Racism in ‘Eleanor & Park’ Novel Not Stopping Film Adaptation

The YA novel Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell features a white girl and a biracial Korean boy falling in love in high school. While this sounds like just the kind of book I’d embrace and promote on this blog, Eleanor & Park is actually rather racist.

And now it’s getting made into a movie, which has renewed the criticism of racism in the book, as noted in an article about the movie on Vice:

Since the movie deal was announced, dissenters have taken to Twitter to denounce Rowell’s Cho-Chang–ass naming choices (Park is an extremely popular Korean surname, not first name, something Rowell acknowledged in an FAQ); the choice to hire a Japanese director to tell a Korean American story; her descriptions of Park as feminine; her description of another Asian boy’s “just barely almondy” eyes; dialogue between the two main characters where Park says “Asian girls are different. White guys think they’re exotic… Everything that makes Asian girls seem exotic makes Asian guys seem like girls”; descriptions of Park’s mother comparing her to a China doll that further solidify the misogynistic “exotic” stereotype; the fact that Park literally does kung fu against a bully at one point… the list goes on! And on! (Rowell and production company Picturestart did not respond to a request for comment.)

Just do a search for “Eleanor and Park racism” and you’ll find a multitude of articles that back this up, including a review in the Los Angeles Times titled ‘Eleanor & Park’: Where romance and racism seem to go hand-in-hand.

This novel dishes up awful representation of Asian characters, which will then get translated onto the big screen. And the thing is, such representation in the media does indeed matter.

A recent article titled The Psychology of Racism noted that media is one of the major areas that can amplify racism, as summarized in a post on Psychology Today:

The sixth factor the authors identify as contributing to racism in America is the media. The authors cite clear evidence that demonstrates people internalize what they watch on TV. A very early example of this research occurs in a 1963 study where preschool children witness aggression on TV and then imitate that aggression in their lives. The paper is the first in a large body of research that demonstrates how people internalize what they see in the media. The authors also cite clear evidence that the American media portrays idealized representations of White Americans and marginalizes and minimizes people who are not White.

So problematic portrayals, such as in Eleanor & Park, do have real-world consequences in terms of racism. In this case, the forthcoming film will further bolster negative stereotypes about Asians.

None of this has deterred the production of the movie — but then again, perhaps that shouldn’t surprise anyone about Hollywood, given even recent examples of yellowface and whitewashing of Asian characters in the movies.

Nevertheless, it’s just not right that Eleanor & Park became a best-seller and now will be made into a film, as noted in Vice:

…as books like Eleanor & Park continue to find success, the representation conversation will churn on with depressing regularity. It hurts to see that not only has a white author, catering to young people, has sailed along without reckoning with her racism, her fetishization and her lazy caricatures; she’s been rewarded with even more success. It’s hard to blame Asian Americans for focusing on the things that make us feel invisible, even if these debates may muffle the least visible among us.

What do you think about the outcry over racism in Eleanor and Park and the forthcoming film?

‘The Half of It’ Film: Friendship, Flirtation, Family in Smart, Queer ‘Cyrano’

The latest YA rom-com movie on Netflix, “The Half of It”, offers a smart and queer rendering of the classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” tale in a story that features interracial friendship and flirtation, along with the challenges that face many Asian American families.

The movie’s “Cyrano” is Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a Chinese American high-school student who has parlayed her brilliance into a side hustle writing papers for her peers. She’s also a closeted lesbian, and remains shyly distant from other students (some of whom mock her with racist epithets as she bikes home), apart from taking their cash for homework. So of course, when Paul, the inarticulate but lovable oaf of a white jock (Daniel Diemer), has a crush on the high school’s “it” girl Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), he goes straight to Ellie to help woo her with a letter.

Except for one problem — Ellie develops a crush on Aster too.

Once Ellie reluctantly jumps on board (her own family’s financial situation pushes her to accept), the blossoming interracial friendship between the odd couple of this straight white football star and Asian lesbian and literary wonder drives the story as much, if not more, than the disguised flirtations between Aster and Ellie-as-Paul.

The hardships facing some Asian American families also factor into the story in “The Half of It”. Ellie’s dad, who had arrived from China with a distinguished engineering education, is shunned because of his English and can only land work overseeing a lowly train station in a small town in Washington state. Ellie fears leaving him, especially when she’s the one calling the electric company to learn their payment is overdue and the power will be cut soon.

“The Half of It” delivers many heartfelt moments that transcend the usual boundaries in terms of culture and sexual orientation, and shines with a diverse cast.

Catch “The Half of It” on Netflix. You can watch a trailer on Youtube:

Or, if you’re based in China, view the trailer here.

What do you think? Have you seen “The Half of It” yet?

‘Before Bruce Lee, There Were Just No Asian American Heroes’

The PBS series Asian Americans, in the episode titled Good Americans, gives screen time to that legendary actor and martial arts fighter Bruce Lee, highlighting his importance in American culture when he emerged in the 1960s.

