The Power of Asian Stories in Hollywood
The scarcity of majority-Asian casts in American culture has been astounding with very few media outlets taking the opportunity to follow these overlooked narratives. This representation is crucial to the feeling of belonging and an undoing of harmful stereotypes surrounding Asian-Americans.
The first prime-time TV show starring an all-Asian cast was Margaret Cho's All-American Girl circa 1994. This show was crucial in providing an opportunity for Americans to see Asian Americans outside of the media depiction of them during the LA Rodney King Riots. One of the few times Asian Americans were featured on TV was during these riots, standing outside of their shops, protecting them with shotguns. All-American Girl, while only lasting one season, helped to humanize the Asian American population and grant a look into our lives.
There has also been a lack of majority-Asian casts in Hollywood movies. When Crazy Rich Asians was released, the only other major film that had featured a majority-Asian cast was The Joy Luck Club in 1993, about 25 years before. For this reason, there was a ton of pressure on Crazy Rich Asians to do well in theatres, and thankfully, it did. Crazy Rich Asians became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of the 2010s, making over $238 million with a budget of $30 million. And Hollywood realized the demand for Asian stories was bigger than they'd expected.
The recent release of the A24 Film, Everything Everywhere All At Once starred Michelle Yeoh and a majority-Asian cast. This film has already become A24s highest grossing film, making over $100 million. The film serves as a metaphor for the Asian-American and immigrant experience, dipping in between realities and stereotypes that surround the perceptions of what it means to be Asian-American. It also deals with traditional Asian values, mother-daughter relationships, and the cultural pressure that pushes us to conform through the inclusion of the character Joy, the main character's gay daughter.
I sought to ask Asian-Americans teens what it meant to them.
"I really liked it. The main character Evelyn always working and not spending time to sit down and be with family really reminds me of my mom. And there’s two sides, for one, Asian mothers feel a huge need to provide and it made me feel bad because they’re just trying to do what’s best for their family in the long run. But on the other hand, I understand the frustration of her daughter as Asian mother and daughter relationships are distanced as the mother has high expectations for the daughter and you feel stuck and confused, not guided with emotional advice but the advice to grow up fast. I know a lot of ppl liked it because of the mother daughter dynamic but specifically being Asian made me feel more represented."
- Kara, 17
"I really appreciate how the director portrayed the sacrifices Asian American immigrants had to make in order for their children to overcome socioeconomic barriers and achieve success. It also demonstrates the culture of high expectations, especially for the children of Asian American immigrants and coming to terms with identity and interests."
- Koen, 17
"It was very chaotic. It represented the Asian American experience in a non-traditional way. I don’t think it represents the entirety of the Asian American experience—seems to focus on the relationship between a mother and daughter and how it was difficult for the mother to accept the daughter's American side."
- Chloe, 17
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a story of the immigrant experience told from the perspective of Chinese Americans. To be an immigrant is to have many different fractured realities, and the multiversed structure of this storyline allows us to imagine the infinite possibilities. We see the main character, Evelyn, hold a variety of different lives, some absurd and some deeply realistic. Stereotypes are portrayed in this film through the tiger mom and the kung fu master, but they are also broken. The breaking of one trope, one archetype, one paradigm, is crucial to the power of this film and the way we choose to represent facets of the Asian-American experience. There is no "one" story: we command all the worlds and realities we experience and move through them with love.