues going on in the series will especially resonate with anyone who has ever, to borrow the title of the Diane Farr book, kissed outside the racial lines.
While Wong Fu’s “Yappie” sees the world through an Asian lens, you don’t have to be Asian to appreciate it. After all, the main character of Andrew is a bit awkward and uncertain about life in a way that transcends racial boundaries, making him incredibly endearing and relatable to audiences. And it’s a pleasure to watch Andrew in these moments where he pushes himself, even a tiny bit, outside boundaries drawn by his family or society.
The first season of “Yappie” proves that Wong Fu still has many compelling stories to tell. Let’s hope this is the start of more series to come.
Every week, the entertainment mags churn out list after list of swoon-worthy celebrity and Hollywood couples. But these couples are almost always white…and I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I’ve seen a single couple of Asian men and non-Asian women on their lists.
If my Pinterest board with real-life couples of Chinese men and Western women has taught me anything, it’s that the community of Asian men and non-Asian women in love is bigger than I ever expected — with plenty of beautiful faces. So it’s no surprise that our community includes some stunning celebrities and their equally stunning partners. Don’t they deserve a little love for once?
Move over, Brangelina! Here are six dazzling couples that could turn heads on the red carpet, while showing the world how lovely it is when Asian men and non-Asian women get together.
Sandra Denton and Tom Lo
Sandra first rocked our world as “Pepa” from the rap group Salt-N-Pepa, and now she has rocked the interracial dating world by choosing to date Tom Lo (as part of her 2010 reality show Let’s Talk About Pep). Was it romance or just reality TV? Are they still a thing? I have no idea. But they sure make one handsome Blasian couple, don’t they?
Diane Farr and Seung Yong Chung
Who says that Asian men can’t land babelicious former MTV hosts? Seung Yong Chung (who is tall and handsome himself) snagged the lovely actress Diane Farr, best known for her roles on Numb3rs and Rescue Me (as well as a stint hosting MTV’s Loveline). Their relationship and marriage became the heart of Diane’s outstanding memoir on interracial dating, Kissing Outside the Lines.
Grant Imahara and Jennifer Newman
You know Grant from Mythbusters. Even if he’s the geekiest guy on this list (he’s one of the official operators for Star Wars’ R2-D2 and helped engineer the Energizer Bunny), he looks awesome in a tux and would make my shortlist of hottest electrical engineers any day. Put him together with his lovely blonde girlfriend Jennifer Newman (a self-proclaimed “robot girl”) and you have a couple that could turn heads almost anywhere.
Will Yun Lee and Jennifer Birmingham
Actor Will Yun Lee (best known for his TV roles in Witchblade and Bionic Woman and on-screen roles for Die Another Day, Elektra and The Wolverine) was named one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive in 2007. His wife Jennifer Birmingham, a Hollywood actress as well, looks like a natural on the red carpet. Together, they make one stunning AMWF (Asian Male, White Female) couple. If the Academy handed out Oscars for most gorgeous couple in the business, I’m sure these two could nab a nomination!
Julia Stegner and Steven Pan
Could this gorgeous German supermodel and her handsome boyfriend Steven (a fashion photographer) make interracial dating between Asian men/non-Asian women a little more “en vogue”? They’ve already landed in a Vogue spread and could easily rock the magazine’s cover. The camera clearly loves them both!
I’m continuing the celebration of International Women’s Day with a post saluting outstanding women with blogs on AMXF (Asian Male, Non-Asian Female) relationships. Woo-hoo!
As you know, I just updated my list of blogs by Western women who love Chinese men — and it’s well over 50. It’s an inclusive list, but keeping up with all of these fabulous ladies is no small task. I spent nearly a day on that post. Yes, an entire day! Still, I’m happy to do it because the women in this community rock. We have a unique perspective on life — whether that’s life in Asia, our home countries, or elsewhere in the world — and that deserves a shout-out once a year!
But I’ve come to realize we’re not the only ones with a huge community. You should have seen the many blogs I discovered just by white gals in Japan blogging about their mixed-race kids and families! And I realized that if I were to simultaneously keep up with all of the communities in Japan, Korea, India and beyond…well, my head was spinning at the thought.
So here’s the deal — to keep things simple here, I’m highlighting the major AMXF blogs in the community authored by women in this post. They’ve attracted a decent following, fill an important niche, or are written by prominent women (including authors). Either way, chances are you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.
