Where's the love for Asian American representation in Hollywood?
If you're struggling to find movies with Asian leads, you're not the only one. The Academy Awards announced new diversity and inclusion standards for best picture starting in 2024, but a study from the University of Southern California found Hollywood movies continue to lack inclusive representation of racial and ethnic groups, with 55 out of 2019's top 100 films missing Asian or Asian American girls and women.
The most recent tribute to Asian American culture, the live-action "Mulan," champions inclusion with its massive all-Asian cast (including a breakthrough starring role for Yifei Liu), creating an empowerment story out of the ancient Chinese folktale. Still, the Disney remake isn't enough to compensate for the historic lack of Asian American representation.
I'm always proud to see the few hidden gems that include East Asian characters. From "Big Hero 6" to "Searching," here are 10 East Asian movies that make me proud of my own heritage as a Korean American
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'The Farewell' (2019)
"The Farewell" perfectly exemplifies cultural differences in family matters when Billi (Awkwafina) discovers that her family has decided not to tell their beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, that she has only weeks to live – a decision rooted in Chinese tradition to avoid "ruining her good mood."
Though I am not Chinese, this movie really resonated with me. Asian households often foster values of stoicism and "saving face," and "The Farewell" accurately depicts the confusion one feels with the clash between American individualistic values and Asian collectivist values.
'Go Back to China' (2019)
If you're Asian and live in America, chances are that someone has told you to "go back to China," even if you're not Chinese.
This Asian-directed comedy revolves around Sasha Li (Anna Akana), a spoiled girl who is forced by her father to go back to China and work for the family's toy business. "Go Back to China" accurately depicts a typical family dynamic in an Asian household, filled with tough love stemming from genuine affection and care.
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'Always Be My Maybe' (2019)
"Crazy Rich Asians" exposed us to, well, some pretty rich and extravagant Asians, but "Always Be My Maybe" depicts a more relatable rom-com of a successful chef (Ali Wong) falling in love with a struggling musician (Randall Park). As the model minority, Asians are stereotypically lauded for their scholastic skills, but "Always Be My Maybe" shows that the depth of Asian American characters goes beyond their academic achievements.
This list wouldn't be complete without the Academy Award-winning dark comedy. While it's not an American film, "Parasite" received widespread recognition in the U.S., scoring four Oscars and becoming the first non-English film to win best picture.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho (who also directed "Okja" and "Snowpiercer"), "Parasite" tells the story of greed and class discrimination between the elite Park family and the contrastingly poor Kim family. The Korean film is filled with humor, suspense and many unpredictable plot twists.
What I liked about "Searching" is that the racial background of the protagonists has no bearing on the plot of this thriller. The Kims represent your typical Asian American family in Silicon Valley – similar to mine with the engineering dad and studious daughter.
While I applaud films that home in on our cultural differences, I also appreciate films such as "Searching" that normalize Asian representation in America.
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'Crazy Rich Asians' (2018)
One of the biggest challenges faced by Asian Americans is bridging the divide between two identities. I've always felt like a foreigner in both South Korea and America, as my inability to speak Korean fluently isolated me from those I physically resembled, while my Asian face reminded me that I could never "look American."
"Crazy Rich Asians" beautifully and comically captured this relatable struggle, as Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) illustrates the all-too-common problem of "not being Asian enough" for her boyfriend's traditional and controlling mother.
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This film truly showcases what I like to call Asian excellence in the industry, as "Okja" was directed, produced by and stars an array of Korean American talents, such as Steven Yeun, Ahn Seo Hyun and director Bong Joon-ho.
"Okja" addresses heavy themes, such as the consequences of capitalism and animal rights, in an imaginative and informative way – all with a lovable, computer-generated super-pig.
I felt reassured seeing two Asian leads as an essential component in a race to save the world.
Chris Evans' character is highly dependent on security expert Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang-ho, who also starred in "Parasite") and his clairvoyant daughter, Yona (Go Ah-sung), brazen and intelligent figureheads who help lead a life-changing proletariat rebellion.
'Big Hero 6' (2014)
From classic Japanese hairstyles to San Fransokyo's resemblance to Tokyo's illuminated landscape, this animated sci-fi film revolves around Disney’s first explicitly biracial protagonist, Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter, who is half-Japanese and half-Caucasian like his character).
Without being overly tacky or cliche in portraying an animated Asian lead, "Big Hero 6" is an adorable Disney movie whose cultural innuendos (cue the casual mention of red bean paste) add some flavor to its family-friendly plot.
'Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior' (2006)
Brenda Song ("The Suite Life of Zack & Cody") plays a popular Chinese American high-school student who slowly comes to terms with her Asian-American identity after discovering she is the reincarnation of a warrior tasked with defeating an evil Chinese dragon spirit.
I related to a lot of her character's initial "whitewashed" mannerisms having grown up in a predominantly Caucasian New York suburb myself, rejecting Asian cuisines and distancing myself from my Korean heritage in an effort to conform and assimilate.
But this Disney film teaches us that while embracing your identity isn't an easy journey, it's a worthwhile one.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Mulan,' 'Parasite,' more: 10 East Asian movies to make you proud