After my first viewing of “Sixteen Candles” I fell into a state of supreme disappointment. It had been described to me as an iconic 80s movie, one of the founding films of teenage cinema. I had been so elated to finally watch it, only to discover a disturbing element of the movie that hadn’t been described to me: the character Long Duk Dong.
Long Duk Dong is a racist caricature of Asian culture, whose appearance is always accompanied by the ringing of a gong; a character who speaks in a thick Asian accent, with fat glasses and little understanding of American culture. Long Duk Dong is an Asian exchange student, who resides in the same house as main character Samantha, having no substance other than comedic relief in the form of racist jokes.
As an Asian American, I couldn’t help but be offended. Ever since then, it felt like the coming-of-age romance genre hated Asian American culture. I seldom saw a face like mine on screen, and when I did, it was merely reduced to one-liners and racist jokes.
I had accepted that I would never see a family like mine on TV; a biracial Asian American and white family was just too intricate to portray on screen. Until, one fateful day, when Netflix notified me of the release of a film entitled “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” It appeared to be on brand with the type of movies I enjoy: cheesy romantic teenage love stories.
Upon viewing, I was astounded by what I had found: a movie featuring a family almost exactly like mine. Its characters practically mirrored my family, with the exception of a third sister and a deceased mother.
The plot of the film is heartwarming: teenager Laura Jean writes letters to each of her crushes, including her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh, without actual intentions of sending them out. But somehow, they are mysteriously delivered. Laura Jean starts a fake relationship with Peter, one of the recipients of the letters, in an effort to deny her feelings for Josh, and to make Peter’s ex-girlfriend Gen jealous. Peter and Laura Jean actually fall in love, and it is revealed that Kitty, Laura Jean’s little sister is the one who sent out the letters.
Diversity on screen is vital to impressionable viewers such as myself. It allows us to fully relate to characters. With a lack of representation in media, our perception of our own race is affected. By normalizing mixed race and non-white families, we allow young viewers to have role models they can see themselves in. It’s important that youths see people that look like them on screen, as it makes them more comfortable and familiarized with their racial identity.
As a new wave of youths enter careers in media, I call on them to think about the diversity in their representation. They have the power to create a generation of youths that can see themselves in the shows that they watch; a generation with role models that actually look like them.