That said, if you know about another AMXF blog, by all means please let me know! While it’s impossible for me to spread the love in this post to every single other AMXF blog out there, I’m always happy to give them a link back.
And if I’ve missed a blog that deserves a spot in this post, share it with me in the comments and tell me why I ought to feature it.
Black women Asian men. The ultimate blog for the AMBW (Asian men/Black women) community run in part by a Black woman in a relationship with an Asian guy. It’s regularly updated and loaded with gorgeous photos of AMBW couples as well as their love stories. As if that wasn’t cool enough, the blog offers links to AMBW meetup groups around the US, as well as lists of AMBW books, movies and music videos.
English Wife, Indian Life. Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions in our lives that change everything — like how Lauren was on a vegetarian forum and just happened to respond to someone messaging her (something she never usually would do). That conversation introduced her to her future husband. Last year, she officially left her pharmacy job in England to move to India, where the couple married and now live happily ever after — while Lauren, of course, grapples with this foreign country and culture. It’s fun to read Lauren’s posts because they’re so immediate, filled with the excitement and frustration that comes from such a huge life change. Best of luck to this lovely couple!
The Good Shufu. Once upon a time, Tracy Slater (a self-described highly independent feminist) had the academic career of her dreams, teaching writing at a Boston-area university and living in the city she adored. But when she fell in love with a Japanese man, all of a sudden she began contemplating a life together with him in Japan, which meant letting go of her career and the life she worked so hard to build for herself in Boston. Once moving to Osaka, she became an illiterate housewife trying to build the very family she never imagined she wanted. It’s an incredible transformation — and not surprisingly, she’s turned her story into the forthcoming memoir titled The Good Shufu (to be published in 2015). Tracy is such a gifted writer and I eagerly await what is sure to be one standout book.
My Korean Husband. Nic from Australia is married to Mr. Gwon and she has grown a huge following through her funny comics, videos and other posts about everything from their marriage (such as this how we met video) to life in Korea and even the odd K-pop-related conversation. It’s a delight to visit and read/watch, so it’s no wonder this is easily the most popular (and most entertaining) blog on this list. Nic has a comic book in the works about how she and Mr. Gwon met and more, so stay tuned for that!
Linda Leaming. During her travels through South Asia in the 1990s, Linda discovered the Himalayan wonderland of Bhutan — a country that, in her words, “would rather have Gross National Happiness than Gross National Product” — and that one trip turned into a lifelong love affair on many levels. She met and married a Buddhist artist there and they adopted a girl as well, but most importantly she found the happiness that comes from following your own heart. You can read all about it in her fun memoir Married to Bhutan. And if you loved that book, don’t miss her forthcoming A Field Guide To Happiness: Twenty-Two Things I Learned in Bhutan.
I’m taking a break from posting from May 28 until June 8. But in the meantime, I’m sharing some of my classic content — which might either be new to you, or just a great read worth revisiting. Either way, hope you enjoy these, and I’ll see you June 11. 😉
It’s Memorial Day in the US, a time when we remember those who serve or have served in the military. But the word “memorial” itself immediately made me think of those loves of the past — a love that changed us, or a love that we might bury deep in our hearts, never to be forgotten.
So I’ve dug into the archives to share a few posts about loves we remember — from my own personal stories to those of Chinese men and Western women across the world.
The Sands, and Teahouses, of Time. When love bubbled over with my first Chinese boyfriend in his favorite Taiwanese teahouse, I tried to hold on to that sweetness of what we had through this place he left behind.
…I feel compelled to mention how disappointed I am that “foreign” girls are always white girls…. I live in China, and I’m quite attracted to Chinese guys, but my dark skin and less than European features seems to mean that I’m destined to be forever alone. It’s quite sad that no one’s aware of this growing problem, the plight of the forever forsaken non-white girl…. There are many of us out here, and every once in a while, we’d like some love, too.
After reading these words, I immediately thought of Chenyin Pan. He and I struck up a conversation this past summer at the Shanghai reading for Rachel DeWoskin’s latest book, and he happened to mention he once dated some non-white women as a university student in the US. In previous e-mails, he even mentioned the striking words of a Korean friend (who wrote them with respect to dating non-white women): “The world is getting smaller and we should try new things.”
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