Recently, To All the Boys I Loved Before debuted on Netflix and the internet cannot stop talking about this movie. In the past couple of days my Twitter and Instagram feed have been memes and articles about this movie. Had I known it was going to be such a big deal, I would have written about it sooner. Bill Simmons talked about it on his podcast and that told me that maybe this movie has quite the reach. Thanks, Netflix, niche groups won’t be the only ones accessing your content.
Instead of continuing to binge Schitt’s Creek, I decided why not watch this cute looking movie a few days after it came onto Netflix. It looked like I could do a few sudoku puzzles with the movie playing in the background, maybe a few lines would be exceptionally funny (I thought this because of the trailer of the dad telling his daughter to use contraceptives). What I didn’t think about was the fact that the lead character is played by an Asian American actress, the movie is based on a book written by an Asian American woman, and how young women would react.
Sometimes I forget how significant it can be for a person of color to be the star of a movie that positively highlights a certain community, especially when it’s a community I don’t necessarily think about often. A great failure of many peoples’ feminist rhetoric is the lack of intersectional thinking, or rather intersectional thinking that actively discusses more than black, brown, and white voices. I think the Asian American voice gets lost in mainstream culture because it’s not white and it’s not necessarily addressing the same marginalization of Black and Latinx communities that we constantly see in the news. East Asian American portrayed in American media do not always receive the best depiction of their experiences. As a person of color I can understand the lack of proper representation, however, I am not East or Southeast Asian, so I really cannot speak to that experience and media portrayals of the experience. I do understand how significant it is when you see someone who looks like you in movies and not just as the friend or villain. To All the Boys I Loved Before offers representation for young women of Asian descent, and I think that’s really special. It’s hard to watch movies and shows as a kid and young adult and the main character is some white girl named Brittany. Depending on your race, you get assigned some other side character that may have success in a tangential storyline or they may just be thrown into some generic stereotypical box.
From the information I’ve gathered, this movie should have been made sooner but there was a struggle to actually cast an Asian American girl for the role of Lara Jean, the main character. Uh excuse me? The movie is based on a book written by an Asian American woman who intended for the character to be Asian American. You can’t just decided you want some random Becky playing this girl because casting an Asian American as the lead is odd to you. REPRESENTATION MATTERS. That is a hill I will die on because how kids of color see themselves in the media matters. You can still get the love interest even if you’re not an Ashley or a Chad, but if the media keeps telling you that won’t happen then of course self esteem and self perception are affected. Representation matters. Representation matters. Representation matters. If you disagree with this statement I want you to go to your Mexican friend or your Black friend or your Asian friend or your Middle Eastern friend and ask them about how the media portrays someone who looks like them and how it then infiltrates their everyday lives. Maybe your eyes will open up a bit.
Young women, regardless of race, should probably pull some good things out of this movie. Self respect and not putting up with anyone’s nonsense are a good place this movie starts, Lara Jean very much is about her self respect. Many folks are focused on how great Peter(the love interest) treats her, I fully respect her apprehension towards him. Sure, he’s an alright dude as the movie goes on, but Lara Jean does not let her guard down easily, a good message for young women to demand a certain level of respect from potential partners. Heck, it’s a good message for men and women of all ages to internalize!
I understand that people love a good love story, but also remember some of the things that make it a good love story including the woman respecting herself enough to walk away if necessary. We need to stop teaching our girls that it’s acceptable for people to push them around in the name of “love.” I think TATBILB offers a nice presentation of this idea that a girl can walk away if the relationship makes her feel unhappy about herself.
While I may not necessarily recommend this movie to everyone (for the record, sports writer Bill Simmons enjoyed it, so get over your masculinity issues, fellas), I can say this movie was a serendipitous watch. The story was fun and cute, which is probably good for a teenage romance movie. The teenagers don’t all look like they’re in their 30’s and they’re not always acting like college students. I can appreciate a movie for what it’s trying to be and how it comes across, TATBILB was just that. So if you’re needing a happy love story or a movie to watch with your adolescent daughter, consider this movie.