Coming off the win that is Crazy Rich Asians, a movie produced by Hollywood that depicts contemporary Asian Americans in a positive light; I was thrilled to add icing on that proverbial cake with To All the Boys I've Love Before, based on the book of the same name by Jenny Han. Before doing so I came across a bunch of negative reviews slamming the film with points like: 'poor casting decisions,' 'failure of racial inclusion,' and 'only white males as preferred mate or boyfriend' sprawled across forums and sites from here to the end of time itself. Whoa. It did not look good.
Of course, I am not one to judge anything based solely on the opinions of others. I had to watch the movie to get an accurate reading for myself. So I plopped down and sat through the entire movie, keeping an eye on every single detail. Overall, the movie wasn't terrible in the sense that it had good acting, production value, and everything from a technical standpoint seemed to be of great quality. Unfortunately, the people from the internet were right.
The problems stems from initially the casting choices. Lana Condor did a great job portraying Lara Jean Covey (the whitest name for an Asian girl ever), but she was written as a biracial, stemming from Korean and Caucasian descent. Lana Condor is 100% Vietnamese, and though that isn't a problem in itself, it reinforces the stereotype that all asians look the same. This applies to her sister Margot whose actress is Chinese and Hawaiian. When standing side by side they bear no resemblance whatsoever.
I'll excuse that since in my opinion, any depictions of Asians in a positive manner and a prominent roles is a win. We need that exposure now more than ever, and seeing them both perform well was great.
However, her love initial love interest Josh, played by Israel Brousssard was a terrible decision for the studio. Check out the photo below to know why.
Not only is Israel a racist, he also has no remorse for any of his actions or words, despite what his PR person wrote. Netflix needs to pull a Disney and stop this guy from working. Seriously.
Back in 2009, he allegedly wrote, “I’m not going out for a gay role, thank you though.” A 2016 post states, “Black Lives Matter has one goal. Division.” Nice one, Israel. There's also this one too: “hashtags don’t fucking matter. but all lives do. black lives matter. white lives matter. police lives matter.” And more gold from a 2016 tweet reads, “if it were trumps emails, they’d be happy to hang him on the front lawn of the White House.”
While Broussard appears to have deleted some of his offensive posts, one particularly vile archived tweet from July 2011 reads, “Dogs can sense earthquakes. Too bad Japan ate them all.” As Broussard whistleblower @Seb_Paradise pointed out in a thread, “He tweeted that on 12 July 2011, just 2 days after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, likely an aftershock of the Tohoku earthquake, hit the northeastern coast of Japan. Instead of offering condolences, Broussard chose to racially insult Japanese people. This just shows how much he values Asians.”
There you have it, it doesn't get much clearer than this. If this person doesn't respect human lives, can he accurately portray a respectable person? I doubt it. I mean he could, but he'd probably be a sociopath... Anyway, nothing happened to Israel and he "apologized" (then posted another offensive picture on his IG). The movie is out for streaming and there doesn't seem to be anybody in the movie industry who wants to do anything about this casting travesty.
The second issue with this movie comes from the lack of characters of color. The book has initially depicted them as being all Caucasian, and while I appreciate artists sticking to their original source material, it is very dated to see an all white male cast in a movie about modern teenage love. The only other person of color is the African American crush who turns out to be gay. That is basically the equivalent of the black man dying in the first act of a horror movie trope, remastered for a new generation. Her best friend and only friend is white. Her father, the only adult she can look up to is white because her Korean mom is dead (convenient, right?). Terrible plot contrivances.
If Israel could have been removed and replaced with any other person of color, this would have made the film better. Points to Peter Kavinsky though, who surprisingly seems to be the most inclusive out of the main characters. Which brings me to my next point...
The continued demasculinization of Asian men and the continued advocacy of white males as the only eligible love interest in western media. We've come a long way from how we used to be and we currently live in a society that is allowed to love whoever they want and that is something very beautiful. I believe all romantic relationships should be celebrated and accepted no matter who believes it because we make a conscious choice about who we put in our lives. However, this dangerous method of implanting false ideologies of a particular race is fundamentally wrong.
In one scene where Lara Jean, Kitty (her sister), and Peter Kavinsky, are watching Sixteen Candles and they're viewing a particular scene with Long Duk Dong, an Asian character in the film that is recognizably demeaning. Peter points out the offensiveness of the character and the two sisters acknowledge that it is, but the fact that "Jake Ryan is hot" immediately rectifies the situation and justifies that inaccurate stereotype and the maintain that the movie is still great. No it is not. Long Duk Dong is a bad character, and he misrepresents Asians in media.
Peter also compares himself favorably to Jake Ryan, but an even better looking version. Coincidence? I think not. The parallels are thrown in front of us as if to acknowledge our concerns, only for the filmmaker's to say, "We don't give a damn what you think. Here's another typical Hollywood movie where we cater to our white demographic." They're just hammering in that 'white male dominance' tactic so blatantly now. Maybe we'll get a sequel soon? Sixteen Candles 2: Even More White Males Who Are The Hottest Thing In The World.
Because that's what this movie is essentially saying. It singles out white males as the more attractive and appealing sexual companion, while everyone else is taken off the menu. Everyone else is either gay or unimportant and thus predetermined and eliminated from the pool of sexual compatibility with Lara Jean by default. She has to choose a Caucasian male. Sadly, it's as if so much time has passed by and nothing changed. Despite box office records and great reviews on movies featuring an all Asian cast, Hollywood still refuses to change with the times. This only proves that we need to fight for representation now more than ever.
Strike #3. We're done.
This movie has glaring faults, and not to bash Jenny Han or the casting people involved, but isn't this a major oversight? We're moving towards an era where acceptance should be more mainstream. A nation together is better than one divided, and appreciating cultures and people from all walks of life is a staple trait in America. We should have less racist toolbag actors/actresses in roles and more inclusion and understanding. Let's not give jobs to people with no respect for human life. Let's show the world that we all stand together on this issue. Tell Netflix, tell Jenny Han, tell everyone that this is not okay.
Crazy Rich Asians came out and I wrote a review for it earlier this month. It opened up my perspective to the struggles that Asians face trying to make it in the land of opportunity. It is a monumental movie for accomplishing this feat of inclusion after 25 years, but when it takes over two decades to see proper racial inclusion, that's a pretty drastic sign that some changes need to be made. Why couldn't To All the Boys I Loved Before do something positive? This movie leaves much to be desired and left a bad taste in this writer's mouth. The consolation? At least Lara Jean didn't end up with the racist/homophobe, right?