By Zaina Azim
May was Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage month. Let’s highlight films with Asian and Pacific American actors and story lines to celebrate the occasion.
- The Joy Luck Club, a 1993 film based on a novel of the same name, follows the stories of four pairs of Asian American mothers and daughters who navigate their lives in the U.S. The main cast boasts many Asian actors and actresses who help define the struggles of immigration, marriage, and parent-child relationships. Critics argue that the film exaggerates Asian stereotypes, but as the first major Hollywood feature film to present an almost entirely Asian cast, The Joy Luck Club opened gates for more accurate Asian representation in the future.
- The novel-based 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians follows the story line of a Chinese-American professor who visits her boyfriend’s family in Singapore and learns of their enormous status and wealth. After The Joy Luck Club, Crazy Rich Asians repeated history as one of the first Hollywood feature films to showcase a majority Asian cast. Although the film received backlash for excluding Singaporean ethnic groups such as Indians and Malays, it was met with wide approval from multiple Asian communities in the U.S. and remains one of the highest grossing romantic comedies in over a decade.
- The 2016 animated film Moana captured hearts as Disney’s first film featuring Polynesian characters. The film follows a young princess named Moana who struggles to restore life and bring peace to the people of her island. Auliʻi Cravalho, a Hawaiian actress, fulfills the role, marking a turning point for Disney’s inclusivity and diversity within animated films.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a novel-based romantic comedy released on Netflix in 2018, details the story of a Korean-American teenage girl who mistakenly sends love letters to her former crushes. Although the film’s story line doesn’t focus on the protagonist’s heritage, her Korean background is mentioned and highlighted through the film’s various foods, families, and values. The film’s inclusion of Asian American actors and actresses provides a stepping stone for others to do the same.
- Slumdog Millionaire, a 2008 Indian film starring actor Dev Patel, made American box office history by grossing over $140 million, having been released in theaters nationwide due to very enthusiastic reception. The film follows the story of Jamal, a young boy who becomes a contestant in India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” after surviving in the slums of Mumbai. The film’s impact in the U.S. led it to receive eight Oscars, encouraging more Indian representation in future films.
- The 2019 film Parasite made history as the first foreign language film to receive an award for Best Picture at the Oscars. The South Korean film follows the story of a young man who scams his way into a job at the Park household, a family much more affluent than his own. The movie has received widespread praise and accolades for making Oscar history, and it has paved the way for more foreign language films to win Oscars in the future.
- Disney’s 2019 live action remake of the 1992 film Aladdin centers on a cast of predominantly Asian descent. The film follows the story of Aladdin, a young boy who discovers a wish-granting genie housed in a magic lamp. The film showcases Naomi Scott, an actress of South Asian descent, and Mena Massoud, an actor of Egyptian descent. The film’s efforts to accurately portray Middle Eastern and Asian culture were met with widespread audience approval.
Although Asian and Pacific Islander American’s representation in films can still be increased, recent surges in inclusivity through movie casting have helped bring light to these cultures from around the world.