If you haven't watched Netflix's To All the Boys I've Loved Before, get to it. It's a hugely entertaining romcom based on a YA book by Jenny Han, and it stars Lana Condor, who is Vietnamese-American. Yes, Asians finally have a teen romcom lead who actually looks like us. But this almost didn't happen. Apparently, the movie almost wasn't made because several producers wanted whitewashing in To All the Boys I've Loved Before.
The (Attempted) Whitewashing in To All the Boys I've Loved Before
In a New York Times essay, Han wrote that the film almost didn't make it to production because most producers didn't want an Asian-American lead:
"Even before the book came out in 2014, there was interest in making a movie. But the interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American. One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that."
Han wrote about looking up to white actresses and models growing up, and yearning to see someone who actually looked like her. With this film, she wanted to give the world what she always wanted.
Only one production company agreed that the protagonist would be played by an Asian actress. "No one else was willing to do it," Han wrote. "Still, I was holding my breath all the way up until shooting began because I was scared they would change their minds. They didn’t."
Whitewashing in Hollywood
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Hollywood is notorious for whitewashing roles originally written for people of colour in a misguided attempt to make the film more "marketable". (See: Scarlett Johanssen in Ghost in a Shell, Emma Stone in Aloha.) But as the success of films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians shows, casting people of colour in leading roles doesn't hurt box office rates.
Even Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan was approached by a producer to consider changing the main character to a white woman. “They wanted to change the heroine into a white girl," Kwan told Entertainment Weekly. "I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely.’ I said, ‘No, thank you.'”
To All the Boys I've Loved Before has also garnered rave reviews, so hopefully, producers will stop attempting to whitewash our stories and finally learn that we're tired of seeing the same white faces on screen. Representation matters, and whitewashing in To All the Boys I've Loved Before was a horrifically terrible idea.
Just see how the internet has responded:
Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, wow what a time to be Asian — big vicc energy (@toriahoang) August 20, 2018
just watched to all the boys i've loved before and cannot describe my happiness and emotion over lara jean and her sisters being specifically half asian half white ?????? also the movie was SO CUTE i died at least 17 times probably — ????? ???? ????? ????? (@apricotjoy) August 19, 2018
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a modern teenage romcom masterpiece! the chemistry between lana condor and noah centineo is amazing, majority of the side characters were likable + relatable, asian representation, this movie is an instant new classic! I LOVE IT! — ??? ❦ | ??????? ???????? (@RXMANSPHOENIX) August 18, 2018