Writer Jeff Chang, who is currently at work on a biography about Bruce Lee, had this to say about Lee’s rise to stardom in Episode 3 of Asian Americans:

Jeff Chang: The culture is waiting for this moment to shift on its axis. We needed to have at that particular moment somebody who epitomizes the search for truth, for justice. We needed to have somebody who was going to stand up for us.

Before Bruce Lee, there were just no Asian American heroes. For Asian Americans, there was a sense of, finally. Finally there’s somebody up on the screen who is as strong as we are. Somebody that embodies the kind of power you know that we’re capable of.

The celebrity Randall Park of Fresh Off The Boat surely spoke for millions when he put into words just how much Bruce Lee meant to him growing up:

Randall Park: I first saw a Bruce Lee movie when I was a kid, super young, and I remember just being mesmerized by this guy. And I don’t think it was because he was Asian, because he had an Asian face. It was just because he had so much charisma and confidence. I was obsessed with him. I watched his movies over and over again and afterwards wanted to fight my brother, because I wanted to be him.

You can watch the full (but brief) segment on Bruce Lee at the end of Episode 3, Good Americans, for the PBS series Asian Americans (available only to viewers in the US for free streaming until June 9, 2020):

A Cinderella with Blasian Love: Diverse 1997 Disney TV Movie Still Wins Hearts

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.

If you love musicals and fairy tales, or perhaps could use a little time to dwell in an onscreen happily every after, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella makes for fine entertainment. You can watch the whole film in its entirety online.

What do you think about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella?

Staying at Home? Roundup of Books, Movies Featured Here For Your Quarantine

If you’re one of the millions of people around the world forced to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, chances are you may have a lot more time on your hands than you bargained for this spring.

If you’re in need of something to entertain you or offer some much-needed relief from the overwhelming onslaught of often unwelcome news, books and movies do come in handy. And I’ve featured a ton of them right here on the blog.

Consider this your ultimate quarantine list of resources I’ve previously featured on the blog.

This post I put out in late 2018 contains the vast majority of the books already featured on my site.

Since then, I’ve also featured a few more books you can peruse: Hong Kong Noir, Recipes from the Garden of Contentment, Travel to China, Squeaky Wheels, Someday We Will Fly, Touching Home in China, and Spinster Kang.

Looking for movies? My list of critically acclaimed AMWF movies remains a perennial favorite on this site. But don’t miss my earlier list of movies with Chinese men/Western women in love as well as any posts I’ve tagged under movies. Some of my posts on movies over the past couple of years highlight Last Christmas, The Sun Is Also a Star, Tomb Raider and Crazy Rich Asians.

Enjoy! And wherever you are, wishing you good health and safety during this critical fight against the coronavirus.

(P.S.: Looking for more books, movies and other entertainment during a quarantine or stay-at-home order? The Boston Globe lists free streaming movies possibilities and USA Today offers links to free resources. NY Times has a weekly updated list of what to watch, listen to and read.)

Forget the Critics: ‘Last Christmas’ w/ Henry Golding, Emilia Clarke Could Still Be a Classic

The movie “Last Christmas” caught my eye earlier this year for casting the handsome Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Simple Favor”) and winsome Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) as the romantic leads. This made it one of the first major studio movies to feature an Asian man and a white woman at the heart of a holiday love story.

But the opening of “Last Christmas” in theaters on Nov 8 came with a little less holiday cheer in the mixed and slightly negative response from critics, leading to a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 50 from Metacritic.

Surely, when the filmmakers put together a Christmas wish list, this wasn’t the kind of gift they were hoping for.

Yet, despite the critics, moviegoers have responded with great joy for this Christmas romantic comedy.

Just look at the numbers. To date, “Last Christmas” has grossed nearly $70 million worldwide at the box office and remained one of the top 10 films at the box office this past weekend. On Rotten Tomatoes, it earned a strong 81% approval rating among audiences and has received many passionate user reviews on IMDb (with the most popular titled “Why doesnt this have a higher rating?!”).

Even Rotten Tomatoes has already reconsidered its original take on the film, landing “Last Christmas” on its list of 20 Rotten Christmas Movies We Love with the following description:

Take the Mother of Dragons and the hot guy from Crazy Rich Asians, mix them with the music of George Michael, bring in Emma Thompson to co-write the script and Paul Feig to direct, and sprinkle a bit of holiday magic over the whole thing, and you’re looking at Last Christmas. Look, we get that the story is somewhat predictable — pretty much everyone figured out where it was going just from watching the trailer — and it’s all a tad overly sentimental, but with this kind of pedigree, it’s hard not to be charmed by its immensely likable stars and its feel-good fuzziness.

That list included other romantic comedies that drew a similarly lackluster response from the critics and have still gone on to become beloved Christmas favorites, such as “The Holiday” at 49%.

Moreover, it’s also worth remembering that the gold standard of all holiday movies – the classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” from Frank Capra – opened to mixed reviews, and even Capra himself found the response from critics largely cold.

Clearly, first impressions, especially on Christmas movies, don’t necessarily determine which movies endear themselves into our hearts enough to merit “classic” status.

So I say, forget the critics. “Last Christmas” could easily become another classic holiday film too. It’s just a matter of time. And if that happens, it could add some much needed diversity to a world of Christmas films featuring largely white romantic leads (Yes, Hallmark, I’m looking at you).

