AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (3/4)

December 16, 2019 at 8:37 pm 1 comment

This is post 3 of 4 in a series of posts about Asian American male portrayal in popular media, specifically romantic comedies, for my final. 

As mentioned before, I will evaluate the media portrayal of Asian American men in popular films. These films have been selected for their cultural relevance and release date, as I wanted to evaluate current media perception and portrayal of Asian American men. Furthermore, both films are romantic comedies, which reinforce how there is a lack of Asian American male leads in romantic relationships.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a 2018 romantic comedy based on the book of the same name and is directed by Susan Johnson. Lara Jean Covey is the Korean American protagonist in this Netflix original. In the film, she is portrayed to have five overwhelming crushes: Peter Kavinsky, Josh Sanderson, John Ambrose McClaren, Lucas Krapf, and Kenny Donati. Four of the five boys are white, with Lucas being the only person of colour represented. In the film, it is described that she writes letters to the boys when she has a crush that is so overwhelming it consumes her. The letters are ‘accidentally’ mailed to each of her five crushes, and the subsequent drama that follows. The film mainly focuses on Josh Sanderson, Lara Jean’s ex-best friend and her sister’s ex-boyfriend and Peter Kavinsky, her ‘pretend’ boyfriend throughout the film. Both love interests are white males. Although the film normalises the existence of interracial relationships, Lara Jean Covey never displays any romantic interest towards an Asian male. This is especially problematic as you can see Asian males roaming the halls of her high school in the background of certain scenes, confirming their existence in the cinematic universe. However, Lara Jean is solely interested in white males, and her interest in Lucas, the only POC love interest, was solely based on when he asked her to a middle school dance.

In the film Lara Jean is seen watching Golden Girls with her sister Kitty on a Saturday night and, using social cognitive theory, we can conclude that her ‘romantic preference’ for non-Asian males is dominated by the media she chooses to consume. Specifically, Golden Girls follows four older single women as they live their day to day lives, which include some ‘flashback’ scenes where the characters romanticise white men. Therefore, Lara Jean grew up watching popular media that viewed white males as romantically desirable and internalised this romantic preference. It manifested into her five overwhelming crushes, as previously mentioned, who are almost all white.

The lack of Asian American men as Lara Jean’s romantic interests is problematic. As aforementioned, Asian American men exist in the cinematic universe that is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before; however, zero of Lara Jean’s crushes are Asian American. This shows that Lara Jean’s taste in media has influenced her taste and preferences in males, resulting in her not finding any Asian American males attractive. The lack of diversified representation as Lara Jean’s crushes reinforces the idea that white males are the most romantically desirable.


Peter Kavinsky


Josh Sanderson


The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

The Edge of Seventeen is a 2016 comedy-drama directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. It follows the story of high school junior Nadine as she navigates through friendship and romantic drama. More specifically, Nadine is seen to ‘lose’ her best friend Krista to her older brother Darian, and she is determined to prove that she is not as awkward as she is portrayed to be. In a desperate attempt not to feel alone, Nadine ends up befriending Erwin Kim, an Asian American male who has a crush on her, even though she has a crush on older student Nick Mossman. Nadine often passes up Erwin’s attempts because she is solely romantically focused on Nick.

Nick Mossman

Throughout the film, Nadine’s often teases Erwin, most noticeably when the pair are swimming in Erwin’s pool. Nadine is shown to be standing under a waterfall in Erwin’s heated pool. She looks over at him, while provocatively touching her bikini straps, and says “do you want to have sex right now?” Erwin, stunned, looks back at her and stammers “Okay.” Nadine immediately laughs and replies “I’m just kidding. I was just—You know that I was just playing out the movie scene.” Even though Erwin is muscular and physically attractive, as proven to the audience with a well-placed shirtless shot seconds before he enters the pool, the thought of being romantically involved with Erwin makes Nadine laugh. Although Erwin is interested in media and filmmaking which would categorize him as ‘nerdy,’ he doesn’t fall into the physical body shape of Asian males portrayed in media. However, despite his physical attraction, Nadine views him as just a friend and continues to pursue Nick, a senior out of her league.

The movie ends with Nadine realising her interest in Erwin, but the two are never shown to have any on-screen romance like Nadine had with Nick. Nadine also only realises her feelings for Erwin after getting to know him, whereas her interest in Nick was purely overwhelming physical attraction, reinforcing the idea that Asian Americans are not as physically attractive or romantically desirable as their white counterparts. 


Personal Narrative

I myself have been victim to internalising the popular media I consume. Growing up in Hong Kong, I prided myself heavily on my dual identity of being a Chinse American. I would often use the term ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’ to brag about my American identity and talk in length about my summer trips to America to visit family and friends. I also mainly consumed American media, and I grew up watching romantic comedies like Ten Things I Hate About YouDear JohnThe Fault in Our Stars, and 90210. My choice in media, coupled with the pedestal my friends put non-Asian males on, has resulted in my romanticising of white males over all other racial groups. Although I don’t initially dismiss Asian males because of their race, I have noticed that my preference parallels the popular media I consume, and that I gravitate romantically towards white males. In the popular media I consume, Asian males are often seen as the nerdy friend, helping the protagonist achieve her goal of obtaining the white male’s heart. They are used as ‘token’ representation characters, never appearing on screen for more than a few laughs or to drive the plot along. By having Asian males in romantic comedies strictly as friends, it characterises APIA males as undesirable to be in a relationship with. Because the only Asian representation in romantic comedies seem to be for the ‘comedy’ portion of the film instead of the ‘romantic’ portion of the film, I have noticed that I mainly have Asian males as friends and not romantic interests.

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AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (2/4) AA Male Portrayal in Romantic Comedies – Katie Eu (4/4)

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. asianamericansinmedia  |  December 24, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    I think the introduction of your personal voice and autobiographical element is an interesting addition to your discussion. In the context of this post, it could work well in conjunction with Asian American and media scholarship to form a critical framework that speaks from these positions. That could work well for your series as a whole.

    Prof Ma


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