While there’s still the issue of Asians being interchangeable in Hollywood, we’re finally seeing some progress when it comes to how we are being represented in mainstream media.
It’s enlightening to see that we are no longer a mere foil to white protagonists in stories. We have Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before being hit movies that have Asian leads. It’s comforting to see that it isn’t solely East Asians being represented anymore. As a kid, seeing people who looked like me in my favorite movie and TV shows made me feel seen. What more now that they have actual story arcs that we can relate to?
Disney and Nickelodeon were two of my go-to channels while growing up. I remember getting excited to watch Vanessa Hudgens (aka Gabriella Montez) and Kathleen from Hi-5 because they were both Filipino. But that representation only ended in their looks. Now, we’re seeing major streaming platforms and mainstream media delve deeper into diverse Asian cultures. And though there’s still a long way to go, we’re hopeful for the future as these companies are answering the call for POC representation and expand its exclusiveness.
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON
Set to release in March 2021, Raya and the Last Dragon is advertised as a new original animation, heavily influenced by Southeast Asian lore and cultures through their re-imagined kingdom, Kumandra. Vietnamese American actress Kelly Marie Tran is the new star of Disney’s animated original fantasy film. The film follows Raya—part princess, part warrior — and her journey to find the last dragon to save Kumandra from evil forces. Kelly makes history and becomes the first actress of Southeast Asian descent to lead a Walt Disney Animation Studios movie.
While we definitely have some reservations about the movie blanketing 11 countries and the hundreds of distinguished cultures in one generalized culture, we remain hopeful that kids who are watching will feel represented and that POC stories will be shown more in mainstream media from the success of this film.
Blue’s Clues & You! stars Joshua Dela Cruz, a Filipino-American actor that filled the shoes of our childhood friends, Steve and Joe. Last November 20, the Nick Jr. star introduced his lola in the show, showing more of his Filipino roots by one simple gesture to show respect: the mano po. Much to the delight of Filipino-Americans watching the show, the episode also featured Bibingka, a Filipino rice delicacy.
The 2019 short film FLOAT is the first-ever all-Filipino CGI animated movie from Disney’s Pixar. Filipino-American Bobby Rubio created, produced, and directed the project. In FLOAT, a father discovers that his son is different from other kids in the most unusual way. To keep them both safe from judgement, the Dad covers him and keeps him out of sight—but when his son’s ability becomes public, the Dad must decide whether to run and hide or to accept his son as he is. The short film is a heartwarming metaphor of what ADHD children and their parents go through amidst societal pressure.
DISNEY UK’S 2020 CHRISTMAS ADVERT
We were no short of tears upon watching the Disney UK Christmas advert when it first came out. We’re sure we weren’t the only family with groupchats from abroad that were packing with notifications to reminisce the good days with their grandmothers. Because respect and love for the elderly is a big part of Filipino culture, the short film perfectly encapsulated the sentiment of Filipinos. And it’s undeniable that the Christmas spirit in the Philippines is unlike any other.
It all started with the short film re-imagining what the Philippines looked like on Christmas Day in the year 1940. Kalesas, parols, and jeepneys were portrayed within the first few seconds of the film. Later on, the little girl does the mano po gesture to her lola. As the granddaughter grows up, she loses connection with her lola, but one look at the beloved Mickey Mouse doll prompts a heartfelt reunion between the two.
NEVER HAVE I EVER
Netflix’s comedy-drama Never Have I Ever from Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher dropped last April. Inspired in part by Mindy’s own upbringing, Never Have I Ever is a coming-of-age story of a South Asian girl, Devi Vishwakumar, who is Indian-American. It’s awkward, funny, and at times, hard-hitting at best. One of the aspects of the show that I enjoyed most is the way it embraces the beauty and challenges of being true to one’s self and the culture in which one is raised. It’s refreshing enough to binge-watch, but has substance enough to understand trauma, grief, and cultural barriers.