I didn’t have many examples of happy marriages growing up, and my first few serious relationships with men were toxic. For me, romantic comedies were where I found hope and a sense of escapism from reality – that maybe, one-day, if I was lucky, I could find love like in those movies – the kind where someone kisses me and my eyebrows tense like I am feeling some sort of fireworks in my heart, and cheesy symphonies of string instruments play in my head.
During the time after my parents’ divorce but before the age of Netflix, we only had a few movies in house (on physical DVD’s, remember those?), including “High School Musical,” two copies of “Hairspray,” “50 First Dates,” “27 Dresses,” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” Much to my mom’s chagrin, these were the films I wanted to watch on repeat.
From an early age, I felt something magical in watching these movies. I know I’m quirky, and after many years of trying to change myself to be more “normal” or like the popular white girls in my middle and high school, I’m proud of it. But before I had this confidence to be unapologetically myself, watching these movies where the leading character was always a bit quirky, made me feel a powerful sense of relatability. Gabriella in “High School Musical” is teased for being a nerd, Tracy in “Hairspray” is not the right size and too progressive for her peers, Andie in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” is on an odd mission and goofy in the best of ways. In my teen years, I felt like that girl who was too nerdy and odd and seriously struggled with my own body image. But, seeing myself in these characters made it so that when they felt love and experienced some sort of romance in the movie, I felt it too (while sitting on my bed, usually knitting).
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)
Watching “Crazy Rich Asians” on opening night was an OVERWHELMING experience for me, to say the least. I have never felt so drawn into characters because before this, I had never watched an American movie where the lead characters looked like me and weren’t built off of some stereotype. As I said, my love for rom-coms stems from this feeling of what-could-be, and that feels all the more possible when I can see myself on screen on a cultural, racial, and ethnic level. It was magical.
When it was revealed that Rachel, Constance Wu’s character, was raised by a single-mom, I leaned over to my mom and squealed “MOM! ME TOO!” When she shows up to Araminta’s bachelorette party and someone notes her Gap-like clothing (a jab at her seemingly cheap-fashion in comparison to the crazy rich Asians) my sister and I held hands even tighter, both noting similar comments we have heard. When the movie ended, my family looked at each other with a new sparkle in our eyes, and all laughed when I asked, “Is this what white people feel like after movies??”
This movie is powerful for so many reasons. To start, I don’t think anyone can make jokes about how “all Asians look the same,” after the undeniable and unique beauty we saw from this array of talent – from Henry Golding as Nick Young, Gemma Chan as Astrid, Colin Khoo as Chris Pang, and so many more.
This movie also highlighted the diversity of cultures and backgrounds within broad bucket terms like “Asian” and “Asian American.” We heard stories of characters who immigrated to America, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
REPRESENTATION MATTERS. I know you may have laughed at me at points in this article because yes, I am a hopeless romantic, but I hope you recognize that there is truth in what I am saying. When you see yourself in roles, whether in movies on screen, or in real life as role models, teachers, politicians, and badass activists, the likelihood of your achieving such dreams feels all the more real.
Nadya Okamoto is a social entrepreneur and activist, known for her leadership as the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization PERIOD.