The lack of diversity across Hollywood blockbusters is no news breaker. Year after year, along with the Academy Awards season comes a resurgence of hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite, and the number of stories centered on straight white males lately has increased overwhelming. Most recently, however, critics have noticed a slight uptick in film and TV productions focused on minorities and ethnic diversity. Highlights in Asian American cinematic representation—think: “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”—are promising signs the industry is making waves.
Yet within the Asian American umbrella, certain cultural communities hold untold stories and identities which audiences have yet to see on the big screen. But Netflix is broadening horizons with the emergence of multiple Asian American influenced newcomers—most notably, “Tigertail,” “Never Have I Ever” and “The Half of It.” These successful pictures all revolve around Asian American leads, with amalgamations of their specific backgrounds and ethnicities. While these three only showcase a fraction of the experiences which immigrants endure daily, they collectively are a meaningful and impactful step toward getting people’s voices heard and strengthening Asian representation in pop culture.
Published to Netflix on April 10, “Tigertail” details the realistic story of Pin-Jui, a Taiwanese man who commits to a loveless marriage in order to finance his move to America, where he aspires to reap affluent success and provide for his mother. This movie touches on the states of desperation, hopelessness and perseverance that often accompany the challenges of international immigration. Audiences watch Pin-Jui toughen up as he struggles to reconcile the glorification of the American Dream with his reality of working endless hours just to get by. The plot heavily prioritizes the relationship between Pin-Jui and his 30-year-old daughter, Angela. Their bond also demonstrates the strains involved when a family attempts to chase the American Dream so stoically, with the way Pin-Jui treats Angela despite her bridging of their emotional distance. This staged father-daughter dynamic is relatable to first-generation immigrants, particularly of Asian descent; the sacrifices made and consequences faced are difficult concepts to grapple with, yet “Tigertail” narrates them accurately.
NEVER HAVE I EVER
Roughly two weeks after “Tigertail,” “Never Have I Ever” premiered and took Netflix by storm. This show is a first of its kind—never have viewers ever seen a teen coming-of-age punctuated by an Indian lead. Devi, a Tamil sophomore in high school, is moving on from her father’s harsh and sudden death while also dealing with the same old high school crushes and popularity battles. As a first-gen teen immigrant, she already has a hard time accepting her dual identity, assimilating with new American friends and fitting in on campus, but her heritage and family trauma now make it all the more difficult to accomplish so. Through its depiction of Devi, “Never Have I Ever” captures the essence of living and growing as a foreign child in America. Multicultural teens in similar scenarios will understand the conundrum of never being “Indian enough” or “American enough” to anyone’s pleasing. The series transforms the classic, sometimes cringey comedy drama into a proclamation of diversity sans use of tokenism; quite the opposite, Devi’s relationship with her culture is centralized and shaped above all. This super bingeable show gives Indian American teens the representation they deserve and haven’t received before, and it’s equally thrilling for fans to see Indian lifestyle portrayed so purely and respectfully.
THE HALF OF IT
“The Half of It” embarks on the Chinese immigration of Ellie Chu and her father, set in a fictional miniature town called Squahamish. This film offers a fresh perspective on the first-gen experience especially; high school protagonist Ellie doesn’t have many friends and works tirelessly to keep herself and her father afloat. She soon befriends Paul, who pays her to ghost pen love letters to his crush, Aster, who happens to be Ellie’s as well. She explores the intersections of contrasting identities and goes from being the lone Asian student in class to confronting her own sexuality in little Squahamish, where she is universally ostracized and misunderstood. Ellie also fights a dual identity, but she internally develops as she builds a long-lasting friendship and examines her authentic emotions to ultimately accept her sexuality. “The Half of It” is a noteworthy work, as it displays an Asian American immigrant as so much more than just a girl with Chinese roots; contrarily, it presents Ellie tackling real-life issues. At its core, “The Half of It” is a compelling tale of the significance of friendship, honesty and vulnerability.
words_geethika kataru illustration_rachel rader