AAPI photo series
TV was my escape but, as I grew older, I started noticing trends with Asian representation in the media. If they weren't an extra in the background, they were almost always the supporting character with their 'Asianness' being the butt of jokes. My interest in pursuing acting faded with every nerdy Asian, exaggerated accent, and lotus blossom I saw.
I still got excited whenever I saw an Asian lead, but soon enough, it started to look like every movie or show that centered around them would almost always be about their culture (bringing honor to their family, using martial arts to save the day, being a foreigner, etc). As someone who grew up struggling to connect with both the Asian and American sides of her identity, I felt isolated. I was convinced I'd never be seen as the “normal American girl” that I identified with.
Throughout my time in college, I've come to appreciate the parts of my cultural identity that I grew up being ashamed of and found a lot of healing and pride to be who I am. Of course, I still have my fears and insecurities as I attempt to break into an industry that I feel did not truly see and listen to people like me until these past few years, but that is now my greatest motivator.
With the help of the talented Grace Hilty, I have reimagined some of my favorite classic movies that contributed to the normalization of the problematic portrayals of Asians.
By 'casting' myself as the main characters, I wanted to shed light on harmful depictions of Asian characters throughout the years and show everyone (especially myself) that, along with telling our stories, Asians and Asian Americans can and should be considered for roles beyond the ones specifically written for us.
Our faces and voices can do more.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
If I were Holly Golightly, she would be equipped with her Vietnamese coffee and mix of Asian and American snacks. In my version, there would be no exaggerated accents, no yellowface, and no Mr. Yunioshi played up for laughs. I would be a free spirit who loves Tiffany’s.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
In my version of Sixteen Candles, Samantha Baker would feel as invisible as I did in high school and would still get the guy in the end. My family wouldn’t gawk at the foreign exchange student and there wouldn’t be the sound of a gong accompanying his appearance and name. While we’re getting rid of the racism, let’s just get rid of the misogyny altogether.
Mean Girls (2004)
In my version of Mean Girls, my character wouldn’t have to stick to just the Asian nerds or the exoticized and over-sexualized cool Asians. In fact, there wouldn’t be stereotypical ethnic cliques at all. I just wish I had known back then that I could be more than just smart or exotically cool. We can be main characters, love interests, and queen bees, too. Our “limit does not exist” (I’m sorry, I had to).