To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: Is This What Representation Looks Like?
“There is power in seeing a face that looks like yours do something, be someone.” —Jenny Han
Unless you’re living under a rock, you have probably seen or at least heard of the new Netflix original movie, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Or maybe, like me, you devoured all of the books written by Jenny Han when they first came out.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before follows high schooler Lara Jean Song Covey, a self-proclaimed romantic who is actually terrified of love. When she has a crush, she writes them a love letter but never actually sends it. Until one day, all five letters get out.
While having anyone read a love letter you never intended for them to read sounds like a nightmare, Lara Jean’s situation is worse. One of the recipients is her sister Margot’s boyfriend, Josh Sanderson. Another is Peter Kavinsky, popular jock and recent ex of Lara Jean’s best-friend-turned-enemy. Realizing the two of them have something to gain, they decide to fake date. And of course, they end up falling in love.
While this might seem like just another romantic comedy, it is actually much more than that. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is about diversity. Lara Jean is an Asian-American woman played by Asian-American actress Lana Condor. Author Jenny Han is also Asian-American, and the director and screenwriter are both women.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before followed the wide-spread release of the box office hit, Crazy Rich Asians. People proclaimed this was the year of representation. Here was another movie with an Asian love interest!
But as I watched along with two of my friends, both Asian women, I wondered what they thought about the movie and if to them, this is what representation was.
So, I asked. And they answered.
Amber Liong is an Asian-American woman whose family is originally from Hong Kong, China. She is a junior studying Nutrition at Syracuse University.
For Amber, Lara Jean is relatable because of her personality traits.
“I feel like Lara Jean and I have similar personalities,” she said. “We are both quite shy and have a close relationship with our families.”
Representation, in Amber’s eyes, is not just about looks.
“Feeling represented for me does not just mean sharing an ethnicity/race with a certain character. For me to feel that I am represented, the actions, qualities, and interests of a character is what I draw on.”
But seeing an Asian lead still does mean something. Amber even pointed out that this was one of the few movies she has seen with an Asian love interest, aside from Crazy Rich Asians.
However, it could have done more.
“Lara Jean is half Korean and I felt that they could have gone deeper into that part of her life,” Amber explained.
In the book, there is more of a focus on her mother’s identity. Yet, in the movie, her absence overpowers her roots. It is interesting that Jenny Han, given her own ethnicity, would keep the white man alive instead of the Asian woman.
Yu-Chien Wang is a senior at Syracuse University in Newhouse Advertising. She is from Taipei, Taiwan. Growing up, Yu-Chien was surrounded by movies and television shows that depicted Asian characters. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was not the first time she saw an Asian protagonist, but it was “one of the very few English-speaking movies [she’s] watched that involves an Asian lead.”
While Yu-Chien recognizes the lack of emphasis on Asian culture and representation in western media, she also sees this movie as a start.
“I think the movie definitely checks off some boxes on diversity, but there are still many aspects of Asian Americans that aren’t well represented in this movie. This is sort of the tip of an iceberg, and the media industry has slowly shifted to give minorities more representation on screen.”
Like Amber, Yu-Chien believes that representation goes beyond race.
“Representation is more than appearances,” she said. “Lifestyle, upbringing, or even the way characters position themselves in their world can all be representations of different groups.”
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a win for Asian representation. But it is a battle won, not a war. Asian representation is much more than just casting Asian actors. Sometimes, representation is more about the characters themselves than just how they look.