Growing up in Canada, I rarely saw myself on screen. Cinemas often did not program films from Asia, and, even if they did, there was little coverage to get the word out and for me to hear about it. On top of that, with the lack of a diverse pool of film critics in the country, discussions around those films and the issues surrounding representation as a whole were muted at best. This is, unfortunately, still an issue today, and it’s problematic.
In the last couple years, with the popularity of films like Black Panther and Get Out, the movement to diversify the films we see on screen and increase representation of historically marginalized groups in the media began building momentum in North America. Last summer, films like Crazy Rich Asians firmly moved the dial forward and brought these issues to the forefront, garnering emotional responses from audiences everywhere who have finally seen their culture reflected on the screen for the first time.
A viral Twitter thread by Kimberly Yam, the editor of Asian Voices for HuffPost, summarized this sentiment perfectly. These tweets, which took us from the racist incidents in her childhood that caused her to reject her heritage—like being nine years old and having kids call her eyes an “ugly shape”—to her reclaiming and celebrating what she had once hated about herself, symbolized the impact the films had on the general audience.
Like Yam, many other men and women who were once ashamed of their heritage saw themselves in Crazy Rich Asians, helping them embrace and be proud of it. And community support for the film—the first by a major Hollywood studio to feature a primarily Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club in 1993—allowed it to take the number one spot at the box office on opening weekend, with an estimated 30 million dollars in ticket sales and a total box office of 238 million dollars as of December 2018.
While this particular movie has brought the representation conversation front and centre, progress has been happening, in front and behind the camera, over the last few years. Sandra Oh made history more than once this year as being the first woman of Asian descent in North America to receive an Emmy nomination for Best Leading Actress in a TV Drama for her role in Killing Eve, winning this and the Golden Globes in the same category—which made her the first Asian actor to win multiple Golden Globes—as well as being the first Asian to host a major awards show, the Golden Globes, alongside Andy Samberg. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, led by Vietnamese-American actress Lana Candor, was one of Netflix’s most re-watched movies, and its support from audiences is what pushed Netflix to greenlight its sequel. Cathy Yan, whose directorial debut Dead Pigs won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and the Fasken Martineau Best Feature Film Award at the 2018 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, has been tapped to direct the Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment superhero movie Birds of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn, starring and produced by Margot Robbie.