Asian-Americans in Cinema - Modern Films to Watch and Love
Updated: 4 days ago
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once - a laudable film that distinctly centers an Asian-American narrative - dominated at the 96th Annual Academy Awards with seven wins and eleven nominations. For good reason. The film is heartwarming, heartbreaking, brilliant, and complex. Its success is groundbreaking in the Asian-American community. Michelle Yeoh is the first Southeast Asian-American woman to earn the Best Actress Oscar, and many applaud Ke Huy Quan of Indiana Jones and The Goonies fame for his comeback, when he was initially pushed into retirement during the early 2000s for a lack of opportunity. With the film’s astounding success in mind, I’d like to reflect on some historic films that—like Everything, Everywhere, All at Once—have transformed pop culture by including Asian-American actorsand Asian-American culture in their narratives.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
Where to begin with this movie - first and foremost, it is strange. It is a wonder how a sci-fi comedy, a film often overlooked by the Academy and often excluded from the category of “high art,” could become so universally loved. In watching the movie itself, however, its depth becomes abundantly clear. What this film proves is that Asian-American individuals can have many kinds of stories. A common pitfall I find in many movies that center Asian-American narratives (and in general, racial/ethnic minority narratives) is that sometimes, suffering and generational trauma is utilized in a tried and tested way to appeal to the audience. While Everything, Everywhere, All at Once still possesses some of the same features, it presents them in a deeply realistic manner - despite the movie being incredibly sci-fi. Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is more than a harsh tiger mom, and her relationship with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is the most realistic depiction I’ve ever seen. The frustration from both in attempting to understand one another is deeply understandable, with neither one being villainized. In addition, I find that many stories with these types of relationships tend towards villainizing the parent and depicting them as set in their ways - blunt and unchangeable. Evelyn is our complex main character - it is not so often you see an older, Chinese-American immigrant mother in a leading role on the big screen. This movie has more than earned all of its acclaims.
Crazy Rich Asians
This may seem an odd contender for “historic Asian-American films.” It’s a feel-good rom-com, a genre not typically known for its depth. I would argue that it is necessary, however, to acknowledge that many films featuring racial/ethnic minority characters are held to a high standard to perform as deeper and more meaningful than films that feature their white counterparts. Crazy Rich Asians, upon its release, was the first modern story with an all-Asian cast in 25 years - the last being The Joy Luck Club. It is an earnest, straightforward romance, and its road to production wasn’t easy. It is historic for the very reason that Asian-American actors are permitted to have a film that is simply fun - not just a romantic comedy, but a form of interesting lifestyle content on the lives of the Asian uppercrust. That isn’t to say the film is completely unserious or without depth - it centers a unique discussion on the clashing experience of mainland Asian and diaspora Asian individuals, featuring an Asian-American female lead alongside her wealthy mainland boyfriend. This is a discourse not too commonly acknowledged in any form of media, but deeply important nonetheless.
Make no mistake, Minari is a distinctly Asian-American film - despite a large portion of the film’s dialogue being in Korean. No film has so blatantly captured the struggles, successes, and mild comedy of being an American immigrant. The film follows a Korean family who has just recently moved to a small plot of land in Arkansas. Like the leafy green titular vegetable, the members of this family are transplants: settling their roots in new soil. What better way to capture this common Asian-American narrative? The film carries a tone of level realism, with each family member struggling in their new home. There are frustrations, struggles, and honesty. It is a deeply intimate look into what it means to be an American immigrant. To be clear, this i