Netflix’s “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which stars Vietnamese American actress Lana Condor, has earned some criticisms for not including any Asian boys.
Based on author Jenny Han’s 2014 novel of the same name, the teen rom-com features three sisters being raised alone by their White father after their Korean American mother died a year before the story takes place.In the movie, Condor’s character, Lara Jean Song Covey, is a high school junior who has five crushes and not one of them is Asian.
Condor would later address the criticisms on the filmmaker’s decision to exclude Asian male actors from the movie in an interview with The Cut.
“We tried to stay really close to the book and they weren’t written that way. If Jenny was telling a different story, we would tell it,” Condor was quoted as saying.
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“But I will say this: My boyfriend in real life is Cuban but he is very light-skinned. There are times when people online will say, ‘Of course she’s with a White guy.’ Oh, so Asian people can only love Asian people? I can only be with my race?”
Interestingly, Han’s novel does not even specify the race of each of the characters.
Although one might make a case that the names were written in the book sound typically White: Josh Sanderson, Peter Kavinsky, John Ambrose McClaren, Kenny Donati, and Lucas Krapf.
It is important to note, however, that while four of the five boys have retained their names and portrayed by White actors, Lucas Krapf was renamed Lucas James and portrayed by Black actor Trezzo Mahoro.
It could also be then argued that if the filmmakers can switch the name and race of one character, they can easily cast an Asian love interest if they wanted to.
“You are being racist unknowingly and continuing to put us in a box that we don’t need to be in. It’s really unfair. People should be able to love who they want to love. It’s offensive to me — you’re continuing to promote tribalism. So I can’t be with who I want to be with? These are probably the same people who have an issue with the LGBT community. It’s the same thing — you telling me who I can love is unfair,” the 21-year-old added.
“In my experience, I’ve loved all races. It’s not like I can only be with my people. I don’t think we should be stuck to only loving people based on what they look like.”
What Condor’s defensive response failed to address, however, is the missed opportunity by the film to cast Asian men in romantic roles which have been a rarity in Western media.
Decades of structural desexualization and emasculation of Asian male characters in Hollywood and other Western art forms have resulted in the skewed perceptions and dangerous stereotypes against Asian men.
Americans of Asian descent and Asian immigrants have taken most of the brunt of the repercussions from these negative perceptions in daily interactions.
A handful of productions at least try to counteract this trend by having Asians as leading men such as Henry Golding’s role in “Crazy Rich Asians,” Vincent Rodriguez III in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Hayden Szeto in “Edge of Seventeen,” John Cho in “Selfie,” and Ricky He in Disney Channel’s “Freaky Friday.”