So give “Last Christmas” a look this holiday season – and let us know what you think. Do you believe it has the potential to become a holiday classic? Why or why not?

To learn more about the romantic comedy “Last Christmas”, you can visit the film’s page at IMDb, where you can watch the trailer too (which is also available on Youtube).

‘A Simple Favor’ Mixes Up Mystery, Thrills, Fun (AMWF Movies Worth Watching)

If the coming of Halloween has you envisioning a night of mystery and thrills mixed with a twist of fun (and a lemon), then consider spending an evening with the 2018 film A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and Henry Golding.

Kendrick’s Stephanie, an overachieving single mom with a popular vlog, finds herself at the center of a mystery when her new friend Emily (played by Lively), the effortlessly glamorous fashion publicist dressed in chic suits and heels, suddenly disappears, along with her mercurial personality that veers from supportive to saucy and even downright scary (such as the icy look she shoots at Stephanie when telling her to delete that photo she just snapped of her). These, and many other oddities, lead to Stephanie going into full mommy noir mode, sleuthing out the truth behind what happened as she finds herself increasingly ensnared in the wreckage Emily left behind. And revelations, such as Emily’s son claiming he saw his missing mom, only add to the “Gone Girl” oddity of it all.

Golding, as Emily’s handsome but secretive spouse Sean, reveals more of his enigmatic wife to Stephanie, along with himself, and “comforting the husband” takes on an entirely new meaning as things heat up between the two of them. After Golding’s breakout role in Crazy Rich Asians, he once again shows versatility in the movie, which also deserves kudos for opting not to cast another white guy.

And if you want to take A Simple Affair a step further by making a night of it, don’t forget to serve up some martinis (or mocktinis), which appear frequently in the film. Cheers!

The film garnered an impressive 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics especially hailing the performances by Kendrick and Lively. You can learn more about A Simple Affair at the IMDb, which features a trailer (also available on Youtube).

Have you seen A Simple Affair? What do you think of the movie?

P.S.: Discover more AMWF movies worth watching here in this blog post.

‘Running for Grace’ Movie: Interracial Love in 1920s Hawaii Goes the Distance

If you’re looking for a fresh take on the star-crossed lovers theme, consider the indie film Running for Grace (also known as Jo, the Medicine Runner). Set in 1920s Hawaii in segregated Kona coffee fields, in a world where Japanese immigrants toil for white plantation owners, love blooms one afternoon when the mixed-race (Japanese and white) orphan boy named Jo, a medicine runner in the fields, gazes upon Grace, the young daughter of the plantation owner, through gossamer curtains. But, in that era, he’s not what her privileged (and racist) white family hoped for – and eventually the revelation of their taboo romance sparks plenty of drama, including some thrilling scenes of Jo dashing through forests and fields over his affection for Grace.

Ryan Potter, who many of you may recognize from the Oscar-winning animated film Big Hero 6 as well as the Nickeleon TV series Supah Ninjas, stars as Jo, while Olivia Ritchie plays Grace. While the plot of Running for Grace follows a relatively predictable path, the two make for a winsome couple, one that will keep you rooting for them as they go the distance to stay together.

If you’re interested in Running for Grace, you can learn more about the film at its official website or IMDb, where you can see a trailer (which is also available on Youtube).

Have you seen Running for Grace yet? What do you think of this film?

‘Made in China’ Movie: Franco-Chinese Man Dating White Woman Reconnects with His Family

The latest film from Julien Abraham that hit the theaters earlier this summer, explores many themes typical of family comedies — such as family estrangement and pending parenthood. But “Made in China” does so with a twist less often seen in the French cinema, let alone movies worldwide  — through the eyes of a 30-year-old Franco-Chinese man together in Paris with his pregnant white girlfriend. Here’s an excerpt from the synopsis on IMDb:

François, a young thirty-year-old Asian, has not been back in his family for 10 years after a violent dispute with his father Meng. Since then, he has always tried to avoid questions about his origins, until he lies to believe that he has been adopted. But when he learns that he is going to be a father, he realizes that he will have to reconnect with his past and his origins.

The film stars Frédéric Chau, a lead from the French hit Serial (Bad) Weddings series, in the main role, and Julie De Bona as his girlfriend. A review in the Hollywood Reporter praised the film, saying:

In a country where Asians have often made for easy punchlines in movies and TV shows, and where a more aggressive racism toward the Chinese population has reared its head these past years, Made in China comes as a welcome reminder of France’s evolving demographics…

It’s also a welcome reflection of the lives of many interracial and intercultural couples around the world, grappling with similar issues. The movie, in French and Mandarin, may still be in theaters in France and Germany. Otherwise, you can watch this trailer on Youtube (or this promo on QQ, if you’re in China) and then stay on the lookout to stream it online.

What do you think of “Made in China”? Have you seen it, or would you see it?

‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ Movie: Blasian Love Hits Big Screen

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.

Do you plan to see “The Sun Is Also a Star“? Or have you seen it already? What do you think about the